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Where irony goes: routinization and the collapse of viewpoint configurations

Vera Tobin
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies


This paper looks at the phenomenon of “irony attrition,” when speakers start out using an expression or engaging in a genre of semiotic activity ironically, but become more earnest in their usage over time. It argues that irony attrition arises as a consequence of three things: (a) the complex viewpoint arrangement that underlies the ironic interpretive stance, (b) routinization or entrenchment, and (c) limitations on our ability to keep track of source information in memory (“source memory”). Irony attrition is not a hazard of irony as irony, but part of a more general tendency for intermediate-level embedded discourse frames to be forgotten, compressed, or mislaid in memory and in quotation. The ironies and erstwhile ironies in this analysis come from the domains of sarcasm, trolling, camp, shtick, and situational ironies in literature, and parody. They are brought into conversation with the evolution of other kinds of perspective-embedding expressions in language acquisition and language change.

Corresponding author: Vera Tobin, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, USA, E-mail:


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Published Online: 2021-05-12
Published in Print: 2021-05-26

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