The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 7, No 2 (2019)

Breaking frame and frame-shifting in Bassem Youssef’s satirical TV show al-Bernāmeg

Mohamed Mifdal


This paper reviews how humor is made in terms of three theoretical models. First, it draws on the contribution of the structural semantics to the understanding of the text of the joke, especially the related notion of isotopy and the linear organization of the text of the joke. Second, this paper discusses humor in light of the Semantic Script Theory of Humor (SSTH), and the General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH). Third, this paper draws also on two pragmatic and discursive approaches, namely Grice’s cooperative principle, and Simpson’s model of satire as a discourse. This paper argues that semantic incongruities and their resolutions, as well as the violations of the cooperation principle can be best apprehended in light of the frames theory as developed in social sciences by Erving Goffman and frameshifting theory as it has been developed by Seana Coulson. The aim of this paper is to reveal the mechanism used toproduce humorand laughter in one of the most popular satirical shows in the Arab world, Bassem Youssef’s al-Bernāmeg. The focus is not only on what humor/satire does (ridicule, mockery, attack of targets, overstepping of boundaries…), but also on how it does it (violation of codes, breaking frames, frame-shifting, conceptual blending) and why these discursive strategies are used (implications in light of historical and cultural context). This paper also argues that the generation of humor can be based broadly on breaking frames, which is inclusive of incongruity (both verbal and contextual), but studied in a multimodal content where incongruity is based on breaking and shattering frames that are constructed in verbal and visual forms. Humor generation is conducted through a continuous chain-like process of building, shattering, and rebuilding frames. It also deals with the frame-shifting and conceptual blending mechanisms at the level of interpretation and the construction of the meaning of humor. The aim is to account for the creative and flexible use of language for satiric purposes and thus to enhance the ability of traditional frame-based systems, including script-opposition theory to account for such flexibility in light of context and with reference to background.


Attardo, Salvatore. (1994). Linguistic Theories of Humor. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.

Attardo, Salvatore. (1997). The Semantic Foundations of Cognitive Theories of Humor. Humor: The International Journal of Humor Research, 10 (4), 395–420.

Austin, J. L. (1962). How to do Things with Words. London: Clarendon Press.

Goffman, Erving. (1986). Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press. (originally published by Harper & Row in 1974).

Grice, Paul. H. (1975). „Logic and conversation”. In Cole, P.; Morgan, J. Syntax and semantics. 3: Speech acts. New York: Academic Press. pp. 41–58.

Hodgart, Mathew.(2010). Satire : Origins and Principles, (Originally published in 1969) New Brunswick, Jersey, Transaction Publishers.

Kant, Immanuel. (1957) The Critique of Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (Originally published in German in 1790)

Morin, Violette. (1966). L’histoire drôle. Communications. 8. 102-119.

Raskin, Victor. (1985). Semantic Mechanisms of Humor. Dordrecht: Reidel.

Simpson, Paul. (2003). On the Discourse of Satire: Towards a Stylistic Model of Satirical Humour. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Internet link