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An Analysis of Cooperative Principles and Humorous Effects in FriendsContents





I. An introduction of Friends and humor………………………………………….4

A. A brief introduction to Friends…………………………………………..…..4

B. A brief introduction to humor……………………………………………..…5.

II. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of quantity…………………….8

A. Make your contribution as informative as required………………………..…8

B. Do not make your contribution more informative as required……………..…9

III. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of quality……………………11

A. Do not say what you believe to be false…………………………………..…11

B. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence…………………….…14

IV. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of relation…………………….15

V. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of manner………………….…17

A. Avoid ambiguity ………………………………………………………….…17

B. Avoid obscurity of expression…………………………………………….…18




前言 Introduction



Humor is a very intriguing and fascinating phenomenon of human society, which is multidimensional, complex and all pervasive. Therefore, many scholars and experts at all times and in all over the world have done profound research on humor.The significant functions of humor have aroused the interest of many scholars. About 2,000 years ago, people began the research on humor. However, the study of humor is not a simple task for the reason that it is an interdisciplinary science drawing upon a wide range of academic disciplines including biology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, geography, history, linguistics, literature, education, family science, and film studies and so on. Moreover, there are different reasons and purposes for humor. One may wish to be sociable, cope better, seem clever, solve problems, make a critical point, enhance therapy, or express something one could not otherwise express by means of humor.

Within the 20th century, linguistics has developed greatly in almost every area of the discipline from sounds, words and sentences to meaning and texts. Meanwhile, linguistic studies on humor have also extended considerably to social, cultural, and pragmatic concerns. One of the most noticeable achievements in linguistics over the past few decades is the development of pragmatics. It is not long before scholars apply pragmatics into humor analysis. The purpose of this thesis is to exploit the mechanisms of the generation and perception of humor from the pragmatics perspective. It is carried out with the help of the application of Cooperative Principles and its maxims; Furthermore, the author also wants to probe into the obstacles which prohibit the English learners from understanding and appreciating the humorous utterances in Friends as well as in daily life. Furthermore, the author wants to discuss the possibility and effects of using humor in English teaching classes.

The significance of the study, First of all, for people who are interested in humor and pragmatics or studying this topic, this thesis may be able to help them as a means of reference to study about English humor as well as its relation with the function of speech. Moreover, it is very interesting to study comedy film-sitcom, since it can give different points of view in studying language. What the author means is that mostly people observe the phenomena of language in serious or ordinary situation but in comedic situation, there is a different set of situation where people sometimes may act uncooperatively or impolitely to achieve the humorous scene. This kind of scene may look awkward and unusual, but it can also happen sometimes in real life, whether the people realize it or not. The author also thinks it would be very interesting to know the way in which humor is generated from the linguistic point of view. And the humorous teaching approach would make a contribution to the students of English learning by improving classroom atmosphere, reducing class tension and increasing the rapport between students and teacher.

I. An introduction of Friends and humor

A.A brief introduction to Friends

Friend is a world famous American sitcom telling of the stories of six good friends and their respective private lives. The story takes place in Manhattan, New York. It presents most aspects of American society, for example, morality, social values, family values, sex values, religion, government, institution, education, occupation, etc. and introduces people of all walks to the audiences, from cooks to professors, from blue collars to white collars. And the most important feature for the sitcom is its humorous dialogues among the characters. The sitcom Friends has six protagonists who recur in the sitcom all the way. What follows is a general introduction to them with the purpose to do better analysis on the humor in the sitcom.

Rachel Green, she runs away half an hour before her wedding and goes to Monica for shelter after the run away. Monica is her best friend in high school and Monica’s brother has one-sided love for Rachel for many years. Besides, their families are old family friends .In order to be independent from her family, Rachel gets her first job as a waitress at the café named Central Perk ,which they visit frequently .Later Rachel gets the appropriate job for her as an assistant buyer at Bloomingdale’s and Ralph Lauren for she has an exquisite taste for fashion. Rachel’s sense of humor has a childish flavor and that makes her very lovely.

Monica Geller, Ross‘s younger sister, is a chef in the sitcom, who is often contrasted with his anthropologist brother by her boastful and overcritical parents. She is obese in her childhood and youth hood, which becomes the target of jokes to her friends. She always strives for perfection in everything ranging from house-cleaning, food-cooking to wedding arrangement. So her sense of humor has a bit flavor of crankiness.#p#分页标题#e#

Phoebe Buffay is a masseuse and an amateur in music and the lyrics she writes have always been performed in the same melody. Usually Phoebe’s behavior is a little bit eccentric and weird. But in my opinion, she is the most strong-willed and optimistic figure in this sitcom. She has a bitter childhood as her parents divorced when she was very young and she has to make a living by herself at the age of 14.In this situation, she doesn’t lose her passion for life, her goodness and her sense of humor, which is commendable and estimable.

Joey Tribbiani at first a minor actor and later becomes a famous one for his role in the sitcom Days of our Lives as Dr. Drake Ramoray. Moreover, he is a playboy with many girlfriends and a food lover. His sense of humor goes to the category of innocence and naiveté.

Chandler Bing is an expert in data analysis for a large multi-national corporation. He has incurable mental hurt because of his parents divorce and so his sense of humor is very sarcastic and ironic.

Ross Geller, Monica’s elder brother, is an anthropologist who first works at a museum of prehistoric history and then a professor at New York University. At the very beginning of this sitcom he divorces with his lesbian wife and he is loyal to his love for Rachel. Generally speaking, his sense of humor is pedantic and scholastic.

As a result, the American sitcom Friends embodies ample and miscellaneous humorous utterances which provide authentic material for us on humor research. In the following the author will take a lot of the examples selected for Friends to make a research on humor from the angle of pragmatics.

B.A brief introduction to humor

In Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary, the notion of humor is the quality in something that makes it funny or amusing; or the ability to laugh at things that are amusing. Humor1 is a central part of all cultures, languages, idiolects, and most registers of speech. And not only is humor a pervasive phenomenon fulfilling vital roles in all kinds of human communication, it also forms a quantitatively relevant part of it. This centrality of humor, both as a means and as an end of human interchange, is widely accepted.

Humor is almost everywhere. We can find humor in our conversations, in the movies, on televisions, in books, newspapers and magazines, on the radios, etc. There is nowhere that has not been filled with humor and there is no field, whether it is sex, marriage, politics, religion, work, and family—any field you name it—that has not been ridiculed as humorous expressions. Few words may have as many positive and pleasant connotations as the word ‘humor’ does. Humor carries with it connotations like light-hearted, amusing, optimistic, enjoyable, relieving, intelligent, witty and funny, to list only a few. Correspondingly, a sense of humor is a highly desirable trait to possess for human beings.

A preparatory step has to be made for further discussion that is what the definition of humor is. To some extent, it is impossible to give a cogent definition that is valid everywhere since humor research draws upon a wide range of academic disciplines. It is the activity of the brains, the emotion inside us, the smile appearing on the face, etc. As a result, we might as well discuss the humor definition from different perspectives.

Walter Nash considers that “the humor of psychological and social satire is expressed to a very great extent through the flaws and missed connections of speech acts, the contractual failures of parties to conversation”. He points out humorous conversations occur because “those exchanges violate the maxims of ‘ordinary’ conversation, as formulated in a well-known paper by H. P. Grice”. And then he explains his idea:

“The work of Grice, of Austin, and of J. R. Searle, puts into theoretical terms what we already know intuitively about conversation, i.e. that it is a contract involving the agreed conduct of various acts of assertion, direction, performance, verdict-giving, promising, inviting, requesting, etc. When the contract is broken, whether innocently or designedly, the effect may be funny; may illuminate a character or situation; or may designate some critical defect in a relationship”.

Chinese Professor Mao Ronggui studies humor from linguistic view. He divides humorous language into two types: rhetorical humor and non-rhetorical humor. According to the study of Professor Mao , the rhetorical humor is produced through using various tropes, including oxymoron, transferred epithet, syllepsis, zeugma, anticlimax, pun, irony, parody, paradox, and the non-rhetorical humor is created by lexical deviation and deviation of register.

Besides, many scholars in China have done researches on humor based on pragmatic theories, such as H. P. Grice’s Cooperative Principle (CP), Leech’s Politeness Principle (PP), Sperber & Wilson’s Relevance Theory (RT), diesis, and presupposition, etc. In accordance with their researches, humorous conversations are always produced by flouting the CP or RT, violating the PP, or using obscure diesis or improper presupposition. However, the studies in this field have not reached the stage of maturity, and they are rather insufficient or lack of authority in China, let alone the pragmatic studies on the humorous conversations in American sitcoms Friends since it just came into being in the 1990s.In the following, we are talk about the Cooperative Principle and humor.

Grice once said, “I wish to represent a certain subclass of nonconventioanal implicatures, which I shall call conversational implicatures, as being essentially connected with certain general features of discourse…Our talk exchanges do not normally consist of a succession of disconnected remarks, and would not be rational if they did. They are characteristically, to some degree at least, cooperative efforts; and each participant recognizes in them, to some extent, a common purpose or set of purposes, or at least a mutually accepted direction. This purpose or direction may be fixed from the start, or it may evolve during the exchange; it may be fairly definite, or it may be so indefinite as to leave very considerable latitude to the participants .But at each stage, some possible conversational moves would be excluded as conversationally unsuitable. We might then formulate a rough general principle which participants will be expected to observe, namely: Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged. On might label this Cooperative Principle.”

II. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of quantity.

“One’s contribution should provide sufficient, but not too much information.”2 That is to say, an efficient speaker should know when and where to stop talking and not over do it. More information will enhance comprehension, but too much will lead to just the opposite. However, if the speaker violates quantity maxim on purpose, he might bring about some humorous effect. Let us consider some examples from the following scenes in the American sitcom Friends.

A. Make your contribution as informative as required.

(1)Mrs. Geller: What that Rachel did to her life….We ran into her parents at the club, they were not playing very well.

Mr. Geller: I'm not goanna tell you what they spent on that wedding…but forty thousand dollars is a lot of money!

Mrs. Geller: Well, at least she had the chance to leave a man at the altar…

Monica: What's that supposed to mean?

Mrs. Geller: Nothing! It's an expression. (Episode 1, scene 2)

In (1)scene, Monica and her mother Mrs. Geller are talking about Rachel’s runaway from her wedding .Mrs. Geller finishes only half of what she wants to say (Well, at least she had the chance to leave a man at the altar…).Her infringement of the first maxim of Quantity can be analyzed that she is reluctant to say more since the hearer, Monica, is her daughter who has a high level of self-respect. So Mrs. Geller doesn’t want to injure Monica’s self-esteem by withdrawal the latter half of the sentence. While in fact both Monica and the audience can infer that Mrs. Geller’s implied meaning is that Rachel at least has the chance to get married but you, Monica, has not a boyfriend. After drawing the inference, the humorous effect is generated simultaneously.

(2)[Time lapse. Now everyone but Ross and Phoebe is back at Monica and Rachel's.]

Joey: How could you lose him?

Rachel: I don't know. We were watching TV, and then he pooped in Monica's shoe.

Monica: Wait. He pooped in my shoe? Which one?

Rachel: I don't know. The left one.

Monica: Which ones?

Rachel: Oh. Oh, those little clunky Amish things you think go with everything. (Episode 1, scene 19)

In (2) Rachel tells Monica that Marcel, the monkey, relieves nature in her shoes (he pooped in Monica's shoe).Monica is astonished and asks “Which one?” .Monica’s question violates the first maxim of Quantity because she doesn’t present adequate information for Rachel to make an answer. In fact, Monica’s question can be understood either “which pair of shoes?” or “which one of the shoes, right one or left one?” Accordingly, Monica’s inadequate information leads to Rachel’s misunderstanding answer “The left one”. But what Monica wants to know is which pair of shoes. Similarly, the same misunderstanding happens in scene

B. Do not make your contribution more informative as required.

(3)[Scene: Monica and Rachel's, everyone is sitting around the kitchen table. Rachel's credit cards are spread out on the table along with a pair44 of scissors.]#p#分页标题#e#

Rachel: Oh God, come on you guys, is this really necessary? I mean, I can stop charging anytime I want.

Monica: C'mon, you can't live off your parents your whole life.

Rachel: I know that. That's why I was getting married.

Phoebe: Give her a break, its hard being on you r own for the first time.

Rachel: Thank you.

Phoebe: You're welcome. I remember when I first came to this city. I was fourteen. My mom had just killed herself and my step-dad was back in prison, and I got here, and I didn't know anybody. And I ended up living with this albino guy, who was, like, cleaning windshields outside port authority, and then he killed himself, and then I found aromatherapy. So believe me, I know exactly how you feel. (Episode 1, scene 1)

(4)Chandler: Can you see my nipples through this shirt?

Rachel: No. But don't worry; I’m sure they're still there. (Episode 1, scene 15)

In (3) all the friends are there to encourage Rachel to cut her credits as a ritual to enter into independent life instead of depending on her father’s sustentation. Phoebe, in order to encourage Rachel, gives a very detailed recounting of her misfortune when she first comes to New York. But her depiction is too detailed including her mother’s suicide, her step-father’s imprisonment, her living with an albino guy, etc. Of course, Phoebe gives too much information and violates the second maxims of Quantity. She is a little bit straying from the subject, because the other guys will be attracted to show pity for her instead of supporting Rachel’s independence ritual. What’s more, Phoebe’s overmuch and ridiculous examples make the audience laugh.

In (4), we have to get some knowledge about the prelude of the story in order to understand the humor. In this scene, in Monica and Rachel's, Chandler walks in and starts raiding the fridge. Then Rachel comes out of the shower with a towel wrapped round her waist, drying herself with another towel. Chandler and Rachel startle each other and she drops the towel for a second and snatches the rug off the couch. However, that's a relatively open weave so Chandler sees Rachel’s breast areas. On the other day, the above conversation happens. Rachel wants to avenger herself on Chandler and she carries out an eye for an eye plan, that is, to see through Chandler’s breast. When Rachel stares at Chandler’s breast, Chandler asks, “Can you see my nipples through this shirt?” Instead of giving the adequate answer yes or no, Rachel says more. She tells Chandler even though I cannot see them but you don’t lose them and they are still on your breast. We can see Rachel violates the second maxim of Quantity in order to show her rage and mock Chandler.

III. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of quality.

A. Do not say what you believe to be false.

Flouting the first maxim of quality—do not say what you believe to be false3—will be realized by applying the figure of speech such as irony, metaphor, meiosis and hyperbole.

(5)Rachel: Guess what?

Ross: You got a job?

Rachel: Are you kidding? I'm trained for nothing! I was laughed out of twelve interviews today.

Chandler: And yet you're surprisingly upbeat.

Rachel: You would be too if you found John and David boots on sale, fifty percent off!

Chandler: Oh, how well you know me… (Episode 1, scene 1)

In(5),Rachel is extremely excited for buying the John and David boots on sale and she presumes childishly that Chandler will be in the same feverish state if he finds the discount on boots .However according to the common sense, men are not addicted to shopping and there is no exception to Chandler. But Chandler doesn’t deny directly by saying, “No, I have no interest in shopping” .Instead, he says, “Oh, how well you know me…”.Apparently we can take this response as an agreement with Rachel’s assertion, but what Chandler wants to get across is that I’m a man and I don’t like shopping. Here, Chandler uses ironic way to show both his denial and his dissatisfaction on Rachel. He says something he believes to be false and infringes the first maxim of Quality. If the audience can sense his ironic utterance they will smile at Chandler’s sense of humor.

Metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “you are a pearl in my palm” .Now let us take a look at the examples below.

(6)Monica: So how you doing today? Did you sleep okay? Talk to Barry? I can't stop smiling.

Rachel: I can see that. You look like you slept with a hanger in your mouth. (Episode 1, scene 1)

In (6), Rachel has just run away from her wedding; as a result, she has to face her ex-fiancé, Barry and explain herself to him. Monica is concerned about Rachel and asks her about her talks with Barry. Generally speaking, Monica shouldn’t smile in such situation but she cannot help doing that as she has some romantic affair with her boyfriend. So Rachel uses “You look like you slept with a hanger in your mouth.” to describe her smile. Of course, Monica cannot sleep with a hanger in her mouth; it is just a metaphor.

(7)Rachel: so, he said it was just a sprain, and that was it.

Monica: Uh, you left out the stupid part.

Rachel: Not stupid. The very cute, cute, cute doctors asked us out for tomorrow night, and I said "yes."

Monica: I think it's totally insane, I mean, they work for the hospital. It's like returning to the scene of the crime. You know, I say we blow off the dates. (Episode 1, scene 17)

In (7), Monica and Rachel are talking about Rachel’s wreck on the ankle. The reason why Monica describes returning to the hospital as returning to the scene of the crime is that Rachel uses Monica’s insurance to pay for the X-ray’s fee, which is insurance fraud. So Monica thinks they have committed a crime. As a result, that hospital becomes the scene in which the crime is committed. The scene of the crime is a very humorous metaphor.

Meiosis, also called understatement, distort and minimize the truth by expressing with restraint or lacking of emphasis. Let us consider the following examples.

(8)Monica: (trying desperately to change the subject) So, Ross, what's going on with you? Any stories? (Digs her elbow into his hand) No news, no little anecdotes to share with the folks?

Ross: (pulls his hand away) Okay! Okay. (To his parents)Look, I, uh-I realize you guys have been wondering what exactly happened between Carol and me, and, so, well, here's the deal. Carol's a lesbian. She's living with a woman named Susan. She's pregnant with my child, and she and Susan are going to raise the baby. (Stunned silence ensues.)(Episode 1, scene 2)

In (8), Monica and Ross’s parents keep on with finding fault with Monica and she tries to get them to stop nitpicking about her all the time through diverting the topic to Ross. In fact, she wants Ross to talk about his divorce, his lesbian ex-wife and his baby on the way, etc. All these things Ross is experiencing can be labeled as vital issues. However, Monica just calls them “little anecdotes”. She doesn’t tell the truth with the purpose to make her parents more astonished after knowing the truth from Ross’s mouth. Besides, Ross also applies the rhetorical strategy of meiosis by just enumerating the facts and avoiding getting to analyze them. Ross’s way of organizing these facts is a hint for his parents that there is nothing to be surprised at. Consequently, the audience will burst into laugh after knowing these sister and brother’s tricks. Although in (18), both Ross and Monica intend to reduce the major issues to minor ones, Ross has to face the music.

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in “I could sleep for a year” or “This book weighs a ton” .From the pragmatics view, hyperbole is flouting the first maxim of quality because the speaker says something that he knows is not the fact .Now, look at the examples below.

(9)Monica: I'm sorry, why is this girl going to call me?

Mrs. Geller: Oh, she just graduated, and she wants to be something in cooking, or food, or….I don't know Anyway, I told her you had a restaurant-

Monica: No Mom, I don't have a restaurant, I work in a restaurant.

Mrs. Geller: Well, they don't have to know that… (Episode 1, scene 2)

In (9), Monica’s mother is talking big through exaggerating Monica’s post from “working in a restaurant” to “having a restaurant” .Of course, there is outstanding difference in the positions between a worker and a manager. In this play, Mrs. Geller, is described as a woman who likes showing off whatever she has. This is a good example to illustrate her boastful personality.

B. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Examples in which the second maxim of Quality—does not say that for which you lack adequate evidence4—is flouted are perhaps not easy to find, but the following seems to be a specimen. In episode 720, Rachel is helping Chandler to choose a tuxedo in his wedding. Some of the tuxedos were worn by celebrities such as Tom Brokaw, Paul O’Neil, and Pierce Brosnan

(10)Chandler: Okay, who wore those?

Rachel: Umm, well let’s see uh, this one is Tom Brokaw. (NBC newscaster)

Chandler: Not bad.

Rachel: (reading a tag) This one is uh, Paul O’Neil. (Minister of treasury department)#p#分页标题#e#

Chandler: Who’s that?

Rachel: He plays for the Yankees (a baseball team).Seriously, ESPN! Just once and a while, have it on in the background. (Chandler nods and Rachel grabs another tux)Ooh, this one was Pierce Brosnan! (Leading actor of the film series 007) (Episode 7, scene 20)

The maxim of quality requires that do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence. And obviously, in this episode, Rachel flouts this maxim because she presumes that Paul O’Neil, the minister of treasury department, is a baseball player on account of her seeing him on the sports channel once. Everyone knows that to appear on the sports channel doesn’t mean that one has to be an athlete except Rachel. This example shows that Rachel has fashionable expertise but politically illiterate. Needless to say, the audience burst into laughter on Rachel’s innocence and loveliness.

IV. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of relation.

It is said that Relation maxim5 is the most important maxim in Cooperation Principle because it is the maxim violated most frequently in order to generate conversational implicature. This is perhaps what led some linguists to believe that this maxim subsumes all of Grice’s maxims and to raise the maxim, therefore, to a general Principle of Relevance. According to this maxim, the speaker should offer pertinent and relevant information to the topic. That is to say that the speaker should only include information in his communication that is relevant to the discourse topic. In some situation, people deliberately violate this maxim for sake of avoiding awkwardness or expressing their ideas in a roundabout way. According to Wang Shouyuan, violations of the maxims are frequently found in literary texts. These are intended to portray characters and their relationships and to indicate the relation between the reader and the author. Let us study some examples which violate the Relation maxim excellently and give rise to humorous effects.

(11)Rachel: Has anybody seen my engagement ring?

Phoebe: Yeah, it's beautiful. (Episode 1, scene 1)

(12)Joey: Alright, when'd' ya have it on last? (When do you have it on last?)

Phoebe: Boy! Probably right before she lost it! (Episode 1, scene 2)

In (11), this dialogue happens after Rachel runs away from her wedding. She wants to return the engagement ring to her ex-fiancé. Unfortunately, she loses it.So her intention by her question “Has anybody seen my engagement ring?” is to find the ring instead of knowing other’s opinion on the ring. However, Phoebe is not very serious about it and gives the answer on appraisement on the ring. So Phoebe doesn’t respond relevantly to Rachel’s question. Obviously Phoebe violates the maxim of relation, maybe deliberately or otherwise unconsciously. And the audiences are amused by Phoebe’s totally unrelated responds.

In (12), all the guys begin to help Rachel to find her engagement ring. Joey wants to find some clue to help them seeking for the ring. He wants to figure out when Rachel has it on the last time. For this question the relevant and appropriate answers will be “It is just a moment ago before I went to bathe.” Or “The last time I wore it is before I went to bed last night.” Even the directly answer “I don’t know” is welcome. But phoebe’s answer is that the last time Rachel wears her ring is right before she loses it, which is just insignificant talk and totally irrelevant to Joey’s question. This is an extreme example of a flouting of the maxim of Relation.

V. An analysis of Friends depends on the maxim of manner.

The manner maxim6 falls under the super-maxim—“Be perspicuous”, which requires the speaker to make his/her utterance as brief, clear ,and orderly as possible and avoid making such statement that is obscure and ambiguous. If a person doesn’t observe this maxim, he/she might make the addressee at a loss. It is a very interesting phenomenon that the speaker sometimes goes out of the way to flout this maxim in order to avoid embarrassment, unpleasantness, offence, taboo and so on. Consequently, the conversation that violates the maxim of Manner may lead to misunderstanding and humorous conversational implicature. When it comes to flouting the Manner maxim, the speaker usually employs the following rhetorical devices.

A. Avoid ambiguity

Pun is a play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words. For example, Franklin’s famous proverb “We must all hang together or we shall all hang separately.”And“7 days without water makes one weak (=week)”.As far as pragmatics is concerned; the rhetorical device of pun violates the Manner maxim of avoiding ambiguity. The uncertain meaning of pun may lead to humorous effect.

(13)Phoebe: What were you modeling for?

Joey: You know those posters for the city free clinic?

Monica: Oh, wow, so you're goanna is one of those "healthy, healthy, healthy guys"?

Phoebe: You know, the asthma guy was really cute.

Chandler: Do you know which one you're goanna be?

Joey: No, but I hear lyme disease is open, so… (Crosses fingers)

Chandler: Good luck, man. I hope you get it.

Joey: Thanks. (Episode 1, scene 9)

(14)Ross: Hi, is uh, is Carol here?

Susan: No, she's at a faculty meeting.

Ross: Oh, I uh, just came by to pick up my skull. Well, not mine, but…

Susan: Come in.

Ross: Thanks. Yeah, Carol borrowed it for a class, and I have to get it back to the museum. (Episode 1, scene 9)

In (13), Joey has applied for the position as a spokesperson on the posters, through which views of the city free clinic are expressed. His friends are curious about what kind of disease he is going to model for. And Joey tells them there is still a vacant position for lyme disease. After hearing this, Chandler says, “I hope you get it”. Here Chandler’s utterance is very ecause “get it” can give rise two totally opposite interpretation: for one thing, it can be understood as “I hope you get the position”; for another, it can be comprehended as “I hope you get the lyme disease”. Chandler’s casual contrived phonetic ambiguity produces a very humorous utterance.

In (14), the humorous effect is also made by the use of homonymous pun, where Ross goes to Carol and Susan’s with the purpose of getting his things back. At the sight of Carol’s lesbian partner, Ross becomes uneasy and troubled; he blurts out that “I uh, just came by to pick up my skull”. Here Ross’s “my skull” is an ambiguous expressions in that it can refer to Ross own skull or the skull belonging to the museum where Ross works. How funny it is when Ross himself realizes his fault. The more he tries to correct his words, the more humorous they become.

B. Avoid obscurity of expression.

Paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true like “standing is more tiring than walking.” The use of paradox flouts the first sub-maxim of manner—to avoid obscurity .From the pragmatics perspective, the speaker must intend his hearer to understand what he is saying despite the obscurity he imports into his utterance. Let us consider the following examples.

(15)Chandler: Sometimes I wish I was a lesbian… (They all stare at him.)Did I say that out loud? (Episode 1, scene 1)

(16)Joey: Hey Phoebes, you want to help?

Phoebe: Oh, I wish I could, but I don't want to. (Episode 1, scene 1)

In (15), Ross has just divorced with his wife because she is a lesbian. And Chandler blurts out that he wants to be a lesbian, which is contradictory to common sense for a lesbian has to be a woman. Chandler as a man can never become a lesbian.

In (16), Joey asks Phoebe to help to put together Ross’s new furniture. Phoebe’s answer is self-contradictory since her former half sentence shows her willingness to offer the help; while her latter half sentence shows her unwillingness to give a hand. Her contradictory utterance is a good example to manifest her weird character.


This thesis discusses some humorous conversations in the American sitcom Friends based on the philosopher Henry Paul Grice’s Cooperative Principle (abbreviated as CP) and his conversational implicature theory, and finds out the relationship between humor and the CP. In detail, when the participants make a humorous conversation, they may flout the maxim of Quality, of Quantity, of Relevance or of Manner. Humorous conversation is sometimes in this case delivering a conversational implicature. Thus, this paper, furthermore, is likely to explore the implied or deeper meaning hiding in humor. To some extents, this paper assists English learners to better understand the ways in which humor occurs and the meaning conveyed by humor, in particular, to improve their ability of understanding and using American verbal humor because the humor in Friends is humor of unique American style. The present study has made a tentative effort to investigate the underlying mechanisms of humor. It has discussed the verbal humor from Cooperative Principle. Cooperative Principle’s inferential model can be described as inference and coding. As far as meaning is concerned, Cooperative Principle defines it as speaker’s intention. Sperber and Wilson divide the speaker’s intention into two sub-categories: informative intention and communicative intention; and they claim that “meaning” is speaker’s “communicative intention”. With regard to the definition of context, Cooperative Principle views it as an all-embracing category; hence, there may be some limitations in this paper.#p#分页标题#e#

On the one hand, the examples collected from Friends exemplified the theories maybe couldn’t stand the close and careful examination or observation. On the other hand, humor study is an interdisciplinary science, but this thesis barely discusses it from the angle of pragmatics, which is an integral part of the humor study system.

Humor is a risky business. Works on humor have, in our opinion, suffered from premature universal theories, in which the detailed analysis of data and the accumulation of evidence have been rather neglected. The present study only proceed by examining humor in a specific context-sitcom, attempting to find generalizations which are presented only as preliminary empirical results, not as a general predictive theory. Meanwhile, only two forms of figures of speech have been described in the thesis, which are rather sketchy. Only one pragmatic is involved in the discussion of verbal humor realized in the sitcom. Some more should be taken into consideration for further study.

As we go further into the study of humor, we find that there are still certain problems deserving more careful attentions in the field. In the present study, we do not go beyond the bounds of the discussion of verbal humor in American sitcoms. In the study of verbal-visual media discourse, the importance of non-verbal communication must be taken into account. Furthermore, a comparative study of English and Chinese verbal humor in sitcoms is well worthwhile carrying out. We have a lot of very interesting work ahead of us. It is hoped that the present study will encourage more and more researchers to join in.

Therefore, a further research on humor in Friends can be possibly developed from the aspect of cross-cultural communication. Besides, while explaining the humorous dialogues, this paper has not referred to figures’ characters and traits, which may also have much effect on the style of humor. In Friends, six protagonists have respective personality and life experience, so the style of humor uttered by each of them is to a certain degree different. Understanding of the six figures’ personality contributes to a further study on the humor in Friends.


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