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

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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.


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