Is Humor an International Language?

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

GRIALE is a research group at the University of Alicante (Spain), whose main interest is the linguistics of humor, both in children and adult discourse. At the moment, Prof. Leonor Ruiz-Gurillo, the leader of this group, alongside the rest of its members are working on the metapragmatics of humor in order to study how the humorous competence is acquired in early childhood, as well as to observe the connection between humor and sociocultural constructs such as gender or identity. Indeed, they are analyzing women’s and men’s identity-building processes throughout diverse humorous discourses such as jokes, monologues, everyday conversations, advertising, and journal and digital discourse.

In addition to this, what has come to our attention is that they are also studying the cognitive processes that occur when non-native speakers of Spanish read and/or listen to different humorous genres. In fact, they published the book ¿Estás de broma? 20 Actividades para practicar la ironia en clase de ELE (Are you joking? 20 activities to exercise irony in the Spanish as a Foreign language classroom),in 2011. This textbook is addressed to students with a good command of Spanish who still struggle with this type of content. According to the Common European Framework of Reference, this pragmatic phenomenon should only be introduced in the lessons when the students are in high intermediate or advanced levels, as they need to be sociolinguistically compentent.

Currently, they are investigating which linguistic and extra-linguistic markers and indicators the interlocutors infer and, hence help them resolve the humorous incongruity. There is research going on with foreign teenagers studying in international schools in Spain so as to analyse how language immersion and nationality influences the way we can acquire humor competence in a Second Language. According to the PhD researcher, Esther Linares-Bernabéu, the first findings show that planned humoristic genres such as jokes and monologues are easier to be understood than continous exchanges of ironic content in informal conversations. Results also show that performing humor is always more challenging than recognizing or understanding it. Additionally, when participants were asked to tell a joke, most of them simply translated a pun from their mother tongue, though there were some others who managed to create their own jokes in their second language.

So the question is... Is it possible for non-native speakers to understand Spanish humor?

Popular in the Community