Laughter’s Linguistic Politics
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This paper addresses the various ways in which humor functions in discourse as a communicative strategy that supports stance-taking, facework, and ethos construction. The paper examines the role of humor across seventeen speeches given by former United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the first Defense Secretary in American history to serve under two Presidents of different political parties. It takes current thinking in the fields of sociolinguistics, humor studies and rhetoric, and integrates contributions from these disciplines into a unified analysis of one public figure’s use of humor. The analysis submits that Gates possesses a unique ‘rhetorical signature’ of humor held constant throughout each of Gates’ speeches, transcending political party, but that audience characteristics and location play the largest roles in conditioning the specific kinds of humor Gates chooses to make use of in individual speeches.