The role of verbal humor in second language education

2014 IJRSE – Volume 3 Issue 2


Ziyaeemehr, Ali*
Ministry of Education, Tehran, Iran (

Kumar, Vijay
University of Otago, New Zealand (


Instructor humor serves a wide range of functions in educational contexts. This paper reports on a study that investigated the functions of instructors’ humorous verbalizations in academic classrooms at a university where English is used as a second language. Data were collected through audio-recordings and classroom observations. The results of an inductive analysis led to the development of three major categories, namely “foregrounding form”, “reinforcing meaning” and “highlighting cultural dissimilarities”. These categories represented the strategies that served as instructional functions of humor in the context of L2 (second language) education. Findings indicate that using verbal humor in L2 classrooms offers opportunities to facilitate access to L2 linguistic and cultural knowledge resources that are embedded in humorous exchanges. Additionally, the findings suggest that L2 instructors must have specific (socio) linguistic and sociocultural humor competence to use humor to engage learners and communicate finer aspects of the L2. The implications of the findings are explored within the context of second language learning and teaching.

Keywords: verbal humor; humor functions; (socio) linguistic competence; second language acquisition; foregrounding form



*Corresponding Author