Humor creation and the ambiguity of morpho-syntactic phenomena

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Ambiguity of different types contributes significantly to humor creation, as predicted by incongruity theory This holds for homonymy, polysemy, structural and scope ambiguity, as well as any multiplicity of meanings that arises due to pragmatic factors. A consideration of languages with rich inflectional morphology, such as Russian, further reveals that linguistic humor may be based on the semantic indeterminacy of certain grammatical phenomena. The present paper provides evidence in favor of this claim by taking the imperfective aspect, genitive case-assignment and instrumental case-assignment into account. It is demonstrated that the ambiguity / indeterminacy associated with these phenomena gives rise to the creation of humorous effects. We further generalize that the core functions of case and aspect correlate with the less salient readings of ambiguous sentences (often the absurd, non-bona-fide ones). In contrast, the more peripheral and even idiomatic functions give rise to the salient, bona-fide readings. A functional explanation is put forward for this apparent discrepancy: the prototypical, easily accessible functions of case and aspect make it easier for the hearer to process a sentence in its non-salient interpretation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)59-78
Number of pages20
JournalRussian Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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