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Intercultural Pragmatics

Editor-in-Chief: Kecskes, Istvan

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Volume 7, Issue 3


Failed humor: Issues in non-native speakers' appreciation and understanding of humor

Nancy Bell / Salvatore Attardo
Published Online: 2010-08-24 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/iprg.2010.019


What is it that makes humor difficult to understand and appreciate in a second language (L2)? Despite advances in research in both L2 pragmatics and humor studies, scholars have as yet had little to say on this topic. In interviews, learners themselves pinpoint culture, vocabulary, and the speed at which playful talk often takes place as difficulties. Yet, as we know, hypothetical self-reports of language use can be quite unreliable. Thus, this exploratory study aimed to examine L2 understanding of humor more systematically. Six advanced non-native speakers (NNSs) of English kept diaries in which they recorded their experiences with humor in English over an eight-week period. Group meetings were also held every two weeks during this time to allow the participants to elaborate on, interpret, and discuss their experiences. For the present study, all instances of failed humor were extracted and coded. These were used to construct a typology of failed humor, which identifies seven levels at which a speaker may fail to successfully engage in a humorous exchange. The data suggest that NNS failures differ from those of NSs largely from a quantitative, but not qualitative, standpoint.

About the article

Published Online: 2010-08-24

Published in Print: 2010-08-01

Citation Information: Intercultural Pragmatics, Volume 7, Issue 3, Pages 423–447, ISSN (Online) 1613-365X, ISSN (Print) 1612-295X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/iprg.2010.019.

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