Recent pragmatic research focuses on the issue of identity construction via humor. In this paper, we intend to investigate how could the General Theory of Verbal Humor (in Attardo 2001, henceforth GTVH) contribute to the analysis of humor as a means of identity construction. Among the six knowledge resources proposed by the GTVH we focus on target and script opposition. The first one helps us identify whose behavior our young informants consider incongruous and, at the same time, worth laughing at. The second one reveals the specific (and often implicit) norms and values shared by conversationalists. We illustrate our points using Greek conversational narratives coming from same-gender groups of young Greek males and females. We show that, in our data, conversationalists select targets either outside or inside their group. Special emphasis is given to self-targeting humor (henceforth STH) and its function as a discourse strategy used for identity construction. Previous research on this kind of humor has revealed that STH can be interpreted as an index of either lack or presence of self-confidence and self-esteem. Our data show that, by using STH, our interlocutors indirectly point to a positive self-image. In all cases, the target of humor reinforces the existing bonds among group members, while bringing the evaluative dimension of humor to the surface and revealing the group values. Finally, our analysis brings an interesting pragmatic difference to the surface. This difference is related to the effect of humor on the identities constructed: through humor directed at other people's behavior (in the cases of out- and in-group targets), the speaker eventually de-legitimizes those others, while, through self-targeting humor, the speaker aims at legitimizing him/herself and his/her own actions.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.