Chinese students' perceptions of humour in British academic lectures

Wang, Yu (2012). Chinese students' perceptions of humour in British academic lectures. PhD thesis The Open University.



My PhD study explores humour in British academic lectures and Chinese students' perceptions of it. The research interest was derived from my personal experience as an international student in Britain, when I repeatedly encountered occasions on which the lecturers' jokes fell flat for me. Britain is one of the most popular destinations for international students, but there are hardly any investigations into humour in academic contexts or international students' understanding of it, and none on Chinese students' problems with humour in lectures. In my study, instances of humour, referred to as 'humour episodes' (REs), were identified and analysed in a large number of lectures recorded in the British Academic Spoken English (BASE) corpus and nine academic lectures recorded by me. Some Chinese students, non-Chinese students and all of the lecturers at the lectures in my corpus, commented on selected REs in interviews and group discussions. Analysis of the REs was informed by interactional sociolinguistic and pragmatic theories. Major formal, semantic, and functional properties of humour in the lectures were identified. Humour arose from the incongruous interplay between these properties. The lecturers used humour to carry out teaching tasks and interpersonal activities. Humour heightened the lecturers' stances toward their topics. These stances embodied sociocultural values. The Chinese students had evident problems comprehending their lecturers' humour. Some expressed a feeling of alienation at having to laugh with other classmates without understanding the cause. The lecturers were often unaware of the Chinese students' perceptions of their humour, and sometimes appeared to be insensitive to their negative feelings. Expression of stance in the humour was particularly problematic to the Chinese students, but they tended to consider it peripheral to the main purpose of their studies. My study has implications for Chinese students' experience in British universities, and the internationalisation of British higher education.

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