a blog so you can keep with him


In a refreshing change, this week’s essay did not concern Orwell directly. Rather, we took down transcripts of conversations to look at functions of language. See below fold for my scientific flop (I had fun)!

Laughter is pervasive throughout human cultures. An expression of joy, happiness, or humor, laughter is generally considered to be a universal mode of expression; laughter comes, perhaps, before language even. But that does not mean it cannot be used as a social tool within language. I hypothesize that laughter is used as an index of solidarity within a social group. With its connotations of joviality and humor, laughter can be used in the context of comfort and understanding. This leads to an indexing of solidarity, or a speaker’s connectivity within a group. My hope is to find the facilitative functions of laughter, to see where it indicates inclusion and support.
I took some (permitted) recordings of my friends throughout an evening – the scenes involve different sets of people. Laughter was utilized in a range of forms here, though all were associated with humor, and indexed a level of understanding between speakers. In the first example, the laugh is used also as a hedge, to reduce the intensity of the coming critique. The middle two offer the function of emphasis: Laughter tells us what is funny. Only in the fifth and final communication do we see my hypothesis fully at work, with the forming of a connection between D and L here (1).
What became apparent as the night went on was the faultiness of my hypothesis. Laughter was as prevalent as predicted, yes, but not in the assumed form. In the conversations I found few instances of the “solidarity laugh” I had predicted, laughter meant to convey inclusion with a group. Instead, laughter took on a number of speech functions – it emphasized humorous banter, acted as a hedge to “lighten the mood” and diffuse a situation, or, in certain cases, index solidarity. The variety is interesting. Laughter, while tied in with our use of language (in both body and spoken), is not directly incorporated into either category, but finds uses of it in both. Further research should look more carefully at this phenomenon. What are the uses of laughter in body language? What separates laughter from language? How does one acquire the ability to laugh (2)? Perhaps the concern needs not be with the sociality of laughter, but its individuality. Even in solidarity, how is one’s uniqueness expressed? In conclusion, I was wrong, and laughter is a vibrant, varied tool in language.

1: See appendix (Not up for privacy reasons, sorry) for relevant transcripts of the conversations mentioned.
2: It’s theorized that “laughter is genetic”, and comes naturally to humans – development of laughter in babies.


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One Response

  1. elizzy87 says:

    Hi my name’s Liz.

    So what can you hypothesize about searching for one’s laughter.

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