Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

David Hanauer

Second Advisor

Gian Pagnucci

Third Advisor

Marjorie Zambrano-Paff

Abstract

Seeking to add to the limited research on humor comprehension, the purpose of this study was to measure how multilingual users of English comprehend distinct types of sitcom humor, specifically: sarcasm, wordplay, and teasing. The participants in the study were both L1, L2, and Bilingual users of English. They were recruited using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, which employs workers around the world. The participants were divided into three analysis groups: L1 (n = 576), L2 (n = 90), and Bilingual (n = 222). Using a survey design, participants watched six clips from popular US sitcoms (The Office, Friends, Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory, and 30 Rock) and answered questions about them.

The results of the study suggest a broader understanding of multilingual humor comprehension. First, the results suggest a similarity in how L1 and L2 users of English understood the video examples. Second, the data show high variability in how each sample categorized the video examples. The L1 and L2 groups, although variable in how the categorized each video example, were not significantly different in their choices. The Bilingual group, however, was significantly different from the L1 and L2 groups. Third, the Bilingual group also rated the video examples as funnier than the L1 and L2 groups.

The findings for this study help to broaden the scope of humor comprehension research by measuring humor categorization and funniness ratings. The findings also reveal the messiness of humor categorization research and give implications for pragmatic instruction. Additionally, the study challenges the assumption of difference within humor research. The similarities found in the study suggest a shared, global sense of humor, as delivered by US sitcoms. However, while these findings offer more empirical evidence on multilingual humor comprehension, the findings also show limitations and expose new areas of research.

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