Research Paper

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LING 408 Paper Assignment
Your job: Write a 6-10 page paper on a topic in semantics and/or pragmatics (a suggested topic
appears below). The paper should have the following elements:
1. Relevant semantic and/or pragmatic concepts should be applied to language data.
2. Language data must be introduced in numbered examples (e.g. (1), (2), etc.) throughout
the paper and this data must be contextualized and explained in terms of
semantic/pragmatic concepts.
3. Include at least one `extended’ discussion of relevant literature (i.e. not the textbook). An
`extended’ discussion is not a quotation, but rather a summary and explanation of some
relevant source (should be ~ a paragraph long). The relevant literature can be the
textbook for undergraduates but must be primary literature for graduate students (though
see the textbook for a bibliography).
4. Possible strategies for your paper include the following:
a. Analysis of some language data in terms of a relevant semantic/pragmatic theory
b. Critique of some semantic/pragmatic theory based on some data set
5. Please use Blackwell or Elsevier style guides to format your paper (except feel free to put
your name anywhere at the top of the document). See the papers on humor in Moodle for
6. Due Wed. Nov 23 in electronic or hard copy (submit electronic copies on Moodle, not via
email, please).
7. If you want to write on a topic that is not suggested below, please clear it with me by/on
Nov. 8 (we will have time to talk about it in class).
Suggested topic: humor in language
For this topic you would examine some example or examples of linguistic humor (i.e. slapstick
or funny pictures in absence of text would not count). Your goal would be to explain why some
aspect of linguistic humor is successful as humor in terms of some pragmatic theory, such as
Relevance Theory (Wilson & Sperber 1986). (As a more challenging alternative, you could find
an example of failed humor and explain why it fails as humor.)
Note: Many examples of humor are also offensive. If your example of humor involves offensive
themes or language, you do not need to modify your examples or worry about it so long as it
remains within the general parameters of what you might see in an `R’ rated movie. If you think
your example is offensive beyond this, you may want to include a disclaimer in your paper.
What you would want to do is the following:
1. Introduce the paper with the general concepts that you will discuss
2. Include, in numbered examples, the relevant examples, giving context and explanation
along the way (take time and be clear with this)
3. As you discuss the example(s), point out exactly why the example succeeds as humor,
a. Context that may be needed to understand the humor
b. Clashes between literal and intended meaning
c. How the listener would, in real-time, process the humor, deriving the humorous
4. Discuss whether or not the relevant semantic/pragmatic theory (e.g. Relevance) is useful
for discussing the example(s), or if something is missing
5. Conclude by discussing the nature of humor in your example – what is the meaning of
humor? and/or why does humor arise when it does?
If you are using a video clip as your source, please provide a link.
Some examples of humor could be the following:
1. Live interaction (example: a real conversation between friends or a late-night tv interview
where the interviewer and interviewee are laughing)
2. Monologue (e.g. stand-up comedy, celebrity roast)
3. Scripted/semi-scripted dialogue (interactions between characters in TV or movies,
`reality’ TV interactions)
4. `Canned’ jokes/puns, either from memory or in compilation


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