Multimodal and Eye-tracking Evidence in the Negotiation of Pragmatic Intentions in Dyadyc Conversations: The Case of Humorous Discourse

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)



Date of Award

Spring 2017


This multimodal analysis of how humor is performed during dyadic face-to-face conversations fills the gap that currently exists in humor performance research. A multimodal discourse analysis approach was adopted to analyze and describe humorous exchanges in an ecologically valid manner, that is to say, approximating as much as possible real-life situations in which humor occurs spontaneously in conversation. Building on the hypothesis that humor marking may be accomplished by a combination of multimodal cues (Attardo, L. Pickering, Lomotey, & Menjo, 2013), the mixed method approach adopted to conduct this study combines qualitative and quantitative methods in a research protocol developed to analyze a corpus of face-to-face dyadic conversations. The combination of eye-tracking data and the analysis of participants’ facial expressions and joint non-verbal behaviors contributes to painting a rich picture of how speakers negotiate the humorous nature of given segments of conversation. Furthermore, the identification and comparisons of these features across humorous and non-humorous segments of conversation and types of humor—punch lines, jab lines, and irony—sheds light on the interaction of verbal and non-verbal features of conversation and how speakers use them to achieve communicative goals. The results indicate that an increase of the individual smiling intensity is used by speakers to negotiate the humorous pragmatic intention, that is to say, speakers use this visual clue to mark the presence of humor before, during, or after the actual humor instance was produced in the conversation. Moreover, speakers also align their smiling intensity reaching higher levels of synchronicity when humor is present in the conversation. Finally, the analysis of speakers’ eye movements revealed significant effects of the interlocutor smiling intensity score, language, and the type of humor on participants’ gaze and fixation duration.


Salvatore Attardo

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature