Rich pitch

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This paper argues that intonation contributes to the humorous meaning of a certain class of jokes. Examples of both canned and spontaneous jokes show that two intonation patterns, the intonation of contrast, or “L+H* pitch accent”, and the intonation of given information, or “deaccent”, can contribute to a humorous effect. Both of these patterns act as cohesive devises in discourse: they trigger a mental search in the mind of a hearer for a cohesive tie that may not be obvious from the lexicogrammatical structure alone. A punch line effect is created if this search yields an unexpected incongruity between the hearer’s initial mental model of the joke discourse and a humorous alternative. The hearer must shift his “script” (Raskin 1984) of the discourse in an unexpected way. To the extent that intonation facilitates processing by directing attention to particular elements in the information structure of the discourse (Chafe 1994), the processing of jokes depends in part on their intonation. The implications of this premise for the processing of humorous texts will be discussed for the two intonation patterns in question. It is argued that intonation analysis can lead to a broader understanding of cognitive processes and structures.


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