Humor in Spoken Academic Discourse

Search this Article


    • Lee David
    • 名古屋商科大学総合経営学部 Nagoya University of Commerce and Business, Faculty of Business Administration


This paper draws on the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE) to empirically examine the different ways in which humor is manifested linguistically in spoken academic discourse in a North American university. It examines the various discoursal and rhetorical functions humor plays, and the pedagogical implications of its prevalence. Contrary to stereotype, humor is actually frequent and pervasive in a variety of linguistic guises in many academic speech genres (Swales, 2004; Cutting 2000), where it may serve to illustrate an argument, state a point more memorably, establish rapport, create a sense of informality or enliven the atmosphere. Using corpus evidence, it is demonstrated that, far from being a peripheral aspect of academic speech, humor, broadly conceived, is recurrent and commonplace, and is successfully and strategically marshaled by proficient professors and other speakers through the use of witty phrases, colloquialisms, references to salient contemporary events or personalities, hyperbole, irony, etc. Much of the humor, however, may be opaque to international students studying in the USA, as humor notoriously does not travel well across cultures and languages. This paper presents illustrative examples of the way humor is deployed in academic speech and suggests a few strategies which may help international students studying in the US recognize and respond to some forms of humor, and thus participate more fully in their educational experience overseas.


  • NUCB journal of language culture and communication

    NUCB journal of language culture and communication 8(1), 49-68, 2006

    Nagoya University of Commerce & Business Administration


  • NII Article ID (NAID)
  • Text Lang
  • ISSN
  • Data Source
Page Top