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Jokes in Other Languages

It’s Joke day! I love jokes, especially puns! The thing with jokes and humor is that it has a lot to do with a play on language. Usually, if a language is not your first language it can be difficult to understand humor in that language. Take this simple joke example. In Spanish, ‘nada’ means nothing but it is also a form of the verb nadar, meaning to swim because when you conjugate it in the 3rd person it is ‘nada’. I know that you’re not supposed to explain a joke or it’s not funny. But, in this case, if you didn’t speak Spanish, the humor in the joke might be lost on you.

Jokes are structured in a way that they give certain expectations for the listener and then do the opposite. So jokes can basically violate ways of how we use languages making humor difficult in a second language. Consequently, many people can understand and express themselves well in a second language but understanding humor in another language is achieving native-like proficiency in a language. This is because wordplay for jokes requires knowledge of linguistic and cultural aspects, which is difficult to master. Not only is every language’s humor tied to that specific language, but different cultures also have different criteria for what is and what is not funny. A lot of this has to do with social communication and pragmatics. I see the difficulty with understanding humor and pragmatics both in the bilingual kiddos I work with who learned a language as their second language as well as adults who are learning another language as their second language. Actually, a lot of our social communication can be tied to how well we understand the language.

Rockford Speech Therapy 


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