Laughter and Truth in Fiji: What We May Learn From a Joke

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13 Citations (Scopus)


This paper examines a series of events which took place in a Fijian village in the late 1980s and which, for the ethnographer, brought into question joking, lying and telling the truth. The analysis suggests that our ideas of what language is good for necessarily inform our understanding of the truth conditions of what is said, from which it follows that truth may be regarded not as an absolute, but as a function of the moral force of language - itself an historical phenomenon that is embedded in, and constituted through, the everyday social relations that we may analyse in terms of gender, kinship, chiefship, and ideas of the person. Laughter emerges as central both to the events described and their analysis. Subtle though they may be, people's ideas of the moral force of language are amenable to investigation and analysis; but for all we may learn from laughter, it ultimately eludes any analysis - an observation that provides the key to its revelatory force.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-283
Number of pages16
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


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