Yada Yada Yada: A Sociolinguistic and Rhetorical Analysis of Humor in Seinfeld

Drew Roberson


Using sociolinguistic and rhetorical analysis, this study explores how Seinfeld’s four main characters utilize and violate linguistic politeness norms, as outlined in speech act theory, the Cooperative Principle, and Politeness Theory. Though eleven episodes were carefully selected and analyzed, this paper focuses on two in particular, “The Truth” and “The Nose Job,” both of which feature humorous use of these linguistic theories. The analyses begin with a brief overview and transcription of a particular scene. Then the expected course of action is laid out to determine the extent the dialogue complies with the expectations of the exchange (e.g., the felicity conditions of the speech act used, appropriate usage of maxims, possible politeness strategies) noting how and why the characters utilize or ignore these linguistic conventions. Finally, the four rhetorical functions of humor are employed as an analytical tool to identify and interpret the message(s) Seinfeld conveys in each scene. These sections relate back to the pragmatic analysis and comment on how the particular violation defends or criticizes the norm. The overall conclusions drawn from this study support the idea that when characters challenge a convention and are punished, or not rewarded, the convention is logical and necessary. On the other hand, when they are rewarded for their subversive behavior, we must reevaluate the logic behind the norm at hand.


Sociolinguistics, Rhetorical Functions of Humor, Seinfeld

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