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Intercultural Communication Through Humor Essay

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I delve into this research project hoping to acquire more information about humor and language. What makes some things funny and others not? How much of humor is based on culture or intellectual development? What I found was that no one really knows these answers yet. What there has been research on is humor and communication. To narrow my focus further, I chose to examine research papers relating specifically to intercultural communication through humor. I picked two studies to analyze which cover opposite ends of the intercultural humor spectrum. One suggests the best ways to use humor with a non-native speaker and the other discuses ways that intercultural humor can be seen as racist and disrespectful.
Bell (2007) reports her findings on communicating humor amongst native speakers (NS) and English as a second language speakers (L2). The results of Bell’s research shows that although humor seems to be a potential mine field of confusion between NS and L2 speakers, there tends to be an effort from both parties to ensure that purposeful humor is “constructed and interpreted in such a way as to avoid misunderstanding” (p. 30). Humor is one of the most difficult things for a L2 speaker to learn. A reason for this is because, a person’s ability to comprehend words and use grammar, is insignificant without understanding the necessary social connotations. Each culture and ethnicity is comprised of different ideas of what is funny and acceptable in humor. Joking exchanges require a greater knowledge than simple speech comprehension.
Bell (2007) examines the interactions of three L2 women and how they communicate with NS friends and business associates. She gives examples of conversations amongst the friends, and points out topic...


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...a different perspective about what is funny and what goes too far. Both of these studies were based on hypotheses that can never have a definitive answer. A lot of what I read was common sense spelled out for less diplomatic people. There were bits of interesting information that could be useful especially in classrooms, but also during everyday conversation. If nothing else was gained from this research, I assure you, I will never say “hasta la vista baby” again.










Works Cited

Bell, N. (2007). How native and non-native English speakers adapt to humor in intercultural interaction. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 20(1), 27-48. doi:10.1515/HUMOR.2007.002

Callahan, L. (2010). Speaking with (dis)respect: A study of reactions to Mock Spanish. Language & Intercultural Communication, 10(4), 299-317. doi:10.1080/14708477.2010.494731



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