Dialect, stereotype, and humor: Linguistic variation and its place in humor studies through the lens of Mark Twain's dialect humor

Jeanelle Barrett, Purdue University


The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the existence of dialect humor as a linguistic reality in addition to its most recognized use as a literary device. Dialect humor has been acknowledged in passing by linguists, literary scholars, and humor scholars, but none have given much attention to dialect humor as a component of language study or as more than a trifling component of humor. This dissertation makes the argument that dialect humor is used in everyday language in much the same way as it has been used in literature. Therefore, a broader and more thorough study of dialect humor and its concomitant stereotypes in both linguistic and literary humor can inform language and humor study by observing how language creation and linguistic competence are reflected in speakers' uses of dialect humor. Moreover, how language attitudes are reflected in and perpetuated by the presence of such stereotypes is discussed as a cognitive function informing our use and understanding of language; the existence of dialect humor reflects a good deal of that understanding. To connect the extant literary corpus to the proposed linguistic corpus of dialect humor, this dissertation relies on the work of humorist Mark Twain, making connections between the linguistic properties of Twain's humor and their speech counterparts in everyday language, noting some possible pedagogical and theoretical uses in the fields of linguistics and humor alike.




Raskin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|American literature

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