20 Apr 2023
08:30  - 10:00

Kollegienhaus, lecture theatre 117

Guest lecture / Talk

How are humorous effects derived from inferences at the level of text, mental frame and culture?

Prof. Francisco Yus (Universitat d'Alacant)

In everyday interactions, and according to relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson, 1995), when people intentionally talk to us, an inferential module is immediately activated that searches for the most relevant interpretation of the speaker’s words (at the level of both explicit and implicated interpretations). The general procedure is to consider interpretations in order of accessibility and stop when the expectations of relevance are satisfied. Clearly, there is also an effort constraint at work, since hearers do not expect to be gratuitously pushed into extra mental effort in exchange for little or no informative reward. In the case of humour, paradoxically, we are pushed into mental effort that does not lead to clear improvements in the audience’s store of assumptions: jokes are not informative, they often demand more inferencing than non-humorous counterparts, etc. However, these texts are deemed positive in the way humorous effects compensate for the effort involved (Yus, 2016). The main point of this lecture is to claim that “realisation” and subsequent “acknowledgment” are key reactions to humorous discourses that explain their eventual relevance, and that these operate at different inferential levels: text interpretation, mental frame construction and retrieval of cultural background assumptions.


  • Sperber, D. and D. Wilson (1995) Relevance: communication and Cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Yus, F. (2016) Humour and Relevance. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

If you would like to obtain more information on this guest lecture or attend the talk, please contact Thomas Messerli.

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