This study undertakes a contrastive lexical-semantic analysis of a set of related verbs in English and French (English to joke and to kid, French rigoler and plaisanter), using the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) approach to semantic analysis. We show that the semantic and conceptual differences between French and English are greater than commonly assumed. These differences, we argue, have significant implications for humor studies: first, they shed light on different cultural orientations towards “laughter talk” in Anglo and French linguacultures; second; they highlight the danger of conceptual Anglocentrism in relying on English-specific words as a theoretical vocabulary for humor studies.
The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on this paper. We would also like to thank Sophia Waters for research assistance with French, and Helen Leung for research assistance with WordBanks (English). We are especially grateful to Anna Wierzbicka and Bert Peeters for consultation about the explications, and to Diane de Saint Léger for her helpful comments. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Australasian Humour Studies Network Conference, Federation University Australia, Ballarat, February 3, 2017, and the Workshop on Minimal English and NSM Semantics, Australian National University, Canberra, March 18, 2017.
Appendix A: Semantic Primes, French and English equivalents (after Peeters 2015) 
|JE, TU, QUELQU’UN, QUELQUE CHOSE ~ CHOSE, GENS, CORPS||substantives|
|I, YOU, SOMEONE, SOMETHING ~ THING, PEOPLE, BODY|
|TYPES, PARTIES||relational substantives|
|CE, LA MÊME CHOSE, AUTRE||determiners|
|THIS, THE SAME, OTHER ~ ELSE|
|UN, DEUX, CERTAINS, TOUS, BEAUCOUP, PEU||quantifiers|
|ONE, TWO, SOME, ALL, MUCH ~ MANY, LITTLE ~ FEW|
|SAVOIR, PENSER, VOULOIR, NE PAS VOULOIR, SENTIR, VOIR, ENTENDRE||mental predicates|
|KNOW, THINK, WANT, DON’T WANT, FEEL, SEE, HEAR|
|DIRE, MOTS, VRAI||speech|
|SAY, WORDS, TRUE|
|FAIRE, ARRIVER, BOUGER||actions, events, movement|
|DO, HAPPEN, MOVE|
|ÊTRE (QUELQUE PART), IL Y A, ÊTRE (QUELQU’UN/QUELQUE CHOSE)||location, existence, specification|
|BE (SOMEWHERE), THERE IS, BE (SOMEONE/SOMETHING)|
|(EST) À MOI||possession|
|VIVRE, MOURIR||life and death|
|QUAND ~ MOMENT ~ FOIS, MAINTENANT, AVANT, APRÈS, LONGTEMPS, PEU|
DE TEMPS, POUR QUELQUE TEMPS, INSTANT
|WHEN ~ TIME, NOW, BEFORE, AFTER, A LONG TIME, A SHORT TIME, FOR|
SOME TIME, MOMENT
|OÙ ~ ENDROIT, ICI, AU-DESSUS, AU-DESSOUS, LOIN, PRÈS, CÔTÉ, DANS,|
|WHERE ~ PLACE, HERE, ABOVE, BELOW, FAR, NEAR, SIDE, INSIDE, TOUCH|
|NE … PAS, PEUT-ÊTRE, POUVOIR, À CAUSE DE, SI||logical concepts|
|NOT, MAYBE, CAN, BECAUSE, IF|
|TRÈS, PLUS||intensifier, augmentor|
|COMME ~ FAÇON||similarity|
|LIKE ~ AS ~ WAY|
Exponents of primes can be polysemous, i.e. they can have other, additional meanings.
Exponents of primes may be words, bound morphemes, or phrasemes.
They can be formally complex.
They can have language-specific combinatorial variants (allolexes, indicated with ~).
Each prime has well-specified syntactic (combinatorial) properties.
Appendix B: Laugh’ = ‘rire’: A universal or near-universal building block for «humor» concepts
The explication below is adapted from one proposed by Wierzbicka (2014b) for English ‘laugh.’ We claim that it is equally valid for French rire. Note that the first component includes a durative element ‘for some time,’ which indicates that the explication is specifically tailored for “durative/imperfective” uses of laugh. A separate, closely related, explication is needed for “perfective/punctual” uses, and for contexts like ‘he laughed nervously’ or ‘she laughed scornfully’ (Goddard 2017).
The explication falls into three sections, labelled here (a), (b) and (c). Brief comments follow the explication.
Section (a) consists of very general components (termed Lexicosyntactic Frame in NSM parlance, cf. Goddard and Wierzbicka (2016)), shared with various other verbs, notably (to) cry.
Section (b) is a Prototypical Scenario. The word ‘often’ in the first line of course implies ‘not always.’ The scenario depicts laughing as typically triggered by a person experiencing a brief good feeling occasioned by subjective awareness that (roughly put) something “unusual” is happening here and that ‘people here can feel something good’ because of it.’
Section (c) is a description of the physical “mechanics” of laughing, which includes visual movement of the mouth and (often) an audible “vocal” sound. In some languages, the components about “audibility” vary slightly, cf. Chinese xiao ‘laugh/smile.’
The very final line hints at something like “expressiveness.”
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