The logic of the ludicrous : a pragmatic study of humour
This thesis represents an attempt to show how recent research in pragmatic theory can contribute to our understanding of humour. Two inferential theories have been selected: speech act theory and relevance theory. In addition, I have looked at the modification of the speech act model proposed by Leech. An exposition of each theory is followed by an account of how these theories can be applied to humour. Some research into humour has already been carried out using the speech act model. This is described and evaluated. For Leech's extension of that model, and for the relevance-theoretic model, there is virtually no existing research on which to draw. Consequently, both the application of these theories to humour, and their evaluation thereof, are my own. Speech act accounts of humour are based on the notion that humorous utterances are unconventional and unpredictable. One way of exploiting our expectations, and thereby creating a condo effect, it is argued, is to violate the norms of conversation (that is to say, Grice's maxims and Searle's conditions). This analysis is found to be insufficient, on its own, to distinguish between the humorous and the non-humorous utterance. I will show how the unpredictable, unconventional remark can be used to create a number of different effects, some humorous, some nonhumorous. Maxim violation is thus seen to be inadequate, both as a descriptive and as an explanatory tool. Relevance theory constitutes a radical departure from the whole maxim-based framework. Adopting this approach to the analysis of verbal humour, I will try to find out exactly what is going on in our minds when we interpret humorously intended utterances. I will identify the various processes which I believe are employed in the appreciation of verbal jokes, and will conclude that these processes are not unique to humour. In spite of this, I will claim that there is a sense in which verbal humour can be said to be unique.