Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 12, 2021

Where irony goes: routinization and the collapse of viewpoint configurations

Vera Tobin
From the journal Chinese Semiotic Studies

Abstract

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:

References

Anderson, Miranda & Stefan Iversen. 2018. Immersion and defamiliarization: Experiencing literature and world. Poetics Today 39(3). 569–595. https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7032760.Search in Google Scholar

Aristotle. 2011. Problems, volume II: Books 20–38. Rhetoric to Alexander (Loeb Classical Library 317). Edited and translated by Robert Mayhew & David C. Mirhady. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.10.4159/DLCL.aristotle-rhetoric_alexander.2011Search in Google Scholar

Bellezza, Francis S. & Daniel R. Young. 1989. Chunking of repeated events in memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 15(5). 990–997. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.15.5.990.Search in Google Scholar

Booth, Wayne C. 1974. A rhetoric of irony. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Search in Google Scholar

Brooks, John. 1981. Showing off in America: From conspicuous consumption to parody display. New York: Little, Brown.Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan. 2003. Mechanisms of change in grammaticalization: The role of frequency. In Brian Joseph & Richard Janda (eds.), The handbook of historical linguistics, 602–623. Malden, MA: Blackwell.10.1002/9780470756393.ch19Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan. 2007. Frequency of use and the organization of language. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195301571.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan. 2010. Language, usage and cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511750526Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan & William Pagliuca. 1985. Cross-linguistic comparison and the development of grammatical meaning. In Jacek Fisiak (ed.), Historical semantics – Historical word-formation, 59–83. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan & Joanne Scheibman. 1999. The effect of usage on degrees of constituency: The reduction of don’t in English. Linguistics: An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences 37(4). 575–596. https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.37.4.575.Search in Google Scholar

Bybee, Joan & Sandra A. Thompson. 2000. Three frequency effects in syntax. Berkeley Linguistics Society 23. 65–85.10.3765/bls.v23i1.1293Search in Google Scholar

Carpenter, Malinda, Katherine Nagell, Michael Tomasello, George Butterworth & Chris Moore. 1998. Social cognition, joint attention, and communicative competence from 9 to 15 months of age. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 63(4). 1–174. i, iii, v–vi. https://doi.org/10.2307/1166214.Search in Google Scholar

Chase, William G. & Herbert A. Simon. 1973. Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology 4(1). 55–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0285(73)90004-2.Search in Google Scholar

Chomsky, Noam. 1956. Three models for the description of language. IRE Transactions on Information Theory 2(3). 113–124.10.1109/TIT.1956.1056813Search in Google Scholar

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton & Co.10.1515/9783112316009Search in Google Scholar

Clark, Herbert H. & Richard J. Gerrig. 1984. On the pretense theory of irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 113(1). 121. https://doi.org/10.1037/0096-3445.113.1.121.Search in Google Scholar

Clark, Herbert H. & Richard J. Gerrig. 1990. Quotations as demonstrations. Language 66(4). 764–805.10.2307/414729Search in Google Scholar

Croft, William. 2000. Explaining language change: An evolutionary approach. London: Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Cutrer, L. Michelle. 1994. Time and tense in narrative and in everyday language. San Diego: University of California PhD dissertation.Search in Google Scholar

De Smet, Hendrik. 2016. How gradual change progresses: The interaction between convention and innovation. Language Variation and Change 28. 83–102.10.1017/S0954394515000186Search in Google Scholar

Diessel, Holger & Michael Tomasello. 2001. The acquisition of finite complement clauses in English: A corpus-based analysis. Cognitive Linguistics 12(2). 97–142. https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.12.2.97.Search in Google Scholar

Emery, N. J. 2000. The eyes have it: The neuroethology, function and evolution of social gaze. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 24(6). 581–604. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0149-7634(00)00025-7.Search in Google Scholar

Epley, Nicholas & Justin Kruger. 2005. When what you type isn’t what they read: The perseverance of stereotypes and expectancies over e-mail. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 41(4). 414–422. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2004.08.005.Search in Google Scholar

Fauconnier, Gilles. 1985. Mental spaces: Aspects of meaning construction in natural language. New York: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Fauconnier, Gilles. 1997. Mappings in thought and language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139174220Search in Google Scholar

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner. 2000. Compression and global insight. Cognitive Linguistics 11(3/4). 283–304.10.1515/cogl.2001.017Search in Google Scholar

Fauconnier, Gilles & Mark Turner. 2002. The way we think: Conceptual blending and the mind’s hidden complexities. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Frankfurt, Harry G. 1986. On bullshit. Raritan Quarterly Review 6(2). 81–100.Search in Google Scholar

Frankfurt, Harry G. 2005. On bullshit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.10.1515/9781400826537Search in Google Scholar

Frankfurt, Harry G. 2006. On truth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.Search in Google Scholar

Gibbs, Raymond W. & Jennifer O’Brien. 1991. Psychological aspects of irony understanding. Journal of Pragmatics 16(6). 523–530. https://doi.org/10.1016/0378-2166(91)90101-3.Search in Google Scholar

Giora, Rachel. 1995. On irony and negation. Discourse Processes 19(2). 239–264. https://doi.org/10.1080/01638539509544916.Search in Google Scholar

Giora, Rachel. 2016. When negatives are easier to understand than affirmatives: The case of negative sarcasm. In Rachel Giora (ed.), Negation and polarity: Experimental perspectives, 127–143. New York: Springer.10.1007/978-3-319-17464-8_6Search in Google Scholar

Giora, Rachel, Ofer Fein, Nili Metuki & Pnina Stern. 2010. Negation as a metaphor-inducing operator. In Laurence R. Horn (ed.), The expression of negation, 225–256. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110219302.225Search in Google Scholar

Giora, Rachel, Shir Givoni & Ofer Fein. 2015. Defaultness reigns: The case of sarcasm. Metaphor and Symbol 30(4). 290–313. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926488.2015.1074804.Search in Google Scholar

Giora, Rachel, Elad Livnat, Ofer Fein, Anat Barnea, Rakefet Zeiman & Iddo Berger. 2013. Negation generates nonliteral interpretations by default. Metaphor and Symbol 28(2). 89–115. https://doi.org/10.1080/10926488.2013.768510.Search in Google Scholar

Givón, Talmy. 1973. The time-axis phenomenon. Language 49(4). 890–925. https://doi.org/10.2307/412067.Search in Google Scholar

Greene, Viveca S. 2019. “Deplorable” satire: Alt-right memes, white genocide tweets, and redpilling normies. Studies in American Humor 5(1). 31–69. https://doi.org/10.5325/studamerhumor.5.1.0031.Search in Google Scholar

Haiman, John. 1994. Ritualization and the development of language. In William Pagliuca (ed.), Perspectives on grammaticalization, 2–28. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.10.1075/cilt.109.07haiSearch in Google Scholar

Haiman, John. 1998. Talk is cheap: Sarcasm, alienation, and the evolution of language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Haspelmath, Martin. 1998. Does grammaticalization need reanalysis? Studies in Language 22(2). 315–351. https://doi.org/10.1075/sl.22.2.03has.Search in Google Scholar

Haspelmath, Martin. 1999. Why is grammaticalization irreversible? Linguistics 37(6). 1043–1068. https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.37.6.1043.Search in Google Scholar

Hopper, Paul & Joan Bybee. 2001. Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.10.1075/tsl.45Search in Google Scholar

Hopper, Paul & Elizabeth Closs Traugott. 1993. Grammaticalization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Howard, Alice Ann, Lara Mayeux & Letitia R. Naigles. 2008. Conversational correlates of children’s acquisition of mental verbs and a theory of mind. First Language 28(4). 375–402. https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723708091044.Search in Google Scholar

Hutcheon, Linda. 1994. Irony’s edge: The theory and politics of irony. London and New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Israel, Michael. 2008. Mental spaces and mental verbs in early child English. In Andrea Tyler, Yiyoung Kim & Mari Takada (eds.), Language in the context of use: Discourse and cognitive approaches to language, 199–232. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Search in Google Scholar

Johnson, Marcia K., Shahin Hashtroudi & D. Stephen Lindsay. 1993. Source monitoring. Psychological Bulletin 114(1). 3–28.10.1037/0033-2909.114.1.3Search in Google Scholar

Karlsson, Fred. 2007. Constraints on multiple center-embedding of clauses. Journal of Linguistics 43(2). 365–392. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0022226707004616.Search in Google Scholar

Keysar, Boaz. 2007. Communication and miscommunication: The role of egocentric processes. Intercultural Pragmatics 4(1). 71–84. https://doi.org/10.1515/ip.2007.004.Search in Google Scholar

Kreuz, Roger J. & Sam Glucksberg. 1989. How to be sarcastic: The echoic reminder theory of verbal irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 118(4). 374.10.1037/0096-3445.118.4.374Search in Google Scholar

Langacker, Ronald W. 1977. Syntactic reanalysis. In Charles N. Li (ed.), Mechanisms of syntactic change, 57–139. Austin: University of Texas Press.10.7560/750357-005Search in Google Scholar

Langacker, Ronald W. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar: Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Langacker, Ronald W. 1990. Subjectification. Cognitive Linguistics 1(1). 5–38.10.1515/cogl.1990.1.1.5Search in Google Scholar

Langacker, Ronald W. 2000. Grammar and conceptualization. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110800524Search in Google Scholar

Langacker, Ronald W. 2008. Cognitive grammar: A basic introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195331967.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Lear, Jonathan. 2011. A case for irony. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.10.4159/harvard.9780674063143Search in Google Scholar

Levinson, Stephen C. 2006. On the human “interaction engine.” In Nicholas J. Enfield & Stephen C. Levinson (eds.), Roots of human sociality, 39–69. New York: Berg.10.4324/9781003135517-3Search in Google Scholar

Levinson, Stephen C. 2013. Recursion in pragmatics. Language 89(1). 149–162.10.1353/lan.2013.0005Search in Google Scholar

Mahr, Johannes & Gergely Csibra. 2017. Why do we remember? The communicative function of episodic memory. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1–93.10.1017/S0140525X17000012Search in Google Scholar

Michaelis, Laura A. & Hanbing Feng. 2015. What is this, sarcastic syntax. Constructions and Frames 7(2). 148–180. https://doi.org/10.1075/cf.7.2.01mic.Search in Google Scholar

Miller, George A. 1956. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review 63(2). 81–97. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0043158.Search in Google Scholar

Muecke, Douglas C. 1978. Irony markers. Poetics 7(4). 363–375.10.1016/0304-422X(78)90011-6Search in Google Scholar

Musolff, Andreas. 2020. How (not?) to quote a proverb: The role of figurative quotations and allusions in political discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 155(1). 135–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2019.10.011.Search in Google Scholar

Pennycook, Gordon, James Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler & Jonathan A. Fugelsang. 2015. On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making 10(6). 549–563.Search in Google Scholar

Riloff, Ellen, Ashequl Qadir, Prafulla Surve, Lalindra De Silva, Nathan Gilbert & Ruihong Huang. 2013. Sarcasm as contrast between a positive sentiment and negative situation. In Proceedings of the 2013 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, 704–714. Seattle: Association for Computational Linguistics.Search in Google Scholar

Rochat, Philippe, Jane G. Querido & Tricia Striano. 1999. Emerging sensitivity to the timing and structure of protoconversation in early infancy. Developmental Psychology 35(4). 950–957. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.35.4.950.Search in Google Scholar

Rosenbaum, S. I. 2018. “Irony poisoning”: When nasty humor spirals downward into something far worse. Boston: The Boston Globe, August 24, Sect. Ideas.Search in Google Scholar

Scaife, Michael & Jerome S. Bruner. 1975. The capacity for joint visual attention in the infant. Nature 253(5489). 265–266. https://doi.org/10.1038/253265a0.Search in Google Scholar

Schacter, Daniel L. 1999. The seven sins of memory: Insights from psychology and cognitive neuroscience. American Psychologist 54(3). 182–203. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.54.3.182.Search in Google Scholar

Schegloff, Emanuel A. 2007. Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in conversation analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511791208Search in Google Scholar

Schmid, Hans-Jörg. 2007. Entrenchment, salience, and basic levels. In Dirk Geeraerts & Hubert Cuyckens (eds.), The Oxford handbook of cognitive linguistics, 117–138. Oxford: Oxford University Press.10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199738632.013.0005Search in Google Scholar

Schmid, Hans-Jörg. 2015. A blueprint of the Entrenchment-and-Conventionalization model. In Peter Uhrig & Thomas Herbst (eds.), Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association, vol. 3, 3–26. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.10.1515/gcla-2015-0002Search in Google Scholar

Schmid, Hans-Jörg. 2020. The dynamics of the language system. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Seto, Ken-ichi. 1998. On non-echoic irony. In Robyn Carston & Seiji Uchida (eds.), Relevance theory: Applications and implications, 239–256. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.10.1075/pbns.37.13setSearch in Google Scholar

Shklovsky, Viktor. 1917. Art as technique. In Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan (eds.), Literary theory: An anthology, 15–21. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.10.1515/9781618111449-008Search in Google Scholar

Siedlecki, Karen L., Timothy A. Salthouse & Diane E. Berish. 2005. Is there anything special about the aging of source memory? Psychology and Aging 20(1). 19–32.10.1037/0882-7974.20.1.19Search in Google Scholar

Skurnik, Ian, Carolyn Yoon, Denise C. Park & Norbert Schwarz. 2005. How warnings about false claims become recommendations. Journal of Consumer Research 31(4). 713–724.10.1086/426605Search in Google Scholar

Sontag, Susan. 1964. Notes on camp. In Susan Sontag (ed.), Against interpretation and other essays, 53–65. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.10.1515/9781474465809-006Search in Google Scholar

Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson. 1981. Irony and the use-mention distinction. In Peter Cole (ed.), Radical pragmatics, 295–318. New York: Academic Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sperber, Dan & Deirdre Wilson. 1998. Irony and relevance: A reply to Seto, Hamamoto and Yamanashi. In Robyn Carston & Seiji Uchida (eds.), Relevance theory: Applications and implications, 239–255. John Benjamins Publishing.10.1075/pbns.37.16speSearch in Google Scholar

Taub, Amanda & Max Fisher. 2018a. As attacks on refugees rise, a link is uncovered: Facebook, New York: The New York Times. August 23, Sec. Foreign Desk.Search in Google Scholar

Taub, Amanda & Max Fisher. 2018b. Should we all be taking ‘irony poisoning’ more seriously? Email newsletter. New York: The New York Times Online.Search in Google Scholar

Thomas, Francis-Noël & Mark Turner. 2011. Clear and simple as the truth: Writing classic prose, 2nd edn. New York: Oxford University Press.10.1515/9781400838547Search in Google Scholar

Thompson, Sandra A. & Anthony Mulac. 1991. A quantitative perspective on the grammaticization of epistemic parentheticals in English. In Elizabeth Closs Traugott & Bernd Heine (eds.), Approaches to grammaticalization: Volume II. Types of grammatical markers. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.10.1075/tsl.19.2.16thoSearch in Google Scholar

Tobin, Vera. 2006. Ways of reading Sherlock Holmes: The entrenchment of discourse blends. Language and Literature 15(1). 73–90. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963947006060556.Search in Google Scholar

Tobin, Vera. 2008. Grammatical and rhetorical consequences of compressions involving change. In Fey Parrill, Mark Turner & Vera Tobin (eds.), Meaning, form, and body, 329–348. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.Search in Google Scholar

Tobin, Vera. 2016. Performance, irony, and viewpoint in language. In Amy Cook & Rhonda Blair (eds.), Theatre, performance, and cognition: Languages, bodies, and ecologies, 54–67. London and New York: Bloomsbury Methuen.10.5040/9781472591821.0010Search in Google Scholar

Tobin, Vera. 2020. Experimental investigations of irony as a viewpoint phenomenon. In Angeliki Athanasiadou & Herbert L. Colston (eds.), The diversity of irony, 236–255. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.10.1515/9783110652246-011Search in Google Scholar

Tobin, Vera & Michael Israel. 2012. Irony as a viewpoint phenomenon. In Barbara Dancygier & Eve Sweetser (eds.), Viewpoint in language: A multimodal perspective, 25–46. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139084727.004Search in Google Scholar

Tomasello, Michael. 1999. The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.10.4159/9780674044371Search in Google Scholar

Trask, R. L. 1996. A dictionary of grammatical terms in linguistics. New York: Routledge.Search in Google Scholar

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 1995. Subjectification in grammaticalization. In Dieter Stein & Susan Wright (eds.), Subjectivity and Subjectification, 31–54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511554469.003Search in Google Scholar

Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & Richard B. Dasher. 2002. Regularity in semantic change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511486500Search in Google Scholar

Trevarthen, Colin. 1979. Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of primary intersubjectivity. In Margaret Bullowa (ed.), Before speech: The beginning of human communication, 321–347. London: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Turner, Mark. 1996. The literary mind. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Turner, Mark. 2014. The origin of ideas: Blending, creativity, and the human spark. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Turner, Mark. 2017. Multimodal form-meaning pairs for blended classic joint attention. Linguistics Vanguard 3(1). 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2016-0043.Search in Google Scholar

Vonnegut, Kurt. 1966. Mother night. New York: Dial Press.Search in Google Scholar

Walton, Kendall L. 1990. Mimesis as make-believe: On the foundations of the representational arts. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.10.2307/2108134Search in Google Scholar

Warren, Caleb & Gina S. Mohr. 2019. Ironic consumption. Journal of Consumer Research 46(2). 246–266. https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucy065.Search in Google Scholar

Whalen, D. H., Lisa Zunshine & Michael Holquist. 2012. Theory of mind and embedding of perspective: A psychological test of a literary “sweet spot.” Scientific Study of Literature 2(2). 301–315. https://doi.org/10.1075/ssol.2.2.06wha.Search in Google Scholar

Yu, Hongbing. 2016. On anti-identity construction and anti-modeling. Chinese Semiotic Studies 12(2). 259–267. https://doi.org/10.1515/css-2016-0023.Search in Google Scholar

Zipf, George K. 1949. Human behavior and the principle of least effort. Cambridge, MA: Addison‐Wesley.Search in Google Scholar

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

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Scroll Up Arrow