Measuring Incongruity in Register Humour

Chris Thomas Venour, Christopher Stuart Mellish, Graeme D Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paperpeer-review


Many theories of humour claim that incongruity is an essential ingredient of humour, yet most research fails to construct clear and formal definitions of this concept. We seek to address this problem by creating a computer program which can quantify and measure a certain type of humorous incongruity found in register-based humour. The type of humorous incongruity we are focusing on involves clashes of tone between words in a text and we have been experimenting in building a semantic space in which distances between words reflect differences in their style or tone. If words from a joke containing incongruities of tone were plotted into such a space, distances between words would be relatively large. Whereas the distances between words taken from ‘normal’ text, where differences of lexical tone are less extreme, would be relatively small. To build a semantic space, we first of all hand-selected corpora which we believe show varying degrees of lexical formality (literariness, archaism etc.). Our algorithm then takes a text, such as a one-liner, and computes the frequency of each word in that text in each of the corpora. These frequencies represent a word’s position in a multi-dimensional space and distances between words are computed. After experimenting with different kinds of spaces and distance metrics, an implementation of our algorithm was tested with the task of automatically distinguishing humorous texts from plain newspaper sentences, where it performed quite well. This work is currently in progress.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventInternational Society for Humor Studies - Boston, United States
Duration: 5 Jul 20119 Jul 2011


ConferenceInternational Society for Humor Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • artificial intelligence
  • computational humor
  • computers and humor
  • computers and humour
  • computational humour


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