Monday, July 25, 2011

Taxonomy of Humor: Referential vs. Verbal


In Salvatore Attardo's, Linguistic Theories of Humor, he demonstrates that referential jokes outnumber verbal jokes. In a study of 300 jokes told by Americans, 235 were referential. For Italians, the number was slightly higher, at 262 (pg. 102).

Here's a few referential joke examples:

Anyone who visits the psychiatrist ought to have his head examined...

We never make misteaks...

Would you like some wine, or would you rather stick to sherry? 

She'd rather die than cause a scene...

Self-reference is a theme or type of humor that often uses words such as "would rather" to indicate preference in a particular matter, but there are other ways of setting up this type of joke sentiment: 

I use to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure...

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be... 

I never make predictions... I never have and I never will...

I'm trying to be less self-deprecating, but I really suck at it...

Just say NO to negativity! 

Things are more like they are today than they ever have been before...

Being bored keeps my busy...

Don't procrastinate. Put it off NOW!

My apathy causes me problems, but I don't care...

I'm not conceited. Conceit is a fault, and I have none...

I want to join an Optimist's Club, but they probably won't accept me...

I tried to be patient, but it took too long...

I thought about changing my mind, but then I reconsidered... 

What if there were no hypothetical questions? 


It's not entirely certain why there's a preference for referential jokes, but Raskin (1990) states that it might be because verbal jokes are harder to process and hence scarcer. 

 To amuse a blonde for hours, give her a sheet of paper with "Please turn over" written on both sides of the paper...

Ouda Teda Ena's (PBI Universitas Sanata Dharma), The Pragmatic Analysis of Verbal Jokes, states that "From a pragmatic point of view, the cause of funniness of verbal jokes is the manipulation of implicature and entailment. The speaker deliberately violates or flouts Grice's conversational maxims to create unexpected or non-natural entailment." 

During ordinary conversation, speakers and hearers must cooperate for communication to take place. As a speaker, we have to shape and convey our thoughts in a manner whereby they're understood. In this sense, the rules include quality, quantity, relevance and manner (Moore, 2001).  When you abide by the maxim of quality, the result is usually truthful. In quantity, it's more about contributing information that is required for the conversation to proceed (neither too little, nor too much). The maximum of relevance is the art of making a correlation between two things that clearly expresses the purpose of the exchange. And finally, manner, which is about speaking clearly, orderly and brief, avoiding obscurity and ambiguity (Grundy, 2000). 

Violating these maxims or introducing an element of lexical ambiguity is where you encounter the best verbal jokes. Here's a few...

A Pedestrian: A husband who didn't think the family needed two cars...

Wife to husband: "one of the trout you were fishing for last weekend phoned and left her number." 

Math and Alcohol don't mix, so...PLEASE DON'T DRINK AND DERIVE!  










Post a Comment