Saturday, September 15, 2012

Linguistic Humor

Someone once told me that linguistically-minded, good-humored people should consider attending Texas A & M University just so they could have the pleasure and privilege of hanging out with the Belgium-Italian professor, Salvatore Attardo, the man renowned for extending Victor Raskin's script-based semantic theory of humor (SSTH) into the general theory of verbal humor (GTVH). (Anybody's mind conjuring up images of Einstein here?)

Reading his A primer for the linguistics of humor, the third segment in Victor Raskin's The Primer of Humor Research, I had a difficult time determining whether or not Attardo was really a good-humored researcher or an anal-retentive linguistics professor suffering from a superiority complex, hell-bent upon teaching the rest of us slugs linguistic manners, for which he claimed to be: "unapologetic". 

Word to the wise: when writing on the subject of humor, try not to insult your reader in the introduction (hint: words like "unapologetic" sound unapologetic, i.e., not the funniest opening line). 

Nevertheless, I gave this prof the opportunity to WOW me (don't confuse "WOW" with the acronym for World of Warcraft, but rather an expression of astonishment or admiration: Wow! Holy Cow! Holy Mackerel! Holy Moly! Whoa! Cool! Gadzooks!) - as if that was his life goal, to WOW Sophy Laughing. 

(Actually, why shouldn't his life goal be to WOW Sophy Laughing? Am I not a person interested in humor who actually purchased his book without it being assigned to me, which he presumably published with the intent of having people like me - outside his circle of suck-ups - read?)

Beginning with an absolute page-turner, the Greeks, Attardo briefly summarizes the historical importance of Platonic and Aristotelic thought in the theory of humor in that it "establishes the opposition comedy-tragedy which will determine theoretical thought on humor for well over 20 centuries". 

Moving onto the Latin authors, Attardo explains that "by the time we reach Quintilian's extensive treatment of humor, we can say that there is a coherent body of thinking about humor, mostly centered around the theme of its appropriateness (thus ambiguity and irony are singled out as linguistic mechanisms associated with humor)". 

Apparently, no one has yet to contribute this idea: Humor should be funny: which is an integral part of the appropriateness of humor. 

Attardo notes how the middle ages were not "cheerful times" so, we can expect nothing from them. Thanks to the lack of progress in this period, we can skip to right to the Renaissance.

I'm wondering if Attardo spent a lot of time studying the middle ages in junior high school because he was notably influenced by the period, i.e., not so cheerful. 

Italy, 16th century: Madius (Vincenzo Maggi; 1550) publishes an essay on the "surprise aspect of humor" while introducing a (at the time) "novel interest in the physiology of humor" which was later continued by Joubert in Traité du Ris (1579), Descartes in Traité des passions de l'âme (1649), and Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). 

Admittedly, the body of work which Attardo (or other researchers) must sift sucks, but that doesn't mean we have to keep on sucking. 

Granted, these famous academics lived during difficult times with the church largely dominating what they wrote, which makes one wonder if Descartes, when he contributed his genius to "god" did so ONLY to please the highly-aggressive, put-you-to-death-if-you-don't-comply-and-financially-contribute-to-our-corrupt-church - (otherwise known as the: The GIANT Duh Theory of Humor

...but what's the excuse of today's professors? Why must they insist upon presenting work that - while notably interesting - sucks to read? 

Readers of my blog know that my writing is fraught with typos and grammatical mistakes - sometimes I forget a rule or two whereas other times I'm plain lazy and don't want to spend the time making corrections (other times Blogger muffs up my writing/spacing/formatting)

... my work is presented all in fun and with a dash of good humor, so I presume I'm forgiven - besides, I've already sent out apology letters to my English professors, who aren't complaining (they're too busy laughing at my jokes). 

Attardo explains that specializations (psychological, philosophical, etc.) in the field of humor emerge after the Renaissance, but not yet in linguistics, though linguistics will eventually "borrow heavily from them". 

I wish Attardo would borrow a little more from my blog or sites like The Onion because he forgot to add in pictures and jokes into his work. 

In a nutshell, Raskin's tripartite classification into incongruity theories, hostility theories and release theories, look a little like this (no wonder nobody's laughing): 

Incongruity theory dates back to Aristotle (Rhetorics, in which he anticipates the incongruity theories in a discussion of metaphors and puns) and filters through Kant, Shopenhauer, Koestler, Paulos' catastrophe theory, and more "recent cognitive blending theories". 

Hostility theories date back to Plato, but Hobbes really drove them home. 

Just kidding...wrong Hobbes.

Naturally, Attardo mentions Freud's (1905) theory, "which claims that humor allows an economy of 'psychic energy'" - but since I don't particularly care for Freud, I'll leave it up to you to investigate his work on your own time; merely noting herein his attention to the linguistic mechanisms of humor (in the first part of his book). 

Finally, Attardo gets around to linguistics...Yay! ... those word-crafty guys and gals who have picked incongruity theory as their first draft pick, presumably because Word Smiths (ironically) enjoy freedom from the constraints of the linguistic codes they defend - as long as these liberties are grammatically correct and properly punctuated, that is (don't you just hate it when someone ends a sentence with a proposition!).

Attardo's work is as interesting to me as his brief summary of work that existed prior to and since he began his research.

I'd like to say that I found something "funny" or "humorous" about how Attardo presented his abstract in Raskin's collection, but sadly, other than a quasi-humorous, sounds a lot like a superiority-oriented quip in his closing: "It is wonderful to have to deal with an embarrassment of riches", I did not. 

It's here that I'd like to remind readers and researchers alike that while we can split linguistic hairs all day long, but lightheartedness and a little joking - in particular if you're working in the field of humor - is much funnier - and potentially more effective in terms of inspiring people to think more about humor than tedious, highly pedantic, anal-retentive hair-splitting. 

On the other hand, if you're obsessed with language (and enjoy reading Steven Pinker's Blank Slate to your sweetie pie as foreplay) and don't mind sifting through pounds of boorish, characterless, stodgy analysis and examination of how to twist humor into some sort of mythical, unrelated background noise, then Attardo's your man. No doubt he is the probably the best in his field. 

The only real embarrassment Attardo should be experiencing, in my personal opinion, is the embarrassment of having contributed something so serious to the field of humor.

Attardo, what happened buddy? Didn't your read Wittgenstein, who left us with the task of writing something seriously funny - a serious philosophical work in the format of a joke!

Are you seriously telling us that a brilliant man of words such as yourself, with all the puns and plethora of linguistic possibility, can't come up with something a bit funnier? 

Why must you insist upon tormenting students who have to read your work in order to get good grades in college so that they may grow up, interview for and sadly get a sucky job - which they'll hate, living only for the weekends - just so they can pay for their online gaming subscriptions and addiction to waffles? 

Where's the humor in that? (Other than to laugh about our suffering and choice of breakfast foods). 

I sat down to read your work and could barely muster the energy to finish it... and in a field that I LOVE! 

I'd like to see you take that impressive 2.0 upgrade to Raskin's work and present instead something funny... 

I've included some funny linguistic comics and virtual posters for your future consideration.  

...but then again, what do I know? I'm not a world famous linguist (like Attardo or Raskin) in the field of humor. I'm merely one of the slugs they're analyzing who's out here experimenting with humor in the field - before god, Facebook (i.e., the CIA), and the whole world - to see what really makes people laugh! 

WHY, you ask? 

Because I genuinely enjoy laughing and believe that making people laugh is a contribution to the field of humor for without laughter and good humor there'd be nothing to analyze. 

For the record: Undeniably, Attardo is a one seriously smart dude. It's perhaps a matter of style and personal preference, as well as a belief that humor should be funny, that I didn't enjoy reading his work.  Not that his theories aren't brilliant, but there are funnier destinations in the field of humor for funnier people.

Had I been the one to figure out the SO: the Script Opposition of the SSTH, I would have presented my work with loads of parodies and comics side-by-side with Einstein's General Theory of Relativity (GTR) as well as his Special Theory of Relativity (STR) given the noticeably funny similarity of using acronyms.  Somehow, Logical Mechanisms (LM) corresponding to the resolution phase of the incongruity/resolution models, whereby the incongruity of the SOB - Oops! I meant, SO, (not really) is playfully and/or partially explained away SHOULD HAVE BEEN PLAYFULLY OR PARTIALLY PRESENTED to us slugs (readers with an ASSumed certain degree of familiarity with linguistic terminology or who have a general education) in a way that conjures up some laughter, if only at the absurdness of stating anything in the universe as a "fact" when those "facts" constantly change based on new discoveries about the nature of the universe.
Like I said... for what it's worth, these are my own opinions and perhaps theories that might ultimately result in my actually making people laugh while exploring the field of humor.


Salvatore Attardo said...

That was funny.

Salvatore Attardo said...

That was funny.

Soph Laugh said...

Thank you, Professor Attardo!

Does this mean I now get your autograph? ;)

Soph Laugh said...

I'm happy to know that despite the dryness of your work (and lack of funny pictures), you do indeed have a good sense of humor. :D