Garden Paths, Red Lights and Crossroads: On Finding Our Way
to Understanding the Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying Jokes
The primary objective of this paper is to postulate a tripartite division of jokes according to three major incongruity-resolution mechanisms underlying their incremental development, and to review the existing models of joke interpretation in the light of the joke categories advanced here. Most of these well-entrenched frameworks, as will be shown, fail to capture all the three mechanisms of jokes.
In the garden-path mechanism, the incongruous punchline evokes a concealed sense of the preceding text, bringing to light its initially covert ambiguity. The hearer cancels the first effortlessly made (default/salient) interpretation in order to prioritise another, compatible with the import of the punchline. Secondly, the red-light joke ends with a surprising punchline which neither proves the set-up ambiguous nor invalidates any earlier inferences but brings unexpectedly incongruous piece of information, which is then rendered congruent with the first part of the text. Thirdly, the distinguishing feature of the crossroads category is that it is already the set-up that includes the focal incongruity, entailing incomprehensible premises which surpass absurdity typical of many jokes. Consequently, the hearer cannot successfully complete the comprehension process of the set-up until the punchline (frequently also incongruous) is introduced, after which any incongruity is resolved.
* Marta Dynel, Department of Pragmatics, Institute of English, University of Łódź, Łódź, Poland.