Laughter in university lectures

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    This paper analyses laughter in spoken academic discourse, with the aim of discovering why lecturers provoke laughter in their lectures. A further purpose of the paper is to identify episodes in British data which may differ from those in other cultural contexts where other lecturing practices prevail, and thus to inform the design of study skills and staff development programmes for multilingual, multicultural, international university environments. Examination of the data indicates that the management of laughter in British lectures is strategic, and has a rhetorical purpose. Six main types of laughter episode are described: ’teasing’, ’lecturer error’, self-deprecation’, ’black humour’, disparagement’ and ’word play’. Laughter results from references to shared ‘scripts’ for student and lecturer behaviour, evaluations of outsiders who do not form part of the lecturerstudent in-group, and the lecturers’ efforts to forge group intimacy. It serves as a means of maintaining social order, building rapport, relieving tension, and modelling academic and professional identities. Comparisons of laughter episodes across cultures, however, suggest that references to conventional British lecturer and student scripts would be out of place in many non-British contexts.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)79-89
    JournalJournal of English for Academic Purposes
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

    Bibliographical note

    “NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Journal of English for Academic Purposes. 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 English for Academic Purposes, [VOL 11, ISSUE 2, (2012)] DOI 10.1016/j.jeap.2011.12.003”


    • Study skills
    • Staff development
    • Inter-cultural communication
    • British Academic Spoken English (BASE)
    • corpus
    • Michigan corpus of Academic Spoken
    • English (MICASE)
    • Engineering Lecture Corpus (ELC)


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