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Intercultural Pragmatics

Editor-in-Chief: Kecskes, Istvan

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Volume 12, Issue 1


On the priority of salience-based interpretations: The case of sarcastic irony

Ofer Fein / Menahem Yeari / Rachel Giora
Published Online: 2015-03-10 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2015-0001


Results from 2 experiments support the view that, regardless of strength of contextual expectation for utterance nonsalient (ironic) interpretation, (a) salience-based interpretations will not be blocked. Instead, they will be facilitated initially. And, (b) if conducive to the interpretation process, they will not be suppressed, albeit incompatible (Giora 2003; Giora and Fein 1999a; Giora and Fein 1999b; Giora et al. 2007). In Experiment 1, expectancy for an ironic utterance was manipulated by introducing an ironic speaker, whose ironic utterances were prefaced by overt ironic cues, making explicit the speaker's ironic intent. In Experiment 2, expectancy strongly biased via repeated exposure to ironic utterances, was further strengthened by informing participants that the experiment was testing sarcasm interpretation. Long processing times were allowed so as to tap later (suppression) processes. Results from reading times and lexical decisions support the temporal priority of salience-based interpretations, while arguing against both, the contextualist views (Gibbs 2002; Katz 2009) and the Gricean suppression hypothesis (Grice 1975).

Keywords: irony; sarcasm; salience; context; expectation hypothesis

About the article

Ofer Fein

Ofer Fein is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology in The Academic College of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo. His current research interests include psycholinguistics, psychology of sexual orientation, application of queer theory to psychology, and homophobia.

Menahem Yeari

Menahem Yeari is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the Bar Ilan University, Israel. His primary research interests are in cognitive science, including attention, memory, and reading comprehension processes. In particular, his research concerns the normal and abnormal cognitive processes underlying reading and discourse comprehension of typically developing and learning disabled readers, using diverse empirical methods such as behavioral measurements, eye-tracking methodology, and computational modeling.

Rachel Giora

Rachel Giora is Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. Her research areas included discourse coherence, informativeness, discourse relevance, cognitive pragmatics, language and ideology, women and language. Her recent work focuses on the psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics of figurative language (irony, sarcasm, jokes, and metaphor), context effects, optimal innovation and aesthetic pleasure, discourse negation, default nonliteral interpretation, and the notion of salience. Her book On Our Mind: Salience, Context, and Figurative Language was published by Oxford University Press in 2003. Together with Patrick Hanks she edited 6 volumes for Routledge's Critical Concepts series titled Metaphor and Figurative Language (2011).

Published Online: 2015-03-10

Published in Print: 2015-03-01

Citation Information: Intercultural Pragmatics, Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages 1–32, ISSN (Online) 1613-365X, ISSN (Print) 1612-295X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2015-0001.

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