1st Edition

The Comprehension of Jokes
A Cognitive Science Framework

ISBN 9780367488833
Published February 24, 2020 by Routledge
232 Pages

USD $49.95

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Book Description

The Comprehension of Jokes consolidates and develops the tradition of analysing jokes, by defining a framework of concepts which are suited to capturing what happens when someone understands a joke. The collection of concepts presented improves upon past work on joke analysis, outlining a simple model of text comprehension which supports all the assumptions necessary for a model of joke-understanding. This proposed framework encompasses and integrates a relatively wide range of disparate factors, including incongruity, superiority, and impropriety. Written by an expert in the field of humour, it provides a conceptual basis which will help to map out the landscape of joke comprehension.

The book draws on past suggestions in many areas, primarily philosophy, psychology, linguistics, and artificial intelligence. Current theories of how people understand non-humorous texts offer some important ideas, such as the need for representations of differing beliefs about the world, or the way that predictions may occur during the understanding of a text. The framework improves the clarity and coherence of some existing theoretical proposals and combines these ideas into a well-defined way of describing how a person understands a newly-encountered joke. All this is illustrated using typical textual jokes, some analysed in considerable detail. The book enables hypotheses about why jokes are funny to be stated more precisely and compared more easily, and should contribute to the development of a fuller cognitive model of joke comprehension.

The Comprehension of Jokes will be of great interest to academics and postgraduate students in humour research, as well as those in disciplines like linguistics, psychology, and cognitive science who wish to explore the field of jokes and humour.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface

    1 The programme of work

    2 Towards a theory of jokes

    3 The process of joke comprehension

    4 Text comprehension

    5 Processing and prediction

    6 Logic in jokes

    7 Incongruity and resolution

    8 Surprise

    9 The role of language

    10 Impropriety

    11 Superiority and aggression

    12 What’s in a joke?

    13 Applying the framework

    14 The way forward

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Graeme Ritchie began his academic career in artificial intelligence in the 1970s, and for the past twenty-five years has increasingly concentrated on research into humour.


"Graeme Ritchie is one of the most rigorous thinkers I know and his newest book is a clear testimony to this fact. He is very careful not to make untenable general claims, and thus the claims he does make are guaranteed to withstand criticism. The study is grounded in his previous publications, but goes much beyond them; it synthetically addresses the central questions of humour research, although it narrowly focuses on jokes only – and it is lucidly written. A thoroughly recommended and pleasurable read that leaves you with a taste for more."

Władysław Chłopicki, Jagiellonian University, Poland, President of the International Society for Humour Studies.

"In The Comprehension of Jokes, Graeme Ritchie sets out to integrate multiple facets of the subjective experience of a joke’s audience with multiple facets of the contents of the joke narrative, drawing on diverse sources, including linguistics, logic, and psychology. He has consequently generated an extensive set of prominent constructs for the analysis, and in the longer term, theory development of jokes, and eventually humor. His book constitutes a laudable move toward a more complete account of jokes and humor. "

Larry Ventis, Psychology Professor Emeritus, College of William and Mary, Past President, International Society for Humor Studies.