Humor Markers in Computer-Mediated Communication


Audrey Adams

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Summer 2012


This study investigates the ways in which individuals signal humorous intent in text-based computer-mediated communication (CMC). Due to the lack of nonverbal and contextual cues that are otherwise present in face-to-face (FtF) interactions, CMC has been perceived as impersonal and insufficient for conveying general expressive functions, such as emotional or non-serious language. Recent studies, however, suggest that many linguistic features in CMC reflect those found in spoken discourse and allow for remarkably playful interactions (e.g., Danet et al., 1997; Hancock, 2004a, 2004b), and that certain discourse features specific to CMC signal non-serious intent (Herring, 1999), though little empirical work has been conducted on the topic. The primary aim of this study is to gain a better understanding of how linguistic markers are used to convey humorous intent in such a potentially limiting medium as CMC. An ancillary aim is to develop a heuristic tool capable of identifying conversational humor based on those linguistic strategies. Ultimately, this study will provide the first comprehensive survey of linguistic markers used to convey humorous intent in computer-mediated communication. Obtaining a list of linguistic humor markers ordered by frequency could aid in the identification of humor in future corpora, as well as benefit natural language processing at large, as these markers are clues to pragmatic intention. The data for this analysis consists of naturally occurring asynchronous CMC interactions from a public fan forum. A triangulation method is used to identify humorous interactions in these texts based on the assessment and confirmation of one or more of the following: humorous intent of a speaker; recognition of humor by interlocutor(s); text verified as humorous by the application of the General Theory of Verbal Humor, as proposed by Attardo (1994). The linguistic markers in question for this study are divided into five categories: Punctuation (ellipsis, exclamation mark, and quotation marks not being used for actual quoted speech), formatting (caps lock, elongation, and spelling variations used for effect), emoticons, laughter (textual and acronym), and explicit. The data was then tagged and annotated using the UAM corpus tool, and the analysis utilized descriptive and inferential statistics based on the form, function, and frequency of linguistic markers used to convey humorous intent. The results of this study present three main findings: the markers in question occur significantly more in humorous turns than non-humorous turns (p > 0.001); a select few humor-types rely on specific marker-types more than others; and marked units gained significantly more humor response than unmarked units (p > 0.001).


Salvatore Attardo

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities