The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 5, No 1 (2017)

Lexical priming in humorous discourse

Andrew Goatly


This article discusses the relationship between lexical priming and humour. Since incongruity, unpredictability and ambiguity are often associated with humour theory, the article explores the possibility that many jokes or unintended humour depend upon the overriding of lexical priming. Using the Cobuild Bank of English to investigate priming using collocational statistics, the article analyses eight jokes/humorous utterances to demonstrate and test this possibility. While in many cases humour can be explained by cancelling priming, there are some interesting exceptions which are discussed. Finally, an attempt is made to place the idea of cancelling lexical priming in the context of the theory of humour as liberation.


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