“It’s not funny out of context!”

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This article draws on theories from cognitive stylistics and psychology in order to examine how the construction of narrative worlds contributes to the creation of humour in humorous novels. I suggest that some narrative worlds – referred to as humorous worlds – are designed to enhance the humour of particular elements which appear in them by encouraging a playful interpretation of those elements. In this paper, I outline some of the techniques which writers use to create such humorous worlds, focusing on (a) the elements which are used to build them, (b) the ways in which those elements are combined, and (c) the devices which mark those constructions as humorous. Through a range of examples from novels (by, for example, Heller, Fielding, Pratchett, Amis and Roth), I illustrate how a cognitive stylistic analysis of humour in narratives has the potential to offer some hypotheses not only about reading comprehension, but also about the pleasure of reading.


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