The laughter that proliferates in casual conversation between friends indicates that humour is a common device in talk that does important social work. However, this humour does not involve recognisable joking structures but rather highly implicit meanings that are interpreted only by those who appear to be “in on the joke”. This thesis considers the functions of this “unfunny” type of humour, called convivial conversational humour, by focusing on the social relations at stake in conversations between friends in the Canadian context. Through a functional discourse analysis (Martin & Rose, 2007) of phases (cf. Gregory & Malcolm, 1995) of co-constructed humour in conversation, it is found that evaluative meanings bound with ideational experience (evaluative couplings) are the cause of laughter in these phases, and that these construe a social process of affiliation. Building on notions of bonding (e.g. Boxer & Cortès-Conde, 1997; Martin, 2004b; Stenglin, 2004) and coupling (Martin, 2000a), this thesis develops a model of affiliation to account for how we identify ourselves communally as members of a culture and create social bonds through language. Through the analysis of humorous phases, this model is developed with laughter as a way in, since it serves as an explicit and meaningful signal that the particular coupled meanings presented in discourse can create affiliative tension for the participants in the social sphere.
Affiliation thus describes the different strategies through which we discursively co-construct who we are, who we are not, and through laughter, who we might otherwise be in other conversations. Conversational humour between friends is shown to be a method for confirming solidarity in friendships while allowing flexibility in the construction of identity. The significance of humour as a linguistic device is emphasized through its use in social interaction as we constantly negotiate our affiliations in casual talk.