On the cognitive aspects of the joke

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The present study of the mechanism of humor concentrates on the notion of surprise in semantic jokes. It explicates the 'grammar' of the joke and attempts to differentiate it from both the standard informative text on the one hand, and the 'witty' texts on the other. Both the 'grammar' of standard informative texts and the 'grammar' of the joke derive from principles regulating concept formation. In previous works (Giora 1985, 1988), I showed that categorial organization as delineated by Rosch (1973) and Rosch and Mervis (1975) for example, is applicable to the structure of informative texts. In this study I consider the structure of the joke along the same lines. Given the conditions for text well-formedness (the 'Relevance Requirement' (e.g., Grice 1975, Giora 1985) and the 'Graded Informativeness Requirement' (Giora 1988, following Grice 1975, Shannon 1951, Attneave 1959)), a joke is well-formed if and only if it obeys the 'Relevance Requirement', violates the 'Graded Informativeness Requirement' (the 'Marked Informativeness Requirement') and forces the reader to cancel the immediate unmarked interpretation of the text and replace it with a marked interpretation. The notion of markedness relies on categorial internal structuring which differentiates between the cognitive status of the prototype (the unmarked member) and the marginal status of the marked member.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-485
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1991


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