Methodology and transcription>


To start at the end. The final section of this study is a lengthy analysis of an extract from a television chat show in which an utterance – ‘Margaret Thatcher was a man’ - is interpreted both as a joke and an insult. When I first saw this I thought it might be of some use in a dissertation about the pragmatic aspects of humour. What interested me was the fact that here was a simple utterance which caused an amiable free-flowing stream of conversation to suddenly boil up into a confrontation. The bone of contention was the sexism of the comment, but it could just as well have been a dispute about ethnicity, religion, football or food. Its immediate appeal was that it was a disagreement about the meaning of spoken words.   When I came to transcribe it I realised that to better understand it I needed to go back a little to see what led up to the particular exchange. This I did only to find that perhaps it was necessary to go back a bit further… It soon became clear that rather than this extract providing a useful brief example of the problematic nature of assigning meaning to an utterance, the entire extract itself was a rich extended sequence which bountifully displayed many features of how pragmatic meaning is not arrived at with some convenient formula (meaning = words + context) but rather is something which unpredictably emerges from the flow of collaboratively constructed social action. It also became apparent that the context was both linguistically and socially much more complex than I had realised and, so, demanded a much more detailed examination than I had been at first prepared to give it.

I then set out to pragmatically pick apart the whole sequence. What were the important elements of the context which needed attention?  Of immediate concern was the language environment: this was not a piece of mundane talk carried out in private but was talk done in performance space for an overhearing audience. It was talk carried out by ‘celebrities’ (two of whom were comedians), a significant part of whose discourse goals was to entertain and amuse. And at the core of it lay a blunt statement that provoked a sharp difference of opinion about the politics of gender. Not to be overlooked also was the simple fact that it was talk, that most common form of everyday social action. These were the unavoidable features that had to be dealt with. This thesis, then, sets out to take a pragmatic look at humour. This bald statement might seem plain enough but further clarification is needed.  Let us start with some comment on the key words ‘humour’ and ‘pragmatics’.

‘Help – call the Police. Murder has been done. This is NOT a joke.’ This was the message an elderly man taped to his front door after killing his wife with a hammer. He then went into his garden shed and hanged himself (Lynch 2001). Why this is of interest here is his reference to humour at a time of murder and suicide. The fact that in such a situation he felt the need to underline (literally, four times) that this communication was not a joke indicates at least two important things about humour in our culture. One, humour is something that can reach, directly or indirectly, into all areas of our experience, the malignant as well as the benign. Secondly, following on from this (potential) ubiquity, it is not always easy to discern what is and what is not humorous. If it were, there would have been no need for the metacomment in the above note. Both of these issues are of interest to this dissertation, and the second one leads us on to the next point.

Pragmatics is a field of language study concerned with meaning. Unlike semantics, it is not concerned with the meaning of words per se but rather with the meaning of words used by people in concrete social situations, that is, with words in context. Given the wide variety of users and the wide variety of contexts in which we use language, the task of pragmatics is far from easy. Fortunately, in situations where there may be some doubt about meaning we usually work together to clarify matters, just as the additional comment in the note shows – ‘This is not humour’. However, what about when we do use humour, which, as we have noted, is not always easy to interpret? Can pragmatics deal with this? This study believes that it can.  More specifically, can it deal with cases where humour is offered (even with metacomment) but is rebuffed, that is, where the meanings surrounding humour are disputed? Again, this study believes it can, and, indeed, in order to rigorously test its methods, sets itself the task in its main analysis of tackling precisely such a situation.

Methodology and Transcription

As pragmatics is a discipline for which contextual factors are crucial, and these can vary so much from case to case, this allows a certain flexibility of approach. (A recent textbook on methods of text and discourse analysis - Titscher et al, 2000 - offers no fewer than ten.) I have not been slow to take advantage of this. The pragmatic approach I take has the usual Austinian and Gricean elements of language as action and conversation as (predominantly) cooperative, though the limitations of speech act theory will be noted. But in addition to this, features of conversational analysis (CA) and the ethnography of speaking, both of which also insist on the central importance of contextual factors for meaning, are also included, as well as an emphasis on the important gender aspects of the exchange. It will be found that there is a strong correspondence between my approach and the characteristics of the anthropologist Geertz's 'thick description':

it is interpretive; what it is interpretive of is the flow of social discourse; and the interpreting involved consists in trying to rescue the 'said' of such discourse from its perishing occasions and fix it in perusable terms… But there is, in addition, a fourth characteristic of such description, at least as I practice it: it is microscopic (1973:20-1)

What this means for this dissertation is that rather than take such features as, for example, performance space, performers, or gender as given, or merely sketch in an outline of such elements, I undertake an intensive look at them in order to see their effect on such significant contextual features as space, social role, and utterance.

The actual coining of the term 'pragmatics' is usually attributed to Morris (1938) when he distinguishes between 'three dimensions of semiosis': the semantical dimension - 'the relations of signs to the objects to which they refer'; the pragmatical dimension - 'the relation of signs to interpreters'; and the syntactical dimension - 'the relation of signs to one another' (pp.6-7). (But Givon, 1989 Chapter1, discusses much older precursors of pragmatics.) Morris goes on to say that as all interpreters of signs are living organisms pragmatics 'deals with the biotic aspects of semiosis, that is, with all the psychological, biological, and sociological phenomena which occur in the functioning of signs' (p.38). If we step back a little further to Malinowski's essay of 1923 concerning the problems of ethnographic translations, we find a related point. He underlines the significance for meaning of context, the study of which, he says, 'must burst the bonds of mere linguistics and be carried over into the analysis of the general conditions under which a language is spoken' [1923] (1949:306). He comments further:

Meaning…does not come…from the contemplation of things, or analysis of occurrences, but in practical and active acquaintance with relevant situations. The real knowledge of a word comes through the practice of appropriately using it within a certain situation. (p.325)

From these remarks we can gather that the consideration of the meaning of language in action involves not simply the words but also the users and the context. In this regard, Blum-Kulka reminds us of the important distinction between sentences and utterances, where the former are 'verbal entities definable through linguistic theory' and the latter 'verbal units of communication in specific contexts' (1997:39). It is the latter which is the concern of pragmatics (and also of this study), as a glance at recent definitions of the term confirms: ·

  • 'how utterances have meanings in situations' (Leech 1983:x) ·
  • 'the study of …relations between language and context' (Levinson 1983:9) ·
  • 'the theory of utterance interpretation' (Wilson and Sperber 1984:21) ·
  • 'the science of language as it is used by real, live people, for their own purposes, within their limitations and affordances' (Mey 1994:5) ·
  • 'the study of linguistic communication in context' (Blum-Kulka 1997:38).

Such issues, though, are not the concern solely of pragmaticians, they raise questions which have become the staples of sociolinguistic theory also. To try to discover more about language in action sociolinguistics asks a number of questions, first asked explicitly by Pittenger et al (1960) in their study of a psychiatric interview:

What does each participant say? Why does he say it? How does he say it? What impact does it have on the other participant? When and how is new material brought in to the picture, and by whom? … How does the orientation of each participant change as the transactions continue? and why? and how do we know? and does the other participant know? and if he does, by virtue of what evidence? (p.210, original emphasis)

Deeming such factors relevant adds to our further understanding of linguistic interactions but can also be problematic. Mey (1994), for instance, wonders whether Morris' original formulation isn't too inclusive. Dascal also cautions against an overemphasis of context, noting that there is a danger of 'assigning to pragmatics more than it can be reasonably expected to do' (1981:159). While these are basic practical concerns they are epistemological problems also - how can such a teeming mass be formalised and systematised? We will see (4.2) how stretches of language can be formally dealt with in terms of morphological, syntactic, semantic, and phonological systems ('sentence-as-object' as Brown and Yule would say (1989:24)), and also how longer stretches can also be handled systematically ('discourse-as-process' (p.24)). But, given the sheer scope of context as it is broadly-defined, it seems fair to comment that '[n]o strict rules and conditions can be set up for such a pragmatic "universe"' (Mey p.277).

However, a solution to this problem is available in the way we regard context. Context should not be seen as simply some reified environment in which language just happens to take place. As Goodwin and Duranti put it:

Instead of viewing context as a set of variables that statically surround strips of talk, context and talk are now argued to stand in a mutually reflexive relationship to each other, with talk and the interpretive work it generates shaping context as much as context shapes talk. (1992:31)

If it is the case that context is so diverse and fluid, then clearly it is not amenable to any kind of principles applicable to all people at all times in all places. In an attempt to understand what is going on when we talk we need, rather, to look at the 'mutually reflexive relationship' between talk and local principles and practices of interlocutors' culture to discover what participants themselves are doing with their language. Great assistance can be had in this task by employing the heuristic devices made available by conversation analysis (CA). If we are to consider discourse as a process then a crucial aspect of utterances is their sequential placement, and CA notions of turn-taking, adjacency pairs, preference and so forth help lay bare the way in which we collaboratively organise interaction in order to make sense to one another. (CA - and criticisms of it - will be dealt with in detail in 6.2)

While CA may help us understand how meaning is constructed through talk in interaction, it cannot always help us understand why motivated social beings talk in the way they do. Though Schegloff asserts that CA 'is at a point where linguistics and sociology (and several other disciplines, anthropology and psychology among them) meet' (1992:104), Schiffrin points out its shortcoming that, though it is an approach to discourse that emphasises context, 'the relevance [for CA] of context is grounded in text' (1994:236). This is confirmed by Schegloff when he stresses:

It is not for us to know what about context is crucial, but to discover it…Not, then, to privilege sociology's concerns under the rubric 'social structure', but to discover them in the members' worlds, if they are there. (p.128, original emphasis)

Such rigid insistence on neutrality sets up a tension for the analyst not unlike that usually found between the degree of objectivity demanded by the natural sciences and that found in most of the interpretive (human or social) sciences. Nunberg reminds us here of 'the crucial role of "understanding" (Verstehen) in formulating and validating hypotheses that proceed from assumptions about human beliefs and desires', and this in turn entails that 'the analyst has to be able to put at least part of his foot into his subjects' shoes' (1981:221). This does not mean, though, that we open the floodgates of subjective speculation but that we 'constrain the world of use in accordance with our (explicit or implicit) knowledge of the users and with the expectations that follow from that knowledge' (Mey 1994:278, emphasis added). This is where the analyst must make choices to constrain the world to suit his/her particular purposes. At this point I turn to the choices I have made. In defining his terms in his discussion of pragmatics, Leech (1983:11) presents the following diagram:

pragmatics diagram

Someone like Levinson would be on the 'grammar' side of this formulation, as for him pragmatics is 'the study of those relations between language and context that can be grammaticalised, or encoded in the structure of language' (1983:9, original emphasis). His footnote to this explains that he uses grammaticalisation 'in the broad sense covering the encoding of meaning distinctions…in the lexicon, morphology, syntax, and phonology of languages'. For me this seems too formal and narrow. It would seem to be more concerned with co-text than context. A simple example should, it is hoped, demonstrate the narrowness of his view. It involves a television interview between Robin Day (D) and the Conservative ex-prime minister Edward Heath (H). The Conservatives, now under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, have just beaten Labour in the 1979 election, thus making Thatcher the new prime minister.

D: I think you know the question I'm going to ask you.
H: We'll have to wait and see.
D: Would you like to?
H: It all depends. (Searle 1992:27)

While this is a grammatical exchange, there is little about the grammar here that helps us fully understand what is going on. But given the (extragrammatical) contextual factors (some of which were given immediately before the extract), especially the fact well-known at the time that Heath and Thatcher strongly disliked one another politically and personally, the question of whether Heath would serve under Thatcher, if asked, was on everyone's lips and helped interlocutors and audience make sense of what otherwise may have been a vague exchange.

Thus my choices put me more on the 'sociology' side of Leech's schema. Unquestionably we cannot dispense with a study of the linguistic features in any exchange but it is the extralinguistic features of context that will be given much attention in what follows. As Hymes says, 'the study of language is a multidisciplinary field, a field to which ordinary linguistics is indispensable, but to which other disciplines, such as sociology, social anthropology, education, folklore, and poetics are indispensable as well' (1974:vii-viii). As already stated, the tools of CA, which originate in sociology, not linguistics, are of great assistance and will be used. Further, the nature of disputed utterance takes me into the realm of gender politics and so this, too, forms an important part of the investigative framework.

However, some of the limitations of the more stringent aspects of ethnomethodology (the particular branch of sociology from which CA arose) are also recognised. Atkinson (P.), in a wide-ranging review of ethnomethodology, notes that some of the more severe applications of its principles in CA show 'less concern with the explication of meaning than with the discovery of competence or methods whereby speakers generate orderly sequences of activity' (1988:449). He further argues that in some CA studies 'the hermeneutic-interpretive strand has been suppressed in favour of a more narrowly empiricist, even behaviourist element' (p.460). (Some ethnomethodologists, however, aware of criticisms from a wide variety of angles, would wryly point to the criticisms of, for example, Bourdieu 1989, that ethnomethodology was voluntaristic and subjective (in Watson 1992:xiv).) Buttny (1993:29) poses this problem more forcefully in a series of (perhaps oversimplified) binary oppositions of methodological approaches, with empiricism on the left and what he calls 'interpretativism' on the right:




    thick description

    control of conditions

    naturalistic observation


    social practices

    experience far concepts

    experience near concepts

    extensive sample

    intensive analysis

While not agreeing with all of this (Buttny does, admittedly, note that some cross-fertilisation has taken place), I can say that much in the right-hand column would adequately describe much of the approach taken here. (Note, for example, how similar these points are to those of Geertz highlighted above.) I would just add, however, that while the analyses in this dissertation are for the most part actually empirical, it does not necessarily follow that 'empirical' (even the strictly empirical) is the same as 'empiricist'. Further, a helpful step toward resolving the problems thus posed is, as Hammersley and Atkinson put it when discussing the principles of ethnography, 'to recognise the reflexive character of social research; that is, to recognise, that we are part of the social world we study' (1983:14). I have no qualms about such an approach and do not attempt to hide my membership of the culture in which the extended sequence takes place.

Further, in this discussion of methodology some stress has already been put on local principles and practices (Buttny's 'near concepts' in my reading) rather than universal principles ('far concepts'), and this is another point on which I would like to underline my divergence from some of the claims of the stronger versions of CA, specifically those concerning the universality of certain of their discoveries of the features of talk, such as, for example, the English turn-taking system. Duranti, too, takes issue with this, pointing out that even where this is not explicitly stated 'such a claim has been taken to be implicit in their practice' (1988b:224). Similarly, one conclusion that West et al (1997) reach in their discussion of gender and discourse is: 'what we "know" about gender and discourse is really about white, middle-class, heterosexual women and men using English in western societies' (p.137).

This is applicable to many (but by no means all) CA studies also, and thus such studies can be viewed, even if only by default, as ethnographies, studies which cannot be seen as having universal application. As Hymes puts it when sketching the first outlines of an ethnography of communication:

'If the strict ethnographic approach requires us to extend the concept of communication to the boundaries granted it by participants of a culture, it also makes it necessary to restrict it to those boundaries' (1964:17).

This still leaves us with a great deal of ground to cover, for, as Saville-Troike notes when speaking of patterns of communication, such patterns occur 'at all levels of communication: societal, group, and individual' (1989:13). At the societal level it involves such things as functions, categories of talk, attitudes and conceptions about language and speakers; at the group level factors such as age, sex, race, profession, etc.; and at the individual level such things as the expression and interpretation of personality play a part (p.13). A good deal of this also applies to my analyses, which make no claims to universality. Note that also included within the boundaries sketched here (which are simultaneously constrained and yet rather elastic) are perspectives involving gender, psychology (fairly briefly), and politeness phenomena, as these help us toward an understanding of participants' motivations and responses.

The analyses carried out in this study are, necessarily, analyses of transcribed events. All commentators would agree that the transcription of utterances, far from being simply an objective method of presenting speech in written form, is an activity imbued with the concerns of the transcriber. Ochs calls it 'a selective process reflecting theoretical goals and definitions' (1979:44). For Psathas and Anderson 'the transcription system used and the variations in individual transcriber's practices introduce directly and specifically the analysts' interests and theories' (1990:75). The transcriptions used in this study are no exception.

A more practical concern is that in presenting the spoken as the written much potentially significant detail can be overlooked. For example, the phoneticians Kelly and Local find that linguists' transcription practices leave 'a great deal to be desired, especially if applied to conversational material' (1989:197). Brown and Yule give the simple example of the utterance 'Great Britain'. Would it be transcribed phonetically as ? Or rendered orthographically as 'grape britain'? Most probably it would be normalised to the conventional orthographic form 'Great Britain', which would entail 'inserting conventional word boundaries in the orthographic version which do not exist in the acoustic signal' (1989:9-10). They note that other such significant features as intonation, rhythm, speed, voice quality, sex, age, class, race are also not easily transcribable, the result being a transcribed text that in many ways is the creation of the analyst (p.11). And as the importance of context is stressed throughout this study, this act of 'creation' has certain consequences, the full significance of which is brought out by Duranti when he says:

Interpretation is a form of re-contextualisation and as such can never fully recover the original context of a given act…When we as ethnographers bring the interaction we recorded to the printed page we engage in a similar kind of re-contextualisation. That is inevitable. We set up a context for a new audience to judge and appreciate what went on around and through that text on some other occasion. (1986:244)

That is, the transcription an analyst presents is 'not the interaction' (Psathas and Anderson p.77) but is, rather, 'an artificial freezing of phenomena which are in constant change' (Chafe 1997:52).

Given all this, I am once more faced with methodological choices. Taking the foregoing as a starting point, I have chosen to present a transcription that is as easy to read as I can reasonably make it. Too often in CA studies analysts cover the text in transcription devices in a slavish attempt at verisimilitude and this can be a burden to the reader. Take, for example, laughter, something of pressing interest to this study. Jefferson makes the point that laughter in transcription is usually named (e.g. 'X laughs') but not quoted (e.g. 'Heh-heh-heh'). While this is adequate for many purposes it 'can also obscure interesting features of interaction' (1985:28). She then gives examples of where quoting laughter can prove useful for, among other things, showing why a participant has difficulty hearing what the laugher is saying, something which can have significant consequences for talk. It has since become common practice for CA studies to quote laughter's every occurrence, resulting in such transcriptions as the following, with no reference to the significance of such a manner of representation in the analysis.

M: she came up to me she's laughing she said I remember seeing you (h)at(h) th(h)e (h)s(h)w(h)imm(h)ing (h) p(h)ool(h) heheh (Alaoui 1990:403).

So much overbearing stress on the mechanics of conversation (this is actually a simple example of laughter transcription) can be distracting and off-putting and thus may even interfere with the reader's understanding of what occurred in the original event. Because none of the laughter in the discussions to be analysed interferes with other aspects of the interaction in a way that demands special attention I choose not to quote it but instead I simply name it - [Panel laughs]. The other devices I use concern features I deem useful for my purposes - pauses, simultaneous speech, continuous speech, exaggerated features (stress, volume), and immediately relevant extralinguistic features. The way I represent these features on the page has largely been determined by what is available to me on my keyboard, which has been sufficient to achieve my goals. I agree with Psathas and Anderson when they say, 'the final arbiter of the fidelity of transcription is not the skill or "artfulness" of the transcriber, but rather the adequacy of the transcription with a direct listening/viewing of the original data' (p.77).


Before introducing the sections in order I should point out that while the extended analysis has greatly influenced the shape of this study, the other contents are not present solely as some kind of backwash from the final section. I had already made considerable progress with the dissertation, especially concerning the relevant aspects of performance space, the development of the comic figure, and the usefulness of CA for analysing spoken humour, before I encountered the chat show discussion, and much of this work is included in its own right, though now, of course, it points in a particular direction.

The dissertation starts with a consideration of the nature of humour as seen from the viewpoint of the main theories of humour - Superiority, Relief, and Incongruity. Though each has something useful to say about certain aspects of humour - we are often amused at the expense of the butt of the joke, we do use humour to deal with taboo subjects, the locus of humour does hinge on some kind of incongruity - we will see that none can completely cover all examples of humour and all 'leak' into one another. Even so, their consideration makes us aware of the complex nature of the subject and also that whatever happens on the surface of humour, there is often something at work underneath. Of the three, it needs to be said, it is incongruity which is given most space as it is difficult to exclude some element of incongruity from any example of humour.

Often in studies of comedy the notions of 'performance' and 'performance space' are addressed rather cursorily (Double 1992 and Rutter 1997 being notable exceptions) and it is the text which is focused upon. Certainly texts will be given their due in this work, and the extended sequence will receive particular attention, but the idea of performance and its spatial arrangements will also be given a deserved investigation. Thus, Section 2 offers a definition of performance and traces the roots of performance space (in Europe) to ancient Greece and follows its developments through to what the modern audience would recognise as a theatrical space. Of importance in this arrangement is the formalised division between performers and audience. The key features for our purposes are the licence given to utterances in performance space and the dialogic relationship between performers and audience. These factors play an important part in the analysis of the extended sequence.

The type of performer of particular interest to this study is the comedian, here called 'the comic figure'. Such figures have a rich history in a wide variety of cultures and it will be seen that in some their roles have not been simply to provide amusement. Even where this is their only role it is one which allows comic figures to deal with, amongst other things, taboo subjects. That is, the comic figure is someone with a licence to transgress. Also of note is the figure's identity vis-à-vis other performers. Traditionally in many cultures the comic figure has had a distinct appearance, and furthermore, there has been a blurring between their personal identities and their performative identities in a manner that differs from, for example, the clearly separate identity of an actor and the role he or she plays. This matter of comic identity also has some bearing on the analysis in Section 7.

Perhaps the biggest difference between present-day comic figures and those of the past (certainly in our culture) is that more than ever today's comedian relies primarily on linguistic performance, and Section 4 surveys the linguistic resources available to the creator of humour. This analysis is both formal and functional. First, the structural features of language - morphology, phonology, syntax and so on - are considered. But as the chief interest of this study is what we do with these forms, more attention is given to how attitudes, beliefs, and other motivations inform linguistic choice. That is, how language is unavoidably a vehicle for ideology. This means, for example, that jokes can amuse in an innocently playful manner but can also be aimed at social targets with less than innocent intent. This too is a salient factor in the extended sequence analysis. (Note that a more detailed look at conversation is reserved until Section 6, where it has more immediate relevance.)

The social reception of jokes varies according to what here is called 'humour competence'. Section 5 uses Raskin's (1986) Semantic Script Theory of Humour as a starting point and then considers a variety of other models, all of which discuss what it is we need to appreciate humour. It will be seen that Raskin's essentially cognitive model is implicitly or explicitly criticised by the other models in much the same way that Chomsky's (1965) notion of 'linguistic competence' is criticised by Hymes' (1972a) notion of 'communicative competence'. The former in each of these pairings is viewed as not being sufficiently helpful in understanding language in use in the social world of motivated beings. In social life the degree to which our humour competence is shared allows us to be amused by the same instances of humour but it is our differential competence that means what A finds amusing, B does not, and vice versa. Such differences raise the idea of 'permission', that is, how the earlier discussed licence to transgress can in no way be absolute, but varies according to the finely-tuned (or not so finely-tuned) interactive relations between performer and the differential competence within the audience. Thus, audiences can be said to permit a joke (or not). Such matters are also dealt with in this section. Further, this ambivalence of humour has a variety of manifestations and here is considered in three fields: the study of humour (specifically ethnic humour); what comedic performers themselves say about the limits of their licence; and how in performances different audience members express different responses to the same material. Many of these issues are involved in the analysis of the final extract.

Section 6 starts with some of the ideas of pragmatic theory (specifically speech act theory) which deal with indirectness, an important element of humour. Grice's (1957) idea of intentional meaning, Austin's (1962) notions of 'illocutionary' and 'perlocutionary', and Searle's (1975) discussion of indirect speech acts, all help towards an understanding of how language opens up possibilities of humorous play, and Dascal (1985) provides a useful model of how this can be achieved. I then offer my own original model of humour comprehension which I believe adds an extra dimension to the understanding of this matter. I also elaborate Dascal's model further in order to handle disputed meanings, something which raises the question of who 'owns' meaning, a matter of great concern in the extended analysis in the final section.

The section then points out the shortcomings of speech act theory - that it cannot help us thoroughly understand sequences of talk as 'embodied social action' (Duranti and Goodwin 1992). The 'tools' of CA do help in this regard and those concerning turn-taking, adjacency pairs, and preference will be discussed. The last-mentioned will be of particular significance in the analysis of the disputed utterance. Such features also give us insight into the structure of humorous texts, but it is also noted that structural play alone is not sufficient to provide humour, humorists must also draw on cultural sources to create a humorous semantic content. Indeed, this is seen as one of the failings of CA, that it can be overconcerned with the methods members use to organise talk to the detriment of what it is they actually do with the talk, and is the reason I draw on support from the ethnography of speaking, with its explicit concern, as its name implies, with people and their motivations.

The utterance which is the focal point of the final analysis - 'Margaret Thatcher was a man' - clearly introduces certain issues of gender politics. Thatcher is not a man and represenations of her as such raise many questions about the nature of gender identity. Section 7, therefore, looks at aspects of gender which are relevant to the final analysis. These include a survey of the diversity of gender identities in various studies and theories which start with the psychanoalyst Riviere's concept of 'masquerade' (1929), move on through Garfinkel's detailed ethnomethodological analysis of someone undergoing a change of gender (1967), up to more recent discursive and deconstructionist views of gender identities and sexuality. The focus will then move to representations and will involve an enquiry into stereotypes and a brief look at pornography, both of which have some bearing on the final analysis. Also included in this section is an examination of gender and language which aims to point up certain features which may be relevant to the language use of the extended sequence. And as the final analysis hinges on an utterance offered as a joke, it is necessary also to consider gender and its relation to humour to see what sway this might hold on the delivery and reception of the utterance.

Finally, in Section 8 we come to the extended sequence itself. Let me immediately establish how this extract differs from many other texts which are given a pragmatic analysis. Firstly, the length itself. Unlike many analyses, this is not simply an extract of half a dozen or even a dozen turns. (Psathas, for example, talks of some extended sequences as being only 'more than four turns long' 1992:100). This deals minutely with a stretch of talk over two minutes long in which there are sixty-six accredited utterances and which runs to two full pages of transcript. This is, substantially, the 'flow of social discourse' and demands significant concentration to follow. Secondly, this not a dyadic exchange of the type A-B, A-B, where attributions of intentions and assignment of meanings, though always problematic, involve just the two interlocutors There are five participants at work here, all except one of whom contribute at will, often more than one at a time, and some in what Falk (1980) calls a 'duet'. Amongst other things this makes the attribution of responsibility far from easy. Thirdly, this is not an interaction involving obviously asymmetrical relations, in which the distribution of power is relatively transparent. The host of the show can be said to have more power deriving from his 'institutional' position (though the differential is not great), but the four panellists are formally there on an equal footing, and these more symmetrical relations make the role of power less clear and the attribution of responsibility problematic, though we will take note of the effect of gender on the proceedings. Then there is the setting to take into account. As noted earlier, this is not a conversation between intimates in private but a discussion on a chat show where the participants are relative strangers who are expected to produce entertaining talk for an overhearing audience. Again, this can cloud intentions and responsibilities. These are all points which need to be borne in mind throughout the analysis.

We make contact with the event through a transcript of it, and transcripts, as we noted above, are not some unproblematic neutral recording. (Note that the transcript is presented in full near the beginning of Section 8.) The transcript is followed by the contextual details: the participants and audience are situated in the studio space, the interlocutors are described, and their interaction in the talk analysed. The nature of the floor is highly significant in this interaction and how it shapes and is shaped by the talk is considered. The study then turns to look in detail at the differing responses to the utterance in question and how the possible meanings are negotiated. To go even deeper into the participants motivations two psychological perspectives are taken, the first reviews the validity of an 'only-joking' defence, the second explores the idea of unconscious motivations. This latter in turn raises the question asked earlier about who owns meaning. Finally, some of the main elements of politeness phenomena (as discussed by Brown and Levinson, 1987) are used in order to explain some of the apparently contradictory responses to the utterance. This discussion around politeness also offers some support for Leech's (1983) notion of a Politeness Principle, that is, is also a (small) challenge to Grice's Cooperative Principle. I end with a consideration of how some of the features of the disputed utterance can be viewed formally as a joke and a look at how it can be received both as a joke and an insult with the help of the strong trace model from Section 6 and Carrell's notions of 'joke competence and 'humor competence' from Section 5.

To summarise this we can say, then, that to make (some) sense of humour pragmatically requires investigating humorous texts in their dynamic relationship with the relevant contextual factors using methods which stress such features. Choosing, within a broadly-defined pragmatic framework, CA, the ethnography of speaking, and relevant aspects of gender politics, allows this to be done. In terms of the organisation of the sections of this study, the opening discussion of the major theories gives us a grounding in the breadth of the undercurrents of humour, something which always needs to be borne in mind. The look at performance space and the comic figure's place within it (both crucial contextual factors) make us aware of licence and transgression and the way these affect utterances. The creation of utterances is dealt with in the section on style and content, which shows us what resources are available to the creator of humour and how these resources can be used for various purposes. Such humorous creations are not to be viewed as a given unproblematic stimulus which automatically triggers a predictable response; responses differ widely depending on all the various contextual factors and such variations in response receive necessary attention in the section on competence, permission and ambivalence. Another way to express this is that humorous utterances are assigned different meanings by different recipients and this moves us into the area of pragmatics, where problems of meaning assignment, particularly the assignment of meaning to indirect utterances, are discussed. Gender is central to the utterance and differing notions on the politics of this are examined in the penultimate section. We then finally move into an in-depth pragmatic analysis of an extended sequence in which the various methodological features are used to highlight the details of such a complex interaction.

This is by no means the first (or last) study of humour to take advantage of the analytical devices offered by CA. The pioneers of CA themselves have studied certain humour-related features of talk; Sacks (1974) looked at the structure of a joke told in conversation, Jefferson (1985) discussed the significance of the accurate transcription of laughter, and Jefferson et al (1987) considered 'laughter as a systematically produced, socially organised activity' (p.152). Doctoral theses by Alaoui (1991) and Rutter (1997) also have used some aspects of CA methodology. But, as I have argued above, such approaches often do not go further than a somewhat formal understanding of the structures and mechanics at work in such situations. Further, such analyses invariably break up the interactions they study into shorter extracts in order to illustrate disparate points. Nor is this the first pragmatic look at humour. At least one other doctoral thesis (Ferrar 1993) does this, but it does not venture beyond the bounds of Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory (1986).

I insist on going beyond the immediate given features and drawing on deeper aspects of context - the nature of performance space, the character of the comic figure, diverse notions of gender, the details of the participants, possible unconscious motives - to show how these also inform how meanings are assigned (or not) by the interactants and also by myself, the analyst. (This is another difference between this study and the others mentioned - I explicitly note the self-reflexive element of social study.) Although I also use short extracts to illustrate various points, in the main analysis I undertake an analysis of an extended sequence involving five interlocutors in order to try and capture as fully as I can the importance of sequential placement and the unpredictable changes in the flow of social discourse. In so doing my findings show a significant flaw in the usual conception of preference organisation - in brief, dispreferred turns do not necessarily conform to the standard CA model - and in the discussion of the politeness phenomena involved, show a shortcoming of Grice's cooperative principle. I can also add that most commentaries on humour comprehension talk in terms of the resolution of two meanings (M1 and M2) but here I put forward my own cognitive model which stresses a dialectical understanding which involves a synthesis of meanings leading to a third element, M3. However, the full social significance of this is better understood with assistance from Carrell's (1997) distinction between joke competence and humour competence.

It should also be noted that another feature of this study is that many of the original contributions may not be immediately apparent, as they come in the exemplification of others' models. For example, the discussion of the features of CA involves, amongst other things, such items as turn-taking, adjacency pairs, and insertion sequences. These are introduced in a straightforward manner and chiefly (but not entirely) through models and examples taken from the abundant sources available in CA literature, rather than from my own collected material. However, their application to humorous matters is entirely my own original work. To give just one example. In 6.3.2, the discussion of adjacency pairs is introduced with the definitive model of Schegloff and Sacks (1973), and the question/answer pair is elaborated with the help of Goffman (1981), Levinson (1983), and Heritage (1984a), amongst others. However, the comedic exemplification of this is through my own analysis of a scene involving this adjacency pair in the film 'Monty Python And The Holy Grail'. The discussion then moves on to the notion of 'conditional relevance' in adjacency pairs with the help once again of Levinson, but its application to humour is done through my own analysis of a relevant scene from 'Fawlty Towers'.

There are certain other organisational features which need to be noted, and these are now discussed.

References and bibliography. Whenever possible I have attributed references to an individual, whether that individual is an author, a TV or radio presenter, or the subject of, for example, a TV documentary:

Morecambe, Eric (2000) Bring Me Sunshine. BBC TV Broadcast 3.7.2000.

In the few examples where this has not been possible, the name of the publication has been used. Thus, the in-text reference is given as, for example, (Metro 13.2.2002), and the bibliographical entry is:

Metro (2002) Race Jibe Barrister Suspended. Metro 13.2.2002.

In the case of references from the Internet which cannot be personally attributed, I have given the main element of the URL address as the in-text reference, for example, (, 2002), and the full entry is given in the bibliography: (2002) Richard Belzer Biography. Accessed on 3.8.2002.

Where the original date of publication of a work is considered significant in the chronology of ideas and the original edition has not been available, the original date is given in square brackets before the date of the source used in this study, but only upon the source's first in-text mention and the bibliography:

Freud, Sigmund [1905] (1991) Jokes And Their Relation To The Unconscious. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Concerning TV broadcasts, the date of the off-air recording used is given even when this was a repeat of an earlier broadcast. Thus, 'Fawlty Towers' was first shown in the 1970s, but here an episode is given as follows:

Cleese, John & Booth, Connie (1998) A Touch Of Class. (Fawlty Towers.) BBC TV Broadcast 24.7.1998.

Whatever the medium of the reference - print, broadcast, film, the Internet - everything is listed in one bibliography.

Gender. I do not use the generic 'he' or 'she', but instead 'he/she' or 'him/her' etc. I have not changed or commented on the use of generic 'he' or 'she' in the original sources from which I quote.

Spelling. I use UK English spelling but do not change the spelling of the original sources from which I quote. This means that on occasion two different spellings may occur close together e.g. 'humour' and 'humor' or 'duetters' and 'dueters'.

Material used. The overwhelming majority of examples of humour I use are selected from many hours of either TV or radio broadcasts. I did make my own original recordings of conversation but did not find any examples of humour which were as useful for my purposes as those I took off-air. In the transcriptions of such materials I have kept the devices to a minimum. Such devices are briefly introduced before each transcribed interchange.