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The corpus

The empirical base for this study consists of a corpus of teasing sequences collected from four American sitcoms, which all played in the same decade (1990-1999): The Nanny, Spin City, Friends and Married with Children). This resulted in a corpus of 402 teasing instances taken from 115 episodes (De Ceukelaire 2009).

The first sitcom, The Nanny, is set in New York and features a Jewish beauty consultant (Fran Fine) who is hired as a nanny by a rich English theatre producer and widower (Maxwell Sheffield) to take care of his three children (Maggie, Brighton and Grace). Fran rapidly wins the hearts of everyone in the household, except for Maxwell’s business associate (C.C.), who genuinely dislikes Fran, regarding her as a rival. Her aversion towards Fran peaks when Fran and Maxwell gradually fall in love with each other. These developments are all very much to the liking of the butler (Niles), who finds great pleasure in regularly teasing C.C. The two have developed a customary teasing relationship (cf. Norrick 1993) based on mutual dislike.

The second sitcom, Spin City, is also set in New York and provides us with an (exaggerated) inside look of the events at the City Hall. The mayoral team consists of the mayor himself (Randall Winston), his popular deputy mayor (Mike Flaherty), his personal assistant (Janelle), a young and introverted speech writer from Wisconsin (James), a single and desperate accountant (Nikki), a loquacious and bold secretary (Stacy), a black homosexual in charge of minority affairs (Carter), a stingy and overweight press attache (Paul), and finally the somewhat oversexed Stuart, who will regularly tease anyone but the mayor himself.

Thirdly, the widely popular sitcom Friends is about six friends who face both professional and interpersonal issues on a daily basis. To some extent, the global popularity of the sitcom seems partly due to the diversity of the characters: the intelligent college professor/archeologist Ross, the dim-witted actor Joey, the astute but weird masseuse Phoebe, the beautiful fashion saleswoman Rachel, the highly competitive chef Monica, and the unconfident data analyst Chandler.

Finally, Married with Children is about a weary and drained shoe salesman (Al Bundy), who despises his dim and shallow wife (Peggy) and who is indifferent to his two children: Kelly, a hyperbolically unintelligent but beautiful high school senior, and Bud, whose intelligence makes up for his lack of sex-appeal. It is a disgruntled family, in which aggressive teasing between the members is more rule than exception.

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