Universiteit Leiden

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Toward Consilience in our Accounting of Human Laughter and Humor

  • Otto Santa Ana
Thursday 12 May 2016
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


I offer a model for laughter and humor that is based in rhetoric, not language. First, I argue that the rhetorical contrivances that we use in humor today have their source in a few cognitive processes that made animal play possible. I claim hominoids have always built social interaction using these cognitive processes. I also argue that we have built the rhetorical devices for humor that we use today with these processes, whether language is involved or not. Then, I deploy Habermas’ Universal Pragmatics to establish separate but phylogenetically-successive pragmatic settings: ‘playing together’, ‘laughing together’, and conversing. Universal Pragmatics, then, may be prerequisite to Grice’s Cooperative Principle. When linked to social psychological and pragmatic models of performing perlocutionary power this model may describe the actual execution of social power in communication.

Otto Santa Ana

University of California Los Angeles
Templeton Fellow at the Notre Dame Institute of Advanced Science (2015-2016)

Otto Santa Ana is Professor in the César Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies at the University of California Los Angeles. As a critical discourse analyst, he studies how the mass media reinforces unjust social relations, from newspapers to television news to mass media humor. As a sociolinguist, he has written widely about the languages of Latinos in the classroom and the community.

His most recent monograph is Juan in a Hundred: Representation of Latinos on Network News (2013). His latest anthology (co-edited with Celeste González de Bustamante) is Arizona Firestorm: Global Immigration Realities, National Media & Provincial Politics (2012). His first edited volume, Tongue-Tied: The lives of multilingual children in U.S. public education, is used in dozens of schools of education and has received exceptional critical reviews. His first monograph, Brown Tide Rising: Metaphoric Representations of Latinos in Contemporary Public Discourse, is often considered a definitive critical discourse analysis on the topic. He has published more than 40 articles and scholarly writings. 

His two monographs have received national awards. Juan in a Hundred was awarded the  2013 Ralph J. Bunche Award of the American Political Science Association for the best scholarly work in political science that explores ethnic and cultural pluralism. Brown Tide Rising was awarded the American Political Science Association Best Book on Ethnic and Racial Political Ideology 2002.

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