The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 10, No 2 (2022)

The role of laughter in establishing solidarity and status

Angus James McLachlan


Drawing on a range of American, Australian, British and Scandinavian research into laughter, the current paper will use the form of pragmatic analysis typically found in qualitative research and apply it to data produced by the quantitative methodology common in the author’s own discipline of psychology. Laughter will be examined as an indexical that serves both a discourse deictic function, designating the utterance in which it occurs as non-serious, and a social deictic function, marking the laughing person’s preference for social proximity with fellow interlocutors. The paper will then analyse examples and data pertaining to three types of laughter bout derived from taking laughter as an indexical. First, solitary listener laughter will be argued to signify a deferential acknowledgement of continued solidarity with the speaker. Second, solitary speaker laughter will be suggested to mark a simple preference for solidarity. Third, joint laughter will be accepted as a signifier of actual solidarity that may also be used to mark status depending on which party typically initiates the joint laughter. Joint laughter thus acts in a manner closely analogous to the exchange of another set of indexicals, the T and V versions of second person pronouns in European languages. Finally, the paper will conclude by examining the problematic case of laughing at another interlocutor, before briefly considering the implications of this pragmatic perspective for traditional accounts of laughter as well as for future research.


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