Lexical priming in humorous satirical newspaper headlines

Stephen Skalicky 1
  • 1 Department of Applied Linguistics, Georgia State University, 25 Park Place, 15th Floor, Atlanta, USA
Stephen Skalicky
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Applied Linguistics, Georgia State University, 25 Park Place, 15th Floor, Atlanta, GA, 30303, USA
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  • Stephen Skalicky received his PhD from the Department of Applied Linguistics at Georgia State University in 2018. His research focuses on variables that affect the comprehension and production of figurative language using psycholinguistic, corpus, and natural language processing methods. His work has appeared in Language Learning, Discourse Processes, and Journal of Pragmatics.
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Abstract

Satire is a type of discourse commonly employed to mock or criticize a satirical target, typically resulting in humor. Current understandings of satire place strong emphasis on the role that background and pragmatic knowledge play during satire recognition. However, there may also be specific linguistic cues that signal a satirical intent. Researchers using corpus linguistic methods, specifically Lexical Priming, have demonstrated that other types of creative language use, such as irony, puns, and verbal jokes, purposefully deviate from expected language patterns (e.g. collocations). The purpose of this study is to investigate whether humorous satirical headlines also subvert typical linguistic patterns using the theory of Lexical Priming. In order to do so, a corpus of newspaper headlines taken from the satirical American newspaper The Onion are analyzed and compared to a generalized corpus of American English. Results of this analysis suggest satirical headlines exploit linguistic expectations through the use of low-frequency collocations and semantic preferences, but also contain higher discourse and genre level deviations that cannot be captured in the surface level linguistic features of the headlines.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.

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