Mastering second language humour: the ultimate challenge

Authors

  • Laurence Vincent-Durroux Université Grenoble Alpes
  • Kerry Mullan RMIT University, Melbourne http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9078-0383
  • Caroline David Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3
  • Christine Béal Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3
  • Cécile Poussard Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2020.8.4.Vincent-Durroux2

Keywords:

verbal humour, English as a Foreign Language (EFL), French L1, English L1

Abstract

This small-scale study on verbal humour takes place within a larger project entitled “From perception to oral production”, which aims to identify the links between comprehension and production processes and the sources of difficulty for French learners of English. The data consist of three comparable corpora of filmed semi-structured interviews with first (L1) and second (L2) language students: French-French L1; English-English L1; and English L1 with L2. The interviews revolve around the same extract of an American romantic comedy, which the students were asked to describe and comment upon. Instances of spontaneous humour were found to occur in all corpora and were analysed using the cross-cultural comparative model previously used for French-English comparative studies of verbal humour (Béal & Mullan 2013; 2017a; Mullan & Béal 2018a).

The humour used by the native speakers of French (N=7) and English (N=7) served as the initial basis for comparison with the L2 English speakers (N=34). It was found that the humour and laughter in the L1 interviews were employed by both parties to achieve certain pragmatic functions related to this particular institutional setting: the participants used humour primarily to create a connection with the interviewer (often through implicit references, and especially where both participants were female). The French students speaking English as L2 tended to use self-oriented humour as a face-saving device to deflect from their production or comprehension difficulties.

The use of humour by all L1 and L2 participants nevertheless reflected specific cultural tendencies outlined in Béal & Mullan (2013; 2017a) and Mullan & Béal (2018a), such as the prevalence of third-party oriented humour in French interactions and of self-deprecating humour in English. In sum, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we show that the French learners of English have mastered some aspects of humour in their L2, but still exhibit most of the characteristics of verbal humour from their native French.

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Author Biographies

Laurence Vincent-Durroux, Université Grenoble Alpes

Laurence Vincent-Durroux is Professor of English Linguistics at Université Grenoble Alpes, France. She is a member of LIDILEM research group (Linguistique et Didactique des Langues Etrangères et Maternelles). Her research revolves around syntax and semantics in language acquisition. She studies two specific contexts: oral language development in profound deaf children; the acquisition of English as a second language by French students. 

 

Kerry Mullan, RMIT University, Melbourne

Kerry Mullan is Convenor of Languages at RMIT University. She teaches French language and culture, and sociolinguistics. Her main research interests are cross-cultural communication and differing interactional styles, particularly those of French and Australian English speakers. She also researches in the areas of intercultural pragmatics, discourse analysis, language teaching and conversational humour.

Caroline David, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3

Caroline David is Lecturer in Linguistics in the English Department at Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3. She is a member of EMMA research group (Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone). Based on a corpus approach, her research focuses on the links between syntax and semantics in the expression of movement through complex verbal constructions. Her recent studies bear on the acquisition of oral English by French learners, and more specifically the verbal and non-verbal aspects of their speech.

Christine Béal, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3

Christine Béal is Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3 and a member of Praxiling, a CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) Research Lab specialising in linguistics and communication. Her field of expertise is French linguistics, interactional linguistics and cross-cultural pragmatics. Her work is based on naturally occurring data (spontaneous talk between work colleagues, meetings, job interviews, among friends) in French and English. She has focussed on terms of address, speech acts, politeness, rituals and routines, turn-taking and conversational humour.

Cécile Poussard, Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3

Cécile Poussard is Honorary Senior Lecturer and member of EMMA research group (Etudes Montpelliéraines du Monde Anglophone) at Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3. Her research field is second language learning and teaching, and more specifically oral comprehension, oral production and digital language learning environments.

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Published

2020-12-09

How to Cite

Vincent-Durroux, L., Mullan, K., David, C., Béal, C., & Poussard, C. (2020). Mastering second language humour: the ultimate challenge. The European Journal of Humour Research, 8(4), 82–111. https://doi.org/10.7592/EJHR2020.8.4.Vincent-Durroux2