Negotiating humorous intent
In this chapter, it is argued that the negotiation of humorous intent takes place on the basis of cognitive, social and evaluative/emotional factors. Human communication is based on cooperative collaboration and this is grounded in a natural tendency for humans to be helpful, leading to mutual assumptions of helpfulness (Tomasello 2008). Being helpful combines the need to provide sufficient clues to others about one’s intent with the need to behave in a way which promotes others’ interests. People evaluate behaviour in context, using their cognitive, social and their theory of mind or “mind-reading” skills. Van Dijk (2008, 2009) proposes the concept of mental models, consisting of a limited number of component categories as the best way of understanding how situations, and consequently behaviour in context, are represented in our minds. People construct mental models of the situations they encounter. Over time, they develop knowledge about prototypes of situations which are the basis of their expectations in similar, emerging situations, and enable people to achieve understanding by playing mutually intelligible behaviour games (Bara 2011). Expectancy violation theory (Burgoon 1993, Burgoon and Hubbard 2004) can help us see which elements of a situation determine how deviations from expectations concerning particular situations are recognised and assessed. Expectancy violations cause a degree of arousal, and the valence attached to this arousal leads to an emotional response, which can be negative (“unhelpful”) or positive (“helpful”). In order to demonstrate the potential of these notions for humour theory, a highly ambiguous joke by John Cleese is analysed from the perspectives described.