Laughing at Adversity: Laughter as Communication in Domestic Helper Narratives


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21 Citations (Scopus)


This article analyses excerpts from narratives told by foreign domestic helpers in a Hong Kong church shelter. The stories are trauma narratives about physical assault, sexual abuse, starvation, and other forms of exploitation, and the women also suffer the pains of being separated from their families. Therefore, it is to be expected that crying is a salient paralinguistic feature, but it is more surprising that laughter is equally salient. The article analyses selected excerpts from foreign domestic helper narratives focusing on the functions of laughter. Theories of laughter are reviewed and it is argued that existing theoretical frameworks do not adequately account for the examples identified in these narratives. Here, laughter has little to do with humour but is used to express "the seriousness of social life". A model expressing the tragi-comic span of life experiences is proposed as the way forward in further in-depth studies of laughter in discourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)390-411
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Language and Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • discourse analysis
  • foreign domestic helpers
  • laughter and crying
  • narratives
  • the tragi-comic span of life experiences
  • theories of laughter


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