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American Annals of the Deaf

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Attitudes, Innuendo, and Regulators: Challenges of Interpretation
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TABLE I. Outline of Innuendo

Verbal Parody

Innuendo
1. The intentional representation of the object of parody 1. The deliberate insinuation
2. The flaunting of the verbal representation 2. The flaunting of the verbal implication
3. The critical act 3. The critical act
4. The comic act 4. The comic act

Innuendo is a deliberate speech act that capitalizes on the context of the moment. Rosen-Knill and Henry (1997) outline four essential acts for verbal parody that can be minimally adapted to provide an outline of innuendo (Table 1). Understanding the innuendo requires the addressee to recognize the speaker’s intent, appreciate the performance of the utterance, understand the derogatory meaning, and appreciate the humorous tone. Without each step, the speech event falls short.

It is not the aim of this study to delve into Freudian explanations of humor motivation. Still, issues of conversational joking inherently address interactant behaviors as demonstrated by turn-taking, face-saving and face-threatening acts, and general conversational control issues. These harken back to theories of humor as a form of aggression. Given the derogatory aspect of innuendo reflected in the critical act above, one should particularly expect such connections. At the same time, humor is often credited for creating a bond between the interactants. The age-old advice to public speakers is open with a good joke. Saville-Troike (1998) points out, “Joking is also a common way of mitigating criticism that might not be acceptable if given directly” (p. 34). Throughout this paper, the paradox of humorous innuendo as simultaneously face-threatening and face-saving will be discussed, as will the similar contradiction that it is disruptive and cohesive in intent.

Indirectness and Innuendo

Every definition of innuendo includes a reference to its indirect nature. Questions immediately arise as to how the subsequent indirect meaning is recognized by the addressee and what purpose it serves for the speaker. First, how is indirectness understood by the addressee when the speaker uses a figurative meaning? According to Saville-Troike (1998), “situated meaning must be accounted for as an emergent and dynamic process” (p. 22). To describe this process, Gumperz (1977) uses the term conversational inference. Conversational inference is highly context-bound. Participants in a conversation use it to interpret one another’s intentions, interpret meaning, and build the conversation. Using verbal and nonverbal responses, each participant acknowledges his or her understanding of what is being said. Both Saville-Troike and Gumperz discuss the importance of perceiving the salient features of the linguistic message and integrating that with extralinguistic cultural knowledge. In this way, the meaning is negotiated by the interactants.

Searle (1975) discusses the role of illocutionary force in indirect speech acts. Suffice it to say, a speaker can produce an utterance that has a meaning different from what he or she actually says. “There are also cases in which a speaker may utter a sentence and mean what he says and also mean another illocution with a different propositional content” (ibid, p. 59). As an example, he explains that Can you reach the salt? is not merely a question but a request to pass the salt.


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