Sharing a laugh at others: Humorous convergence in French conversation

Béatrice Priego-Valverde


The aim of this article is to clarify the fuzzy notion of “successful humour”. It focuses on humorous sequences in French face-to-face interactions which are both successful and have a same type of target: a collective “Other” (foreign culture, a French or foreign institution, a French or foreign socio-professional group). It will be shown that laughing about/at others (with all the aggressiveness this could imply) is not inconsistent with the necessary collaborative aspect of the conversation.

On the contrary, the necessary collaboration between the participants will be highlighted through analysing humour in two different but complementary ways. Firstly, analysing humour through one specific target (the collective “Other”) will show that the participants rely on shared knowledge to display fictitious identities allowing them to construct humour. Secondly, a structural analysis of successful humorous sequences will deepen the notion of successful humour, highlighting two different structures: a two-part structure and a three-part structure. While the terms “successful humour” will be restricted to the former, the notion of “humorous convergence” will be proposed to refer to the latter.

This study is based on 51 successful humorous sequences extracted from three face-to-face interactions audio- and video-recorded in an anechoic room at Aix-Marseille University, France


French conversation; humorous convergence; successful humour; alignment; affiliation

Full Text:



Archakis, A. & Tsakona, V. (2005). ‘Analyzing conversational data in GTVH terms: A new approach to the issue of identity construction via humour’. Humor 18 (1), pp. 41-68.

Attardo, S. (2001). ‘Humor and irony in interaction: from mode adoption to failure of detection’, in Anolli, L., Ciceri, R. & Riva, G. (eds.), Say not to Say: New Perspectives on Miscommunication. Amsterdam: IOS Press, pp. 166-185.

Bavelas, J. B., Coates, L. & Johnson, T. (2000). ‘Listeners as co-narrators’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79, pp. 941-952.

Béal, C. & Mullan, K. (2013). ‘Issues in conversational humour from a cross-cultural perspective: comparing French and Australian corpora’, in Peeters, B., Mullan, K. & Béal C. (eds), Cross-culturally Speaking, Speaking Cross-culturally. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, pp. 107-139.

Bell, N. (2015). We Are Not Amused. Failed Humour in Interaction. Berlin, Boston, Munich: Mouton de Gruyter.

Bertrand, R., Blache, P., Espesser, R., Ferré, G., Meunier, C., Priego-Valverde, B. & Rauzy, S. (2008). ‘Le CID—Corpus of Interactional Data—Annotation et exploitation multimodale de parole conversationnelle’. Traitement Automatique des Langues 49, pp. 105-134.

Bertrand, R. & Priego-Valverde, B. (2011). ‘Does prosody play a specific role in conversational humour?’. Pragmatics and Cognition 19, pp. 333-356.

Bertrand, R. & Priego-Valverde, B. (2017). ‘Listing practice in French conversation: From collaborative achievement to interactional convergence’, Discours 20

Bertrand, R. & Espesser, R. (2017). ‘Co-narration in French conversation storytelling: A quantitative insight’. Journal of Pragmatics 111, pp. 33-53.

Bigi, B. (2015). ‘SPPAS - Multi-lingual Approaches for the Automatic Annotation of Speech’. The Phonetician 111-112, pp. 54-69.

Blache, P., Bertrand, R. & Ferré, G. (2009). ‘Creating and exploiting multimodal annotated corpora: the ToMA project’, in Kipp, M., J.C. Martin, J.C., Paggio, P. & Heylen, D. (eds.). Multimodal Corpora. From Models of Natural Interaction to Systems and Applications, Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, pp. 38-53.

Boersma, P. & Weenink, D. (2009). ‘Praat:Doing Phonetics by Computer’. (Version 5.1.05) [Computer program].

Boxer, D. & Cortés-Conde, F. (1997). ‘From bonding to biting: Conversational joking and identity display’. Journal of Pragmatics 27, pp. 275-294.

Coates, J. (2007). ‘Talk in a play frame: More on laughter and intimacy’, Journal of Pragmatics 39, pp. 29-49.

Chovanec, J. (2015). ‘Participant roles and embedded interactions in online sports broadcasts’, in Dynel, M. & Chovanec, J. (eds.). Participation in Public and Social Media Interactions. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 67-95.

Clark, H. H. (1996). Using Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, C. E. (1984). ‘Joint joking: Improvisational humorous episodes in conversation’. Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, pp. 360-371.

Drew, P. (1987). ‘Po-faced receipts of teases’. Linguistics 25, pp. 219-253.

Goodwin, C. (1984). ‘Notes on story structure and the organization of participation’, in Atkinson, M. & Heritage, J. (eds.), Structures of Social Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 225-246.

Guardiola, M. & Bertrand, R. (2013). ‘Interactional convergence in conversational storytelling: when reported speech is a cue of alignment and/or affiliation’. Frontiers in Psychology 4: 705, pp. 1-17. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00705

Haugh, M. (2010). ‘Jocular mockery, (dis)affiliation, and face’, Journal of Pragmatics 42, pp. 2106-2119.

Haugh, M. (2011). ‘Humour, face and (im)politeness in getting acquainted’, in Davies, B., Haugh, M., & Merrison, A. (eds.), Situated Politeness, London: Continuum, pp. 165-184.

Haugh, M. (2014). ‘Jocular mockery as interactional practice in everyday Anglo-Australian conversation’. Australian Journal of Linguistics 34 (1), pp. 76-99.

Haugh, M. (2017). ‘Jocular language play, social action and (dis)affiliation in conversational interaction’, in Bell, N. (ed.), Multiple Perspectives on Language Play, Boston: Mouton De Gruyter, pp. 143-168.

Hay, J. (1995). Gender and Humour: Beyond a Joke. Master thesis, Victoria University of Wellington.

Hay, J. (2000). ‘Functions of humour in the conversations of men and women’. Journal of Pragmatics 32 (6), pp. 709-742.

Hay, J. (2001). ‘The pragmatics of humour support’. Humor 14 (1), pp. 55-82.

Holmes, J. (2006). ‘Sharing a laugh: Pragmatic aspects of humor and gender in the workplace’, Journal of Pragmatics 38, pp. 26-50.

Jefferson, G. (1972). ‘Side sequences’, in Sudnow, D. N. (ed.) Studies in Social Interaction, New York: Free Press, pp. 294-338.

Jefferson, G. (1978). ‘Sequential aspects of storytelling in conversation’, in Schenkein, J. (ed.), Studies in the Organization of Conversational Interaction. New York: Academic, pp. 219-248.

Kerbrat-Orecchioni, C. (1986). L’implicite, Paris: Armand Colin.

Kotthoff, H. (2002). ‘Irony, quotation, and other forms of staged intertextuality’, in Graumann, C. & Kallmeyer, W. (eds.), Perspective and Perspectivation in Discourse. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 201-233.

Kotthoff, H. (2007). ‘Oral genres of humor: on the dialectic of genre knowledge and creative authoring’. Pragmatics 17(2), pp. 263-296.

Lampert, M. & Erving-Tripp, S. (2006). ‘Risky laughter: Teasing and self-directed joking among male and female friends’. Journal of Pragmatics 38, pp. 51-72.

Mills, C.B. & Babrow, A.S. (2003). ‘Teasing as a means of social influence’. Southern Communication Journal 68 (4), pp. 273-286.

Norrick, N. (1993). Conversational Joking: Humour in Everyday Talk. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Norrick, N. (1994). ‘Involvement and joking in conversation’. Journal of Pragmatics 22 (3-4), pp. 409-430.

Norrick, N. (2000). Conversational Narrative: Storytelling in Everyday Talk. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Norrick, N. (2003). ‘Issues in conversational joking’. Journal of Pragmatics 35, pp. 1333-1359.

Norrick, N. (2007). ‘Conversational storytelling’, in Herman, D. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 127–141.

Norrick, N. (2010). ‘Humour in interaction’. Language and Linguistics Compass 4 (4), pp. 232-244.

Otake, N. & Cutler, A. (2013). ‘Lexical Selection in Action: Evidence from Spontaneous Punning’. Language and Speech 56 (4), pp. 555-573.

Priego-Valverde, B. (2003). L’humour dans la conversation familière: description et analyse linguistiques, France, L’Harmattan.

Priego-Valverde, B. (2006). ‘How funny it is when everybody gets going! A case of co- construction of humour in conversation’. Círculo de lingüística aplicada a la comunicación (clac).

Priego-Valverde B. (2007). ‘Self-disparaging humor in conversation’, in Popa, D. & Attardo, A. (eds), New Approaches to the Linguistics of Humour, Galaţi, Romania: Editura Academica. pp. 15-34.

Priego-Valverde, B. (2009). ‘Failed humour in conversation: a double voicing analysis’, in Norrick, N. & Chiaro, D. (eds.), Humour in Interaction, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 165-183.

Priego-Valverde, B. (2016). ‘Teasing in casual conversations: an opportunistic discursive strategy’, in Ruiz-Gurillo L. (ed.), Metapragmatics of Humour, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 215-233.

Selting, M. (2000). ‘The construction of “units” in conversational talk’. Language Society 29, pp. 477-517.

Selting, M. (2017). ‘The display and management of affectivity in climaxes of amusing stories’. Journal of Pragmatics 111, pp. 1-32.

Stallone, L. & Haugh, M. (2017). ‘Joint fantasizing as relational practice in Brazilian Portuguese interactions’. Language & Communication 55, pp. 10-23.

Stivers, T. (2008). ‘Stance, alignment, and affiliation during storytelling: When nodding is a token of affiliation’. Research on Language and Social Interaction 41 (1), pp. 31-57.

Straehle, C. (1993). ‘“Samuel?” “Yes dear?” Teasing and conversational rapport’, in Tannen, D. (ed.), Framing in Discourse, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 210-230.

Tannen, D. (2007). Talking voices. Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsakona, V. (2018). ‘Online joint fictionalization’, in Tsakona, V. & Chovanec, J. (eds.), The Dynamics of Interactional Humour, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 229-255.

Tannen, D. (2010). ‘Abduction and identity in family interaction: Ventriloquizing as indirectness’, Journal of Pragmatics 42 (2), pp. 307-316.

Vincent, D., & Dubois, S. (1997). Le discours rapporté au quotidien. Québec: Nuit Blanche éditeur.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Publication ethics and malpractice statement