Using and understanding humor in a second language: A case study

Nancy Dolores Bell, University of Pennsylvania


The ways in which L2 learners develop acid gain communicative competence in their target language in interaction with native speakers (NSs) is a topic that has received increasing attention from L2 scholars. Specifically, the examination of L2 verbal humor, or language play, is an area in which little research has been conducted, yet which promises to provide insight into the process of second language learning (SLL) and the acquisition of L2 sociolinguistic competence in particular. Tarone (2000) notes, however, that in order for this to occur, we need descriptions of how adult NNSs interacting outside the classroom play with language. This study contributes to this body of research by presenting case studies of how three female NNSs of English coped with L2 humor in their interaction with NSs of English. The data were collected through tape recordings made by the participants over the course of one to two years, as well as interviews concerning the participants' views of L2 humor and their perceptions of specific interactions which were played back to them. Discourse analytic techniques were used to examine the use and understanding of L2 humor by the three participants. While a great deal of individual variation existed, despite their somewhat limited abilities with respect to L2 humor, misunderstandings based on humor were rare and did not appear to cause interactional difficulties. Based on the findings of this study, suggestions are made for the role of language play in future research and for L2 pedagogy.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Bell, Nancy Dolores, "Using and understanding humor in a second language: A case study" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3072971.