Jokes and the Linguistic Mind

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Elaine Roberts


It is often said that understanding humor in a language is the highest sign of fluency. Comprehending de dicto jokes, specifically, demonstrates our tacit knowledge of and competence in that language. In Aarons’s Jokes and the Linguistic Mind, multitudinous examples of humor are examined in regard to the wide range of linguistic concepts they address. The text is based on Chomsky’s (1965) definition of competence as our implicit knowledge of the rules of language; it aims to show that when, for example, a joke about the ambiguity of a certain article is funny, it is precisely because it brings a rule governing article use to our consciousness. Aarons’ detailed analyses of jokes play on semantic, phonologic, pragmatic, and syntactic rules, and are therefore of interest to the linguist. At the same time, her analyses are of equal importance to the language teacher, considering that many of these rules and explanations are of pedagogical use.

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