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Salience, accessibility, and humorous potential in the comprehension of garden path jokes

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Abstract

Garden path jokes exploit discourse comprehension processes at the interface of semantics and pragmatics. Up to the punch-line, the recipient is intentionally led up the garden path. A first dominant interpretation of an ambiguous textual input is constructed. After encountering a violation of the coherence at stage of the punch-line, an alternative, hidden interpretation has to be activated by reanalysis processes. Contrary to well-studied garden path sentences, in which the violation and the repair process occur primarily on a syntactical level, in garden path jokes, they have a primarily semantic locus. A coherent meaning of the discourse has to be re-established by the retrieval of relevant knowledge. The aim of this paper is to develop a probabilistic account for the cognitive processes necessary for the successful comprehension of garden path jokes. We focus on three aspects: (i) the salience of the first interpretation, (ii) the accessibility of the hidden interpretation, and (iii) the humorous potential of the whole joke. The comprehension process is assumed as probabilistic, non-monotonic, and incremental reasoning towards the most plausible interpretation of both linguistic and non-linguistic inputs. Empirical assumptions of the account are pointed out. Previous data related to these assumptions are reviewed, and possible operationalisation of these assumptions for future empirical research is presented.

References

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