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Conventionality in “teacher telling off pupils” interaction

In the following example (17) also from the same sitcom (Friends; see Crazy for Friends 2004), a ‘teacher-young pupils’ setting is activated in the middle of an interaction between a performer (singing and playing the guitar) and two men of her audience in a cafe who are talking to each other instead of religiously attending the performance:

  • (17) (performer): Excuse me! Excuse me! Noisy boys! Is it something you’d like to share with the entire group?
  • (one of the ‘noisy boys’): No. No.. .That’s OK.
  • (performer): Oh, come on. If it’s important enough to discuss while I’m playing, then I assume it is important enough for everyone else to hear. (another member of the audience): That guy is going home with a note. (one of the ‘noisy boys’ clearing his voice in a terribly embarrassed manner): I. ..I...
  • (performer): Could you speak up please.

In this exchange there are no typical, semi-schematic constructions characterizing the main transactions in a lesson as discussed in 4.2. This is evidently due to the fact that the exchange is peripheral to the main goal of teacher-pupil interaction: the ‘teacher’ interrupts the process to castigate ‘naughty pupils’ for being inattentive and therefore preventing themselves and their neighbors from fully benefiting from the lesson. The semi-substantive constructions used, however, introduce the possibility of activating a situationally inappropriate classroom script right from the start, despite the fact that neither repeated use of the first attention getter (Excuse me!) nor the semi-substantive third one (Noisy boys!) are genre-specific.

The first turn starts with a repeated, loud and emphatic Excuse me! which, besides the pragmatic function of apologizing, involves the discoursal presupposition that the act for which the speaker apologizes will follow rather than precede (as sorry does). The next construction in the same turn (Noisy boys!) is informed prospectively by the authoritative tone of Excuse me! which it sustains. Moreover, it retrospectively renders the apology in Excuse me! ironic and reframes the interaction as an adult-child one. In the third part of this turn, the established frame is further specified as teacher-naughty pupil interaction, because of the highly entrenched Is there something you’d like to share with the entire group?, and reinforces the irony of the utterance. In view of the above (namely prospectively), the audience clearly expects not a positive and genuinely informative answer, but the actual No. No. ..That’s OK expressed with hesitation and in an intimidated, apologetic tone, since the interlocutors have already accepted the teacher-pupil frame. The classroom discourse script is also present in the noisy boys’ attempt to initiate a possible excuse statement in the last adjacency pair (i.e. in his last turn I... I...). Could you speak up please is also uttered with the authoritative tone of voice and prosody marking orders rather than suggestions (high fall rather than low rise on up) as are all the contributions of the performer-teacher, thus rendering unmistakable the overall power imbalance characteristic of the exchange.

Although such imbalance is also present in settings (communities of practice and genres) other than classroom ones, such as the army and officer-private interactions, it is the classroom scenario which is most strongly invoked here. This is probably due to its reflecting a practice common to all possible recipients. Therefore all semi-substantive constructions related to it are more highly entrenched. The most genre-specific semi-substantive construction here is going home with a note, a clear case of an encoding idiom with a pragmatic point, signaling directly ‘informing young pupil’s parents of his misbehavior’. However, it is the interaction of all the discoursal properties of the constructions in the text taken jointly and as being part of a unit which makes the exchange an instance of classroom parody.

All the constructions identified so far are assumed here to have discourse- based aspects of meanings which are available for humorous exploitation. We consider these aspects particularly salient in the specific contexts examined, as well as characteristic of the typical (although not necessarily all possible) instances of the expressions discussed. In that sense, this research supports the importance for humor of standard CL notions such as salience and prototypicality, which has been addressed by various humor scholars (Brone, Feyaerts and Veale 2006: 216).

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