Oral genres of humor: On the dialectic of genre knowledge and creative authoring

Helga Kotthoff


The article discusses humorous conversational activities ((e.g. jokes, teasing, joint fantasizing) in the context of genre theory. The high degree of creativity, emergent construction and artistry typical of humor call for a flexible concept of genre which makes sense of modifications and transgressions in communicative processes. Some forms of conversational humor are generic, for example, standardized jokes, joint fantasizing or teasing. Other forms exploit our knowledge of serious genres and activity types (thereby relying on it): e.g. humorous stories about problems, humorous gossiping or counseling. Here the keying is done from the start in such a way that a serious mode of understanding is undermined. Generic boundaries are often transgressed and hybridized in joking; new sub-types arise, such as absurd meta-jokes which violate the well-known expectation of a punch-line or other features of the genre. Nevertheless, the realizations of these genres are related only by a sort of family resemblance. The concept of intertextuality plays another important role in analyzing oral genres of humor. Genre knowledge is also employed when the speakers violate expected patterns in such a way that further information is located precisely in the violation. The article shows humorous co-construction as an emergent phenomenon, which plays with genre knowledge.

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