The narrative joke: Conceptual structure and linguistic manifestation

Maxim Petrenko, Purdue University


The research tackles the issue generally overlooked by scholars in humor research: how jokes are created by a joke-teller. Based on major findings in the leading trend in humor research—Semantic Script-based Theory of Humor and General Theory of Humor (SSTH-GTVH), the present author builds a framework within which one can describe how narrative jokes are constructed conceptually and fleshed out textually. The premise underlying the theory is that humorous texts—narrative jokes included—are derived from non-humorous element(stereotypical situations). Drawing heavily on GTVH, the present theory shows how the knowledge resources required for joke construction contribute to the actual process of generation. A two-stage model of the narrative joke generation is introduced. At the first stage, the conceptual structure of the narrative joke (defined cognitively and described by using the notational system developed by Ray Jackendoff) instantiates a specific semantic content (defined within the theory of scripts and described by using the notational system developed in the Ontological Semantics theory). The instantiation of the conceptual structure results in a template of the storyline of the narrative joke capturing all the elements necessary for the comical situation. At the second stage, the instantiated conceptual structure is manifested linguistically. The manifestation involves the selection of linguistic form appropriate for expressing the elements of the instantiated conceptual structure. The selection process in turn is regulated by two constraints—underspecification and overspecification constraints—which select the most appropriate linguistic units and rule out those too concrete or redundant semantically. Other issues pertaining to the organization of the conceptual structure are discussed. In particular, the cultural variations of the conceptual structure and cases of its multiple instantiation in a single joke are investigated. The appendix, containing analysis of a number of jokes, illustrates the presented theory.




Raskin, Purdue University.

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