Funny business: Verbal humor in business negotiation and the English-as-a-second -language speaker

Brita Banitz, Purdue University


This dissertation aims to find primarily linguistic markers of business humor. As is argued in the thesis, it is often very difficult for even advanced learners of English to detect the humor in ambiguous messages. Thus, the study begins with a brief outline of the many challenges faced by English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) business students who are enrolled in a business program in the United States and who, upon graduation, seek to work in the U.S. American business sector and who, in order to become successful business negotiators, will have to utilize humor as it has since become a well-recognized, effective, even indispensable, managerial tool. It is further argued that these ESL business students need to be equipped with the necessary tools that will facilitate their comprehension of humor because, even though they are otherwise competent communicators in English, they might lack the very culture-specific and often short-lived world knowledge which would allow them to comprehend more sophisticated humor. Of primary importance to this dissertation is thus the definition of 'competence' as well as the question of whether 'humor competence' is a part of the ESL student's overall linguistic competence or a fifth component of her communicative competence. The dissertation then provides a historical overview of humor in the United States of America asserting that humor is an omnipresent phenomenon in the U.S. culture and therefore also an integral part of the business context in which it assumes various forms and functions. The central part of this thesis focuses on the linguistic analysis of data from business negotiations, speeches, conversations, and training videos with the objective of identifying semantic, syntactic, and phonological cues of humor with each section being preceded by a discussion of applicable theories and approaches to data analysis. Also briefly outlined are non-verbal cues. The dissertation then concludes with a summary of the verbal and non-verbal cues of humor identified in the data as well as the pertinent literature and culminates in the proposal of The Humor Profile , a comprehensive framework for future data analysis.




Raskin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Business education

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server