The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 8, No 4 (2020)

Humour expression at the crossroads of deaf and hearing cultures: the case of the Oral Deaf fitted with cochlear implants

Laurence Vincent-Durroux


In deaf people who use sign languages, humour expression has been looked at extensively, examining the preferred means and topics in deaf humour (Cancio-Bello 2015; Sutton-Spence & Napoli 2009). Humour expression remained to be further examined in deaf people with cochlear implants, which give access to the sounds of speech, and facilitate speech production and interaction. In this paper, we address these questions: is delayed linguistic input an obstacle on their way to using humour expression in their target spoken language? To what extent do profoundly deaf cochlear implants recipients access and share the means and topics of hearing people? How do they stand culture-wise? We analyze French and English data collected from 18 profoundly deaf cochlear implant recipients, aged two to 15, with ages at implantation varying from one to 7, and filmed in interaction with an adult. For the youngest children, the main sources of humour are the gestures they make, the objects they build, and onomatopoeia. Older children use formal speech in order to make the adult laugh, either by taking up the adult’s speech, or by speaking to / for the objects they have built. The children tend to grow out of deaf experience jokes and visual jokes. They already evidence some of the trends of humour in their respective target language (e.g. third-party target in French, discursive strategies in English), although the French participants do not use linguistic play as much as would be expected, and the English participants do not use much recipient-oriented humour. We discuss the growing ability of cochlear implant recipients to access speech-based, co-constructed humour, even though such high-level linguistic processes have been shown to be impacted in deaf children (Arfé et al. 2015; Bourdin 2015) with deafness itself and limited linguistic input as possible causes accounting for their preference for discursive strategies over play-on-words in humour expression.



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