Immigrants’ Bilingual Humor: Language Play and Social Adaptation (The Case of Russian-Speaking Israelis)

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This essay explores immigrants’ bilingual humor viewed as part of secondary language socialization. Adult acquisition of a new language involves reflections about languages and language play which juxtaposes and compares the mother tongue with the language of the receiving society. Acquiring a new language, émigrés do experiments with the form and create new meanings. In the early stages the bulk of bilingual humor is based on simplest interlingual puns exploiting minimal pairs, malapropisms and discovery of obscene words in foreign lexis. As immigrants’ proficiency in the language of the host society increases, their humor becomes more sophisticated focusing on social criticism and in-group solidarity rather than on mere juggling of phonetically similar words. Texts analyzed in the article testify that the Russian language has preserved its symbolic value among new Israelis and they use bilingual humor as a warning against the first-language attrition.

About the authors

Maria Yelenevskaya

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Dept. of Humanities and Arts


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