Once there was a tree-hopping bird and a flying monkey

Jokes children tell

Humour is deeply cultural and it relates to the ways in which we learn to understand comedy. A great deal of shared cultural knowledge is required to grasp the meaning of jokes. Apart from cultural patterns, there are important differences in what is seen as funny at different ages. Whereas a baby can break into peals of laughter at hearing a funny sound repeated, an ironic comment can leave a five-year old completely unimpressed. Children at different ages find different things funny. To add to this complexity, there is evidence to suggest that cultural patterns in humour are learnt fairly early in life. For instance, jokes that play on others or aggressive humour are more likely to be seen as disruptive by children growing up in communities that place a high value on social cohesion. Despite all this, humour can also cut through social differences and join people in important ways and facilitate social cohesion and shared understanding. Furthermore, there are individual differences in funniness; some people just seem better at it than others.

In today’s post, we bring some jokes by children. These are very different from jokes we create for children, and you may not even find them ‘funny’. Yet these episodes are valuable because the provide an insight into children’s minds and their play with people. Conversations with children are instances of what Vasudevi Reddy labels as the ‘Second-Person approach’ to understanding others. Between the lost cause of achieving objectivity on one hand and personal subjectivity of first-person accounts on the other, the second person approach in psychology provides us with a valuable alternative. (See ‘How infants know minds’ by Vasudevi Reddy to know more about the second-person approach, pages 26 – 29).

Jokes by children

To elicit examples, we asked some of our friends to chat with their children. Here is a small collection of what we could collect.

Five-year-old S usually places the word ‘joke’ in his conversations to cover up actions that may be construed as inappropriate or unacceptable. For instance, whenever she tries to oppose him in any way, his mother receives a crisp comment “Mama, you are telling wrong jokes!” And if he is caught doing or saying something which generates disapproval, he quickly adds “I was just joking”. So here is yesterday’s conversation between mother and child. It isn’t surprising to see that the invitation of joke-telling doesn’t get too far, he responds only with single-word answers. Yet it is the choice of words that illustrates that for him, jokes consist of unexpected, scary, unknown, forbidden, surprising elements.

Me: S, tell me a joke…..
S: Ghost
Me: Another one…..
S: Skeleton
Me: One more
S: Monster?
Me: One more
S: Vampire
Me: One more
S: Bat
Me: One more
S: Vastin..vanta (made up words)
Me: One more
S: Candy
Me: One more
S: Scary ghost
Me: One more
S: nicey……shellini……(more nonsense words)

In another family, 5 year old Shi asked her mother if she could watch TV for a while. Her mother reports the episode: “Yes” I replied, “for a short while”. After sometime, I called from the kitchen, “Shi…..”. Shi: “Ji, mumma.” I: “Switch the TV off, it’s time”. Shi: “Mujhe awaaz nahin aa rahi” (I can’t hear you). I repeat, this time a bit louder: “Switch off the TV, it’s time”. Shi: “Mujhe awaaz bahi aa rahi, aap kya keh rahe ho” (I can’t hear what you are saying). Realising that this was just a play with words to ignore my instructions, I was amused and also surprised with her words. It was probably her first attempt at using language for deception. The extra politeness with the initial “Ji Mumma” which she doesn’t always use, was clearly an attempt to cover the later transgression.

Toilet humour

There is also a stage in childhood when children are obsessed with toilet humour. Jokes about falling pajamas and accidental farts can keep children occupied for hours. Here is Shi’s attempt at narrating a joke to her mother:

“Once there was a tree-hopping bird and a flying monkey. The flying monkey pooped on the hopping bird. Then the bird pooped on the flying monkey!” End of joke! Inspired by her cousin’s humour, 5 year-old N would not be outdone and declared with pride: “My fart flies!”

Play with language

Elements of imagination, incongruity, deception, juxtaposition and surprise can all be seen in these children’s conversations. As children grow, the use of language nuances illustrates their developing sophistication with words. The following examples from 81/2 year old A will require the knowledge of two languages, Hindi and English. She can be seen, particularly in the second episode, playing with bilingualism, that is cross-language humour based on meaning in this instance. In the sketch, she brings a humourous edge into her note to her mother. Incidentally, her mother had been egging A about practicing Hindi grammar, remarking that she had been ignoring Hindi. So in this note, A writes a message to her mother about carrying some money for snacks at school, remarking that she had already sought permission from her father. Using her nickname (Cucu), some signature-like symbols and expressions of love to sign off the note, at the bottom right corner of the note, she harks back to her mother’s complaints about Hindi grammar, adding in Hindi: “Vismayadibodhak Chinh”, the Hindi word for exclamation mark!

In another display of bilingual homour in her previous class, she wrote this note to a classmate: “Hello Harish, two months back you said to me: centimental and I said savamental to you. Do you know math? Isn’t centi less than sava? Bada aaye Maths Ke Superstar. 2nd mein to math jhatpat karte the aur ab centi aur sava ke beech me difference he nahi pata. From A! (Emphasis added)

Here we can see A playing with the word ‘sentimental’ and transforming them into centi- (English) and Sava (Hindi, meaning quarter), and then teasing her classmate about his show of math knowledge.

From the archives

When he was young, U was an avid storyteller, and went through a phase of serious domestic journalism. Here are some instances of intentional as well as unintended humour in his clippings, as well as instances of his intense admiration for his older brother, who always turned out as the Man of the Match in sports matches reported in the daily, The Chaudhary Times!

Inspired by comic strips of Charlie Brown! “No problem Manager, I missed the catch but the ground caught it!” 😀
The Chaudhary Times cover page
Boing! The spelling error adds to the humour
The older brother, always the hero!

As always, thank you for visiting Masala Chai. We hope that these small instances from children’s lives prompt you to remember examples from your own experiences with children. Until next Friday, have a fun(ny)-filled week.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this article ma’am 🙂
    My 3.5 years old niece finds ” kitanuu” very funny.
    We were teaching her to put her hand on her mouth while coughing and said, ” jldi se karlo varna kitanu fel jaenge”.
    She questioned, ” kitanu?”
    We, “germs”
    And then onwards she coughs in air saying “kitanu” !
    ..And amusingly laughs!

    Like

  2. Many thanks Masala Chai for putting together children’s imaginations, realities as beautiful memories. I was grinning throughout while reading it. The originality of their thoughts is so endearing. Often, the jokes and teasings are impromptu! Here is a fresh one-
    So, in the morning I was admiring my black curls to the extent of loving myself..Ms. A tells “mama Maggie noodles(giggled)”. I looked from corner of my eye and smiled “yes everyone says that”. Ms. A ” but it looks like BURNT maggie!”. I stood speechless with mixed reaction. Actually this smiley 😏 is quite fitting here.

    Like

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