The science of jokes to be explored at free public event

Have you heard the one about what kind of language is funny?

The linguistic tricks which are used to build jokes will be explored at a free event in Aberdeen next week.

Dr Graeme Ritchie from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Computing Science will explain the scientific research being conducted to better understand the mysteries of humour at the event, which takes place on Wednesday (May 12) at Waterstone’s Union Bridge branch, beginning at 7pm. 

He will also outline the computing software created by University academics, which uses jokes to help children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy build on their language skills.

This software has been developed into an exhibit – now on show at Satrosphere Science Centre - called the Joking Computer, which has the capacity to build millions of different jokes using a large dictionary of language and simple language rules.

Dr Ritchie’s event is the latest in the institution’s Café Scientifique series and takes place as part of Word – the annual University of Aberdeen Writers Festival.

Dr Ritchie said: “The event will explore how we build jokes, looking at patterns in humour and the role jokes and humour play in society.

“I’ll explain how and why academics use linguistic analysis to study humour and provide an insight into the language toolbox we use in order to create jokes.  Audience members will be given the opportunity to apply these language tricks and rules to develop their own jokes.

“I’ll also show how we have used our knowledge of humour to build a software programme to help children with disabilities develop their language skills.

“A partnership with Glasgow Science Centre, and a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) allowed us to develop this software into an exhibit last year called the Joking Computer.

“It is now on show at Satrosphere Science Centre, and the Glasgow Science Centre, and aims to teach young people about what computing technology can achieve.”

Dr Ritchie will also give Aberdeen school pupils the opportunity to get to grips with joke building next week as part of the Marathon Oil Schools’ Festival- a prelude to the main Word Festival, which will see more than 730 pupils from across Aberdeen city and shire gather at the University for a host of free events designed to fire young imaginations.

Sixty pupils from St Peters and Scotstown Primary schools will attend sessions hosted by Dr Ritchie, and Dr Judith Masthoff – also from the University’s Department of Computing Science - where they will use the Joking Computer software to build their own gags.

Laughing at Language - a Café Scientifique Word Festival Special,takes place on Wednesday (May 12) at 7pm at Waterstone’s Union Bridge branch.  The event is free to attend and advance registration is not required.

For information on all of the events taking place as part of the Café Scientifique series visit: or contact Dr Ken Skeldon, Head of the University of Aberdeen’s Public Engagement with Science Unit by email at .

Café Scientifique is supported by a science engagement grant from the Scottish Government.

Word 10 takes place from May 14 to 16 at King’s College, University of Aberdeen with supporting events across Aberdeen city and shire and is sponsored by Talisman Energy and Wood Group.

For more information on the full programme of events on offer at this year’s Word Festival visit