Cognitive Linguistics and Humor Research pages:215-242
In this contribution, we focus on teasing as a prominent expression of layered communication. Depending on the situational and contextual grounding of an interaction, teasing serves different communicative functions. It does make a difference, for instance, whether teasing takes place among long-time friends, relatives or among economic competitors, colleagues or even political enemies. Similarly, it makes a difference whether a teasing sequence occurs in the private setting of a household, in parliament, in a TV studio or as part of a screen play.
In the present study, we restrict our empirical focus to the occurrence of teasing sequences in four prominent American sitcoms of the nineties: The Nanny, Friends, Married with Children and Spin City. In this corpus, we observe how teasing can be used as a more or less subtle instrument to express certain feelings towards each other. A rich theatre producer teases his nanny to reveal his strong romantic feelings for her, and the aforementioned shoe salesman teases his wife to reveal precisely the opposite. Teasing can thus be seen as an ideal means to “test the water”, as Martin (2007) aptly remarks. It is therefore unmistakably part and parcel of human nature.
The general aim of this contribution is to gain a better insight in the socio-semantic characteristics of teasing as a multi-layered and multi-perspectival phenomenon. On the basis of corpus data, more specifically, we envisage an accurate empirical analysis of teasing as it is construed in the dialogue sequences of four famous American sitcoms. Through the identification of five parameters in the analysis of 402 teasing instances, we are able to derive an annotation grid for an integrated and adequate analysis of teasing as a multifaceted phenomenon. Beyond the scope of this paper, we expect this annotation grid to be a valuable starting point for a similar analysis of teasing as it occurs in spontaneous everyday interactions.