Humor as interactional affordances: an ecological perspective on humor in social interaction

Open access


In adopting new theoretical advancements within linguistics and ecological psychology, this paper investigates humor from an ecological perspective in naturally occurring social interaction. In doing so, it is claimed that the notions of language as coordination and values-realizing can provide a new understanding of humor as it appears in human interaction. This argument will be unfolded as a rethinking of Wallace Chafe’s notion of nonseriousness (Chafe, 2007) that re-conceptualizes Chafe’s idea of a ‘mental state’ of nonseriousness in terms of interactional affordances and values realizing. This perspective is laid out in in-depth analyses of video recordings of two real-life examples from different settings: two siblings playing and a sequence from a couple-therapy session. It is claimed that both examples of interactional humor can be explained by re-conceptualizing humor as a distinct way of being together. Thus, the emergence of humor is enabled by a shift in the coordinative dynamics rather than by a transfer of semantic ‘content’ from a speaker to a hearer. Finally, humor is investigated as a temporal phenomenon integrating immediate ’here-and-now’ environmental features with socio-cultural expectations on a longer time-scale. In this way humor is viewed as a particular type of values-realizing activity that constrains our actions, re-directs our attention, and thereby enables us to act in a more playful and joyous manner.

Amir, O., Biederman, I., Wang, Z., & Xu, X. (2013). Ha ha! versus aha! A direct comparison of humor to nonhumorous insight for determining the neural correlates on mirth. Cerebral Cortex, 62, 35-43.

Attardo, S., & Raskin, V. (1991). Script theory revis(it)ed: Joke similarity and joke representation model. Humor, 4(3), 293-347. doi:

Attardo S. (1994). Linguistic Theories of Humor. Humor Research 1. Amsterdam: Walter de Gruyter Boyd, B. (2004). Laughter and Literature. A Play Theory of Humor. Philosophy and Literature, 28, 1-21.

Bryant, G. & Gibbs, R. W. (2015). Behavioral complexities in ironic humor. In G. Brône, K. Feyaerts, & T. Veale (Eds.), Cognitive linguistics and humor research (pp. 147-166). Boston, MA: De Gruyter Mouton.

Butovskaya, M. L. & Kozintsev, A. G. (1996). A Neglected Form of Quasi- Aggression in Apes: Possible Relevance for the Origins of Humor. Current Anthropology, 37(4), 716-717

Chafe, W. 2(007). The Importance of Not Being Earnest. The feeling behind laughter and humor. Amsterdam. John Benjamins.

Chemero, A. (2011). Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA. A Bradford Book.

Coulson, S. (2001). Semantic leaps: Frame-shifting and conceptual blending in meaning construction. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. doi:

Colombetti, G. & Krueger, J. (2015). Scaffoldings of the affective mind. Philosophical Psychology, 28(8), 1157-1176.

Cowley, S. J. (2011). Distributed Language. In S. J. Cowley (Ed.), Distributed Language (pp. 1-15). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Cuffari, E. C. & Jensen, T. W. (2014). Living Bodies: Co-enacting Experience. In C. Müller, A. Cienki, E. Fricke, S. H. Ladewig, D. McNeill, & J. Bressem. Handbook: Body - Language - Communication Vol 2 (pp. 2016-2025). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Dale, R., Fusaroli, R., Duran, N., & Richardson, D. C. (2013). The selforganization of human interaction. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 59, 43-95.

Ervin-Tripp S. & M. Lampert, M. 2009. The occasioning of self-disclosure humor. In N. R. Norrick, and D. Chiaro (Eds.), Humor in Interaction (pp. 3-28). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Flieger, J. A. (1991). The Purloined Punch Line. Baltimore. MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Freud, S. (1905/1960). Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. New York, NY: Norton.

Fusaroli, R., Raczaszek-Leonardi, J., Tylén, K. (2014). Dialog as interpersonal synergy. New Ideas in Psychology, 32, 147-157.

Gallagher, S. (2017). Enactive interventions: Rethinking the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gibbs R. W. & Colston, H. L. (Ed). (2007). Irony in Language and Thought. A Cognitive Science Reader. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Goodman, L. (1992). Gender and humor. In F. Bonner, L. Goodman, R. Allen, L. Janes, & C. King (Eds.), Imaging women: Cultural representations and gender (pp. 296-300). Cambridge: Polity.

Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole, J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics. 3: Speech acts (pp. 41-58). New York, NY: Academic Press.

Harvey M. I. 2015. Content in languaging: why radical enactivism is incompatible with representational theories of language. Language Sciences, 48, 90-129.

Hay, J. (2000). Functions of humor in the conversations of men and women. Journal of Pragmatics, 32, 709-742.

Hodges, B. H. (2007). Good prospects: ecological and social perspectives on conforming, creating, and caring in conversation. Language Sciences, 29, 584-604.

Hodges, B. H. (2009). Ecological pragmatics: values, dialogical arrays, complexity and caring. Pragmatics & Cognition, 17(3), 628-652.

Hutchby I, & Wooffitt, R. (2011) Conversation Analysis. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Jefferson, G. (1984). On the organization of laughter in talk about troubles. In J.M. Atkinson & J.C. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 346-369). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jensen, T. W. 2014: Emotion in languaging: languaging as affective, adaptive, and flexible behavior in social interaction. Frontiers in Psychology. Cognitive Science, Vol 5, Article 720. doi:

Jensen, T. W. (2014a) New perspectives on language, cognition, and values. Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 9(1), 71-78.

Jensen, T. W. & Pedersen, S. B. (2016). Affect and affordances: The role of action and emotion in social interaction. Cognitive Semiotics, 9(1), 97-103.

Koestler, A. (1964). The Act of Creation. London: Hutchinson.

Kramarae, C. (1981). Women and men speaking: Framework for analysis. Rowley, MA: Newbury.

Kravchenko, A. (2009). The experiential basis of speech and writing as different cognitive domains. Pragmatics & Cognition, 17(3), 527-548

Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and woman’s place. New York, NY: Harper Colophon.

Love, N. (2004). Cognition and the language myth. Language Sciences, 26, 525-544.

Meyer, J. C. (2000). Humour as a double-edged sword: Four functions of humour in communication. Communication Theory, 10, 310-331

McGraw, A. & Warren, C. (2014). The humor code: A global search for what makes things funny. New York, NY: Somin & Schuster.

Norrick N. R. (1993). Conversational Joking: Humor in Everyday Talk. Indiana University Press.

Norrick N. R. & D. Chiaro (Eds.). (2009). Humor in Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Perlmutter, D. D. (2000). Tracing the origin of humor. Humor, 13(4), 457-468.

Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

Provine, R. R. (2000). Laughter. A Scientific Investigation. New York, NY: Viking.

Raczaszek-Leonardi, J. & Nomikou, I. (2015). Beyond mechanistic interaction: value-based constraints on meaning in language. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1579.

Ramachandran, V. S. (1998). The neurology and evolution of humor, laughter, and smiling: The false alarm theory. Med Hypotheses, 51(4), 351-354. doi:

Raskin, V. (1985). Semantic Mechanisms of Humor. Boston, MA: Reidel Publishing Co.

Samermit, P. & Gibbs, R. W. (2016). Humor, the body, and cognitive linguistics. Cognitive Linguistic Studies, 3(1), 32-49.

Schnurr, S. & Holmes, J. (2009). Using humor to do masculinity at work. In N. R. Norrick, & D. Chiaro (Eds.), Humor in Interaction (pp. 101-124). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Steffensen, S. V. (2009). Language, languaging, and the extended mind hypothesis. Pragmatics and Cognition, 17, 677-697.

Steffensen, S. V. (2012). Care and Conversing in Dialogical Systems. Language Sciences. 34(5), 513-53

Steffensen, S. V. (2015). Distributed Language and Dialogism: Notes on nonlocality, sense-making and interactivity. Language Sciences, 50, 105-119.

Tannen, D. (2005). Conversational Style: Analyzing Talk Among Friends. New Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tannen, D. (2007). Talking Voices: Repetition, Dialogue, and Imagery in Conversational Discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thibault, P. J. (2011). First-Order Languaging Dynamics and Second-Order Language: The Distributed Language View. Ecological Psychology, 23, 210-245.

Trasmundi, S. B. (2015). The cognitive ecology of human errors in emergency medicine: an interactivity-based approach. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Southern Denmark, Faculty of Humanities.

Vine, B., Kell, S., Marra, M., & Homes, J. (2009). Boundary-marking humor: Institutional, gender and ethnic demarcation in the workplace. In N. R. Norrick, & D. Chiaro (Eds.), Humor in Interaction (pp. 125-139). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Ziv, A. (1984). Personality and Sense of Humor. New York, NY: Springer.

Journal Information

CiteScore 2017: 0.34

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.144
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 0.359


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 155 155 37
PDF Downloads 131 131 24