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  • Gill: Do you happen to know of any research into the use of humour and ambiguity in the classroom?

  • I like your dangling modifier joke, Gill, but perhaps it is one that only grammarians would find funny! I don’t know about learners, but I always enjoy recognizing and analysing jokes that are based on grammatical and/or lexical ambiguity, as so much of British/American humour is. For example, there are jokes that involve humorously misinterpreting an indirect object as a direct object – “Call me a cab.” “You’re a cab!”

  • boater: I recently read about a piece of research carried out by Dr Nicola Yuill in the University of Sussex into the understanding of ambiguity by 7-9-year-old children: she found that children’s reading comprehesion improved after sessions in which they worked in pairs to discuss and explain multiple meanings in joking riddles like “How do you make a sausage roll? Push it down a hill”. For details of her current work, look at http://www.sussex.ac.uk/psychology/chatlab/

  • Elizabeth: I always liked the ‘call me a cab’ joke; there are not many that are strictly grammatical. As for the dangling modifier one, all those of its ilk are instructive rather than funny, e.g “A bar was walked into by the passive voice”, “A question walks into a bar?”, “A synonym ambles into a pub” etc. You get the idea. They’re pretty basic, but have the advantage of being self-explanatory.

  • The example given in my high school class was, “Walking around a corner, the Empire State Building loomed above us.” The imagery made the lesson unforgettable.