The Importance of Being Humorous: A Study of Humour in English University Lectures Within the BASE Corpus

Wang, Torri Yu (2008). The Importance of Being Humorous: A Study of Humour in English University Lectures Within the BASE Corpus. MRes thesis The Open University.



1. Introduction

1.1 Aims and objectives

My research project is an exploratory study of the linguistic/sociolinguistic aspects of patterns and roles of humour in English university lectures selected from the holdings of the BASE corpus. Humour has long been investigated in psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and linguistics, but humour in academic contexts, especially cross-cultural teaching and learning, is relatively unexplored. My research helps to fill this gap by investigating some fundamental questions. In addressing these questions, my aim is to develop a framework which is beneficial for future enquiry:

How should humour be defined in the setting of English university lectures?
Is humour pervasive in English university lectures?
Are there any perceptible forms of humour in the lectures? What are the dimensions needed to classify forms of humour in the lectures?
What are the interactional functions of humour in the lectures?

1.2 Rationale of this study

1.2.1. The initial interest

The research interest of this dissertation was derived from my personal experience as an international student in England, when I repeatedly encountered occasions in which jokes fell flat on me while other members, many of whom were native speakers, had burst into laughter. Upon reflection, it seemed that often I heard what had been said, but failed to notice or appreciate what had been funny. Such failures gradually damaged confidence in my English language competence, hindered me from actively participating in the lectures and, eventually, making contact with the lecturers or native speakers after class. As a result I preferred to make friends with Chinese students, and during our talks I realised that I was not the only one who had felt the difficulty. These experiences led me to conduct literature searches of academic investigations of humour in lectures; and of international students’ understanding of humour in academic contexts. The result of these searches revealed a comparatively blank area and hence inspired me to propose a study to fill the gap.

The following two sections are designed to account for this gap of research interest. A brief history of humour research is firstly given with the intention to show what has been investigated in this field. Then I will move onto literature which highlights the difficulties that international students have in understanding English lecturers’ humour.

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