Humor in British academic lectures and Chinese students’ perceptions of it

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    This paper explores humor in British academic lectures and Chinese students’ perceptions of it. Britain is one of the most popular destinations for international students, but there are hardly any investigations into humor in academic contexts or international students’ understanding of it. In my study, instances of humor were identified and analyzed in a large number of lectures recorded in the British Academic Spoken English corpus and 13-hour academic lectures recorded by me. Some Chinese students, non-Chinese students and all of the lecturers from the lectures I recorded commented on selected instances of humor. Informed by pragmatic theories, the analysis showed that the lecturers used humor to enhance self-image, tackle potential face loss, mitigate face-threatening acts, and increase solidarity with students. Humor also draws attention to stance of language. Understanding of the stance entails the speaker's and listeners’ shared awareness of the implied meaning and associated sociocultural values. However, the Chinese students had evident problems comprehending their lecturers’ humor, and some expressed a feeling of alienation at having to laugh with other classmates without understanding the cause. The lecturers were either unaware of the Chinese students’ problems, or were aware of the problems but insensitive to their students’ needs.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)80-93
    JournalJournal of Pragmatics
    Issue numberJuly
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

    Bibliographical note

    NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of Pragmatics. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Journal of Pragmatics, [VOL 68, ISSUE July, (2014)] DOI 10.1016/j.pragma.2014.05.003


    • Humor
    • Face acts
    • Stance
    • Chinese students in the UK
    • Classroom discourse
    • Internationalization of UK higher education


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