Dr.-Ing. Tristan Miller, BSc Hons, MSc, OFAI
What's in a Pun? Assessing the Relationship Between Phonological and Semantic Distance and Perceived Funniness of Punning Jokes


What makes a pun funny? This talk by Tristan Miller, entitled "What's in a Pun?", investigates the semantic and phonological factors underlying punning humour. The talk is the fourth instalment in the OFAI 2022 Lecture Series.

Members of the public are cordially invited to attend the talk via Zoom on Wednesday, 20 July at 18:30 CEST:

URL: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/84282442460?pwd=NHVhQnJXOVdZTWtNcWNRQllaQWFnQT09
Meeting ID: 842 8244 2460
Passcode: 678868

Talk abstract: Puns are a form of humorous wordplay based on semantic ambiguity between two phonologically similar words. By using and extending a large annotated corpus of punning jokes, we quantify the phonological and semantic distance between the two words of a pun and assess possible correlations with funniness ratings of the joke. Statistical analyses reveal a significant negative correlation between phonological distance and perceived funniness, which is in line with a longstanding conjecture in humour studies. Interestingly, none of the semantic distance measures we applied showed significant correlations with funniness ratings. We discuss other factors, such as situational context or cultural norms, which may influence the perception of funniness of punning jokes, with a view to guiding future research on this topic.

Speaker biography: Tristan Miller is a research scientist at the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence (OFAI) and an Associate Faculty Member at the Ontological Semantic Technology Laboratory of Texas A&M University–Commerce. His research interests lie mainly in computational semantics, including word sense disambiguation, computational argumentation, and the construction and manipulation of lexical-semantic resources. Computational humour has been a particular research focus of his since 2014.

Co-author Anna Palmann, BSc, BA, MSc recently graduated from the Middle European Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Cognitive Science (MEi:CogSci) at the University of Vienna.