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Verbal Humor

  • By: Salvatore Attardo
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

The term verbal humor has been used in two different and incompatible ways. This entry discusses both uses separately.

Verbal Humor as Opposed to Referential Humor

Verbal humor can be used to distinguish humor that is expressed verbally but is not “referential humor.” Verbal humor is humor that involves, crucially and besides the normal semantic and pragmatic mechanisms of any form of humor, a reference to the linguistic form of the signifier of the utterance or parts of it. The signifier is the physical medium of the linguistic expression (sounds, written letters, etc.). This includes all “formal” levels: the phonetic, phonological, morphological, and syntactic levels. Referential humor, on the contrary, is based only on semantic and pragmatic factors, or the meaning of words and their context.

The distinction ...

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