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Teo, Peter
Nguyen, Thi Thuy Minh
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This study investigated how humor was used as rhetoric in winning Toastmasters' speeches. Audience laughter was analyzed as a behavioral variable to make inferences on the theoretical constructs of rhetoric and humor. In this study, rhetorical humor (or interchangeably humor-rhetoric) was specified as the effective use of logos, pathos, ethos that elicited in an audience the embodied cognition of semiotic play. Underpinned by the analytical approaches of social semiotics and psychodynamics, seven interrogation questions were inquired to comprehensively examine how humor was used as rhetoric in 57 Toastmasters’ speeches (T = 401 mins 28 secs) at the 2012 to 2017 World Championship of Public Speaking® (WCPS®). The seven questions were:

1. When, as expressed by Embodied Cognition, was humor rhetorical?

2. Where was the rhetorical humor Located?

3. Who Produced (& who Consumed) the rhetorical humor?

4. Which Semiotic Mode triggered the rhetorical humor?

5. What Technique generated the rhetorical humor?

6. Whom did the rhetorical humor Target?

7. Why did the rhetorical humor Appeal?

In the 57 WCPS® speeches (t ̅ = 7 mins 03 secs) analyzed, there were 873 unique laughter instances by the sitting-audience, of which 262 were operationalized as humor-rhetoric moments (i.e. laughter instances of at least 2000ms) for further scrutiny. With every increase in a minute interval, there was a significant increase in the percentage of laughter instances being humor-rhetoric moments, p < .001. The longer that a competing finalist at the World Championship of Public Speaking® spoke, the more likely that audience laughter would persist for at least 2000ms. I discussed that, plausibly, as a rhetoric progressed in time, the propensity for laughter moments could naturally manifest easier when trust in a speaker’s agenda had been steadily built.

The locational setting and the relational setting, however, mostly impacted rhetorical humor in a qualitative manner that quantitative analysis cannot capture. In 225 of the 262 humor-rhetoric moments observed (i.e. 85.8%), laughter moments were elicited by the semiotic play of words, images, and sound, co-occurring. The 262 laughter moments were thematically observed to be commonly generated by (i) play with meanings, (ii) appropriate incongruity, and (iii) wit in mockery, as well as distinctly generated by 40 of the 41 audiovisual humor Techniques particularized by Buijzen & Valkenburg (2004). In particular, the distinctive Techniques of ‘Conceptual Surprise’, ‘Exaggeration’ and ‘Irony’ were the top three strategic means most frequently used to generate laughter moments in the 57 speeches analyzed. Findings also indicated that the content of the 262 humor-rhetoric moments most strikingly jabbed at an individual (n = 151), people (n = 59), and ideas (n = 52) for laughter. In addition, how humor-rhetoric Appealed, in terms of humor-logos, humor-pathos, and humor-ethos, was deconstructed. Based on the recurring motifs that surfaced in the data analyzed, I explained that humor appealed rhetorically for the individuals who laughed when a shift in cognition brought affective pleasure to enlarge a laugher’s ego. I drew attention to 13 emotional routes for an individual to feel pleasure in laughter and argued that idiosyncratic laughter moments were driven by impulsive instincts that moralistic ideals did not inhibit.
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PN6147 Bai
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Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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