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Cover of "The Language of Humor" featuring an illustration of a cityscape
October 2018
Cambridge University Press

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The Language of Humor

An Introduction
Alleen Pace Nilsen
Don L.F. Nilsen

Much of today's communication is carried out through various kinds of humor, and we therefore need to be able to understand its many aspects. Here, two of the world's leading pioneers in humor studies, Alleen and Don Nilsen, explore how humor can be explained across the numerous subdisciplines of linguistics. Drawing on examples from language play and jokes in a range of real-life contexts, such as art, business, marketing, comedy, creative writing, science, journalism and politics, the authors use their own theory of "features, functions and subjects of humor" to analyze humor across all disciplines. Each highly accessible chapter uses a rich array of examples to stimulate discussion and interaction even in large classes. Supplemental PowerPoints to accompany each of the 25 chapters are available online, taking many of the insights from the chapters for further interactional discussions with students.


Alleen Nilsen is professor emeritus in the Department of English at ASU, where she was formerly the director of the English Education Program.

Don Nilsen is professor emeritus in the Department of English in linguistics at ASU.

Praise for this book

"A hilarious romp through a cornucopia of examples on a dizzying variety of subjects. Quintessential Nilsens' work!"

Salvatore Attardo, Texas A&M University

"... a must read for any of us in humor studies, English, and several other disciplines ... the perfect complement to the former papers on each of the topics covered, all gathered in one readable and clearly written volume. The field of humor research is, as always, greatly enhanced by the Nilsens, and no library would be complete without their newest compilation."

Joyce M. Saltman, professor emeritus, Southern Connecticut State University