Volume 21, Issue 3
  • ISSN 1018-2101
  • E-ISSN: 2406-4238


In this article I explore the relationship between laugh responses and the turns which they orient to. I consider whether it is possible to identify properties of the prior turns that the recipient may be orienting to in laughing. Thus, I begin by briefly exploring the relationship between laughter and humour in interaction. But I point to some of the difficulties in identifying what it is that makes some discourse humorous, and I argue that laughter is not simply a reaction to the perception of humour. Laughter should be considered as an action in its own right, the occurrence of which may have nothing to do with the presence of humour. Consequently, I consider the notion of the “laughable” and whilst I agree that “(v)irtually any utterance or action could draw laughter, under the right (or wrong) circumstances” (Glenn 2003: 49), I argue it is often possible to identify recurrent properties of turns treated as laughables. These properties concern the design, action and the sequential position of the turns. Thus, it seems that speakers draw from a range of resources in constructing laughables. I illustrate this by exploring a collection of instances of figurative phrases followed by laugh responses from telephone calls. I argue that in responding with laughter, recipients may orient to a cluster of properties in the prior turn. However, because laughter is an action with its own sequential implications, rather than simply a response to a prior turn, whether a recipient orients to a prior candidate laughable by laughing will depend on the nature of his or her contribution to the action sequence.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Attardo, S
    (1994) Linguistic theories of humor. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Coser, R.L
    (1960) Laughter among colleagues: A study of the social functions of laughter among the staff of a mental hospital. Psychiatry23: 81-95.
    [Google Scholar]
  3. Drew, P
    (1987) Po-faced receipts of teases. Linguistics25: 219-53. doi: 10.1515/ling.1987.25.1.219
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.1987.25.1.219 [Google Scholar]
  4. Drew, P. , and E. Holt
    (1988) Complainable matters: The use of idiomatic expressions in making complaints. Social Problems 35: 398-417. doi: 10.2307/800594
    https://doi.org/10.2307/800594 [Google Scholar]
  5. (1998) Figures of speech: Figurative expressions and the management of topic transition in conversation. Language in Society 27: 495-522. doi: 10.1017/S0047404500020200
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404500020200 [Google Scholar]
  6. Fillmore, C. , P. Kay , and M.C. O’Connor
    (1986) Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: The case of “let alone”. Unpublished manuscript.
  7. Ford, C.E. , and B.A. Fox
    (2010) Multiple practices for constructing laughables. In D. Barth , E. Reber & M. Selting (eds.), Prosody in Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. doi: 10.1075/sidag.23.27for
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sidag.23.27for [Google Scholar]
  8. Glenn, P
    (2003) Laughter in interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511519888
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511519888 [Google Scholar]
  9. Haakana, M
    (1999) Laughing matters; a conversation analytical study of laughter in doctor-patient interaction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Department of Finnish Language, University of Helsinki.
  10. (2002) Laughter in medical interaction: From quantification to analysis, and back. Journal of Sociolinguistics6.2: 207-235. doi: 10.1111/1467‑9481.00185
    https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9481.00185 [Google Scholar]
  11. Haakana, M. , and M.-L. Sorjonen
    (2011) Invoking another context: Playfulness in buying lottery tickets at convenience stores. Journal of Pragmatics 43: 1288-1302. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.10.029
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2010.10.029 [Google Scholar]
  12. Holt, E
    (2000) Reporting and reacting: Concurrent responses to reported speech. Research on Language and Social Interaction 33.4: 425-454. doi: 10.1207/S15327973RLSI3304_04
    https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327973RLSI3304_04 [Google Scholar]
  13. (2010) The last laugh: Shared laughter and topic termination. Journal of Pragmatics42: 1513-1525. doi: 10.1016/j.pragma.2010.01.011
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2010.01.011 [Google Scholar]
  14. Jefferson, G
    (1979) A technique for inviting laughter and its subsequent acceptance declination. In G. Psathas (ed.), Everyday language studies in ethnomethodology. New York: Irvington, pp. 79-96.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. (1984) On the organization of laughter in talk about troubles. In J.M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 346-369.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Koestler, A
    (1964) The act of creation. London: Hutchinson.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Lavin, D. , and D.W. Maynard
    (2001) Standardization vs. rapport: How interviewers handle the laughter of respondents during telephone surveys. American Sociological Review66: 453-479. doi: 10.2307/3088888
    https://doi.org/10.2307/3088888 [Google Scholar]
  18. Long, D.L. , and A.C. Graesser
    (1988) Wit and humour in discourse processes. Discourse Processes11: 35-60. doi: 10.1080/01638538809544690
    https://doi.org/10.1080/01638538809544690 [Google Scholar]
  19. Morreall, J
    (1983) Taking laughter seriously. Albany: State University of New York Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  20. Mulkay, M
    (1988) On humour; its nature and its place in modern society. Cambridge: Polity Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Nash, W
    (1985) The language of humour. London: Longman.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Raskin, V
    (1985) Semantic mechanisms of humour. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Sacks, H
    (1974) An analysis of the course of a joke’s telling in conversation. In R. Bauman and J. Sherzer (eds.), Explorations in the ethnography of speaking. London: Cambridge University Press, pp. 337-353.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Schegloff, E.A. , and H. Sacks
    (1973) Opening up closings. Semiotica 8: 289-327. doi: 10.1515/semi.1973.8.4.289
    https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.1973.8.4.289 [Google Scholar]
  25. Schenkein, J.N
    (1972) Towards an analysis of natural conversation and the sense of hehe . Semiotica6: 344-377. doi: 10.1515/semi.1972.6.4.344
    https://doi.org/10.1515/semi.1972.6.4.344 [Google Scholar]
  26. Sidnell, J
    (2010) Conversation Analysis: An introduction. Chichester, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Stivers, T. , and F. Rossano
    (2010) Mobilizing response. Research on Language and Social Interaction 43.1: 3-31. doi: 10.1080/08351810903471258
    https://doi.org/10.1080/08351810903471258 [Google Scholar]
  28. Suls, J.M
    (1977) Cognitive and disparagement theories of humor: A theoretical and empirical synthesis. In A.J. Chapman and H.C. Foot (eds.), It’s a funny thing, humour. Oxford: Pergamon.
    [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Conversation analysis; Figurative expression; Laughable; Laughter
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error