Humorous worlds: a cognitive stylistic approach to the creation of humour in comic narratives

Marszalek, Agnes (2012) Humorous worlds: a cognitive stylistic approach to the creation of humour in comic narratives. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (685kB) | Preview
Printed Thesis Information:


In this thesis, I examine some of the ways in which humour is created in comic novels. I combine concepts from cognitive stylistics and psychology to address the question: ‘How does the construction of narrative worlds contribute to the creation of humour in narratives?’. I suggest that the narrative world can be designed to enhance the humour of particular elements which appear in it by encouraging a playful interpretation of those elements. I call the narrative worlds which are constructed to elicit an overall experience of humour humorous worlds and outline some of the techniques which writers use to build them, focusing on three aspects: (1) Disrupted Schemata. In the first chapter, I discuss the elements which are used to build humorous worlds. I outline the ways in which representations of settings, objects, characters and situations which make up humorous worlds can be manipulated to achieve an amusing effect. I demonstrate some of the applications of schema theory in the stylistics of humorous texts, including Cook’s schema disruption and schema refreshment (1994), Gibbs’ soft-assembling of schemata (2003) and Schank and Abelson’s notion of scripts thrown off normal course (1977). I link those to McGhee’s concept of fantasy-assimilation (1972). (2) Repetition and Variation. I then outline some of the ways in which the disrupted elements are combined. I write about repetition and variation, which in humorous narratives operates in two ways (conceptual/stylistic) and on two levels (local/extended). I discuss the cognitive mechanisms involved in them (by drawing on, for example, Emmott’s 1997 contextual frame theory) and hypothesise about their amusing effect by basing my work on classic research in psychology (Berlyne 1972, Suls 1972). (3) Humorous Mode. Finally, I discuss the devices which mark humorous worlds as humorous. I point out that comic narratives need to be labelled as humorous discourse and that the humorous cueing/keying in novels is less explicit than that in jokes. I apply Triezenberg’s model of humour enhancers (2004) to humorous extracts, analyse narrative strategies in the opening paragraphs of a number of humorous novels and suggest some ways in which a manipulation of distance (e.g. Leech and Short 2007) between the writer and the reader can be seen as a humorous cueing strategy. I argue that while creating humour in narratives requires a skilful stylistic manipulation on the part of the writer, making sense of it demands a considerable cognitive effort from the reader. Through a range of examples from nine humorous novels (by authors including Heller, Fielding, Pratchett, Amis, Roth and Vonnegut) and relevant secondary literature, I illustrate how a cognitive stylistic analysis of humour in narratives has the potential to offer some hypotheses not only about reading comprehension, but also about the pleasure of reading.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Humour, narrative, cognitive stylistics
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PE English
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Emmott, Dr. Catherine and Anderson, Dr. Wendy
Date of Award: 2012
Depositing User: Ms Agnes Marszalek
Unique ID: glathesis:2012-4156
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2013 10:17
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2013 10:17

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year