Article published in:Prosody and Humor
Edited by Salvatore Attardo, Manuela Maria Wagner and Eduardo Urios-Aparisi
[Benjamins Current Topics 55] 2013
► pp. 81–102
Formulaic jokes in interaction
The prosody of riddle openings
While both humor and prosody in interaction have received scholarly attention in recent years, the prosody of humor has not been extensively explored. This study begins to fill this gap by investigating whether prosodic cues can be identified for riddles told in interaction, focusing on wh-questions in riddles versus ordinary conversation. The analysis demonstrates that in comparison to conversational wh-questions, riddles have less pitch variation both within the utterance and at the syllable level. It is argued that riddles do not contain such wide pitch excursions because they do not require contextual disambiguation. While this study provides no evidence that riddles must be prosodically packaged in a specific way, the analysis suggests that the pitch of riddles is constrained due to interactional context. This constrained pitch is argued to work in conjunction with the formulaic syntax and content of riddle questions to signal to hearers that a joke is being told.
Published online: 06 December 2013