LANGUAGE CENTRE, INTERNATIONAL COLLEGE FOR
SUSTAINABILITY STUDIES, SWU
Pragmatics and Humors: A Case Study
of Phoebe Buffay’sVerbal Acts in
To explore the linguistic characteristics of
Phoebe Buffay’s humorous turns by
frameworks of CP and ImpolitenessTheory
To apply pragmatic theories to reflect on
Phoebe’s specific characterization
Telepathic/ déjà vu
Exasperated, reverts to a harsher "Street
The first Emmy award winning character
among the others
“laughter is an expression of sudden glory and a
realization of being superior to someone else”
(Hobbes, cf. Berger (1993))
“a conflict between what is expected and what
actually occurs in a punch line”
“when the surge of energy is in excess of what is
needed, the surplus is dispelled through laugher
“humor involves a semantic-pragmatic
process which includes a semantic opposition
between the scripts” (Raskin, 1985)
Patient: Is the doctor at home?
Doctor’sWife: No, you can come in and wait
for me in bed.
Grice’s (1975)Cooperative Principle
Maxim of Relation
Maxim of Quality
make your contribution one that is true
Maxim of Quantity
not make more or less informative than required
Maxim of Manner
Breaking Maxims can threat some people’s
Positive FaceWant – want respect from
Negative FaceWant – not want other people
to impede his/her freedom
Avoid Face Threatening Act
Brown and Levinson’s (1975) Politeness
Bald on record (“the most direct, clear, unambiguous
and concise way possible”)
Positive Politeness (“paying attention to the hearer,
expressing interest, approval or sympathy”)
Negative Politeness (“mollifying the force of an
Off-record (“performed by means of an implicature
Withhold the FTA (“silence”)
Bald on record impoliteness: the FTA is performed in
a direct, clear, unambiguous and concise way
Positive Impoliteness: ignore the other, exclude the
other from an activity, be disinterested,
Negative Impoliteness: frighten, condescend, scorn,
ridicule, belittle, invade the other’s space
Sarcasm or mock politeness (irony): obviously
insincere, using politeness for impoliteness.
Off-record impoliteness: implicature but in such a
way that one atrributable intention clearly out-
weighs any others.
Withhold politeness: the absence of politeness work
Question: “How was my midterm paper?”
Perhaps it could have been improved
It wasn’t good
It was bad
It was crap
You must have shit for brains
Impoliteness can only happen when
1) the speaker communicates face-attack
2) the hearer perceives and/or constructs
behavior as intentionally face-attacking,
3) a combination of 1) and 2)
It is almost impossible when confronting
jokes without conversational jokes,
Friends 1st season
Phoebe Buffay’s humorous turns:
Analysis of the Cooperative
The maxim mostly violated by Phoebe is
Maxim of Relation (16.17%)
Maxim of Manner (25.15%)
Maxim of Quality (47.30%)
Maxim of Quantity (11.38%)
Violating the Maxim of
Speakers have to try to make their
conversational contribution correspond to
exaggeration, irony, excuse, pretending
Exaggeration – refers to the way that the
speaker overstates the features, defects or
the strangeness of someone or something
Rachel: So Pheebs, what do you want for
Phoebe:Well, what I really want is for my
mom to be alive and enjoy it with me .
Irony – “expresses utterance completely
different from the literal meaning”
Ross:You know, there's nothing wrong with
Rachel: "Indeed there isn't"... I should really get
back to work.
Phoebe:Yeah, 'cause otherwise someone might
get what they actually ordered.
Rachel: Ohh-ho-hooohhh.The hair comes out, and
the gloves come on.
Violating The Maxim of Quantity
(When Rachel lost her ring)
Chandler and Joey: Oh!Yeah!
Joey: Alright, when'd'ya have it on last?
Phoebe: Doy! Probably right before she lost it!
Violating the Maxim of
Irrelevant – “unrelated response so as to show
her diverted attention
Phoebe: Okay, they're just talking...
Ross:Yeah, well, does he look upset? Does he look
like he was just told to shove anything?
Phoebe: No, no actually, he's smiling.. and... Oh
my God, don't do that!!
Ross: What? What? What?!
Phoebe:That man across the street just kicked
that pigeon !
Changing the topic – divert attention from the
Ross: 'That' would be Marcel.You wanna say hi?
Monica: No, no, I don't.
Rachel: Oh, he is precious!Where did you get
Ross: My friend Bethel rescued him from some
Phoebe:That is so cruel!Why? Why would a
parent name their child Bethel ?
Violating the Maxim of
Phoebe: (entering) Hi, sorry I'm late, I
couldn't find my bearings.
Rachel: Oh, you-you mean your earrings?
Phoebe:What'd I say ?
Rachel: Look-look-look-look-look, my first pay
check! Look at the window, there's my name! Hi,
Phoebe: I remember the day I got my first pay
check.There was a cave in one of the mines, and
eight people were killed.
Monica:Wow, you worked in a mine?
Phoebe: I worked in a Dairy Queen, why?
Ep 5 Bald on Record
Joey: Ok, you know what blows my mind?
Women can see breasts any time they want.
You just look down and there they are. How
you get any work done is beyond me.
Phoebe: Oh, ok, you know what I don't get?
The way guys can do so many mean things,
and then not even care.
Ep 7 Positive Impoliteness
Rachel: Oh. (they knock at the next door, Mr.
Heckles answers) Hi.We just found this cat
and we're looking for the owner.
Mr. Heckles: Er, yeah, it's mine.
Phoebe: (trying to hold back the struggling cat)
He seems to hate you. Are you sure ?
Ep 8 Negative Impoliteness
Phoebe: Ooh, wait.. wait, I see a woman.
Monica: Please tell me it's his mother.
Phoebe: Definitely not his mother.
Monica: Oh, no...
Phoebe: Oh, wait, she's walking across the
floor.. she's walking.. she's walking.. she's
going for the pizza- (Yelling) Hey, that's not
for you, bitch!
Ep 10 Sarcasm/Mock Politeness
Phoebe:Well, c'mon, if it's important enough
to discuss while I'm playing, then I assume it's
important enough for everyone else to hear .
Chandler: (Quietly, to the others)That guy's
going home with a note!
David: Noth- I was- I was just saying to my-
Phoebe: Could you speak up please ?
The results show close relationship between
humor and cooperative principle and FTA
attached to Buffay’s utterances.
Maxim of Quality is violated mostly
Bald on record is used majorly by Phoebe
Phoebe’s characteristics “Eccentricity” and
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