Dup Evidentials--Tim Pulju SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 1 Contents Scientific Linguistics--Coffey and Matney

Evidence for Right Hemisphere Damage as a Result of Exposure to Slovene Humor

by D. Reindl, Rice University

Consider the following statement from Caplan (1987): 'Gardner and his colleagues (Gardner et al. 1983) have found that right-hemisphere damaged patients have difficulty in understanding jokes. They are unable to pick the ending of a story which is humorous; instead they often pick an ending which does not make sense but which is not particularly funny.'

From this we might conclude that the endings which these patients do choose are able to satisfy their own demands for completing a joke (rather than that they themselves are unable to appreciate jokes) and that, perhaps, we simply do not understand the distortion of logic resulting from the brain damage.

Evidence garnered from recent field work suggests that exposure to the logic structure of Slovene humor has created some degree of right-hemisphere damage in most of the native population. Consider the following joke, entitled Dvom 'Doubt', taken from the daily humor column of Evgen Jurič (1992):

Gospodična, podnevi in ponoči mislim na vas...
lady-DIM at+day and at+night think-1SG on you-ACC,FORMAL
'Young lady, I think of you day and night...'

Saj ne veste kje stanujem.
but not know-2SG,FORMAL where dwell-1SG
'But you don't know where I live.'

When asked why the story is funny, native speakers simply look puzzled. If pressed, the most common answer is Ne razumeö! On ne ve, kje stanuje! 'You don't understand! He doesn't know where she lives!'

The conclusion that the right-hemisphere damage results from exposure to Slovene humor, rather than being responsible for it, is evidenced by a disturbing finding. In a limited study undertaken at Rice University, it was found that the more often this particular joke is told to subjects with no knowledge of Slovene, the funnier it becomes to them. Eventually, they themselves start producing seemingly illogical jokes of a similar nature.

The author would like to express his appreciation to T. Pulju from whom the basic idea for this paper was appropriated.


Caplan, David. (1987). Neurolinguistics and linguistic aphasiology: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gardner, H., Brownell, H., Wapner, W., and Michelow, D. (1983). Missing the point: the role of the right hemisphere in the processing of complex linguistic materials. In E. Perecman (ed.), Cognitive processes in the right hemisphere. New York: Academic Press.

Jurič, Evgen. (1992) Humoristnov dnevnik. In Dnevnik (8 July 1992). Ljubljana: Dnevnik. Page 13.

Dup Evidentials--Tim Pulju
Scientific Linguistics--Coffey and Matney
SpecGram Vol CXLVII, No 1 Contents