Linguistic humor comprehension in Spanish as a second language

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Rayburn, Karyn Hopper

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The aims of this study are twofold: (1) to examine the development of linguistic humor interpretation and comprehension by second language (L2) Spanish learners by using a linguistic humor instrument comprised of comic strips, considering the linguistic properties of Spanish; and (2) to see whether and how reading comprehension ability is reflected in the understanding of four types of linguistic-based humor (i.e. semantic, syntactic, phonological, and morphological). Also discussed are the comprehension strategies utilized by the participants during humor processing. To address these goals, a mixed methods approach was implemented through a linguistic humor multiple-choice questionnaire together with a think-aloud protocol. Results are discussed with reference to Raskin’s (1985) Semantic-Script Switch Theory of Humor (SSTH). The data indicate: (1) comprehension of linguistic-based humor increases with L2 study; (2) L2 learners struggle most with polysemic lexical items; and (3) cognate status and pseudofamiliar words impede comprehension. Considering the analysis of the data, a reassessment of the SSTH and how it applies to L2 humor processing is suggested. Notably, linguistic-based scripts tend to dominate access to other non-linguistic based scripts because L2 learners remain within the linguistic-script frame and are unable to access and/or utilize non-linguistic scripts such as background knowledge. Furthermore, L2 learners contend with error scripts as an additional obstacle, which NS do not experience. The findings suggest that learners should be encouraged and explicitly taught about lexical depth in order to increase their ability to infer meaning from context, thereby increasing their metalinguistic knowledge base. Recommendations are made for the adjustment of the SSTH theory to be more inclusive of L2 learning environments. Finally, suggestions for the L2 classroom include: (1) methods to increase metacognitive awareness; and (2) pedagogical approaches to introduce language-based humor.



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