Professor Deirdre Wilson (UCL & CSMN, Oslo) will present at SWIP-Analytic Monday, October 13th from 5:00 – 7:00 at New York University, in the second floor seminar room 202, 5 Washington Place. Her talk is entitled “Irony, hyperbole, jokes and banter: What should a theory of verbal irony aim to explain?”
In the last ten or fifteen years, following the collapse of the classical and Gricean treatments of verbal irony as a matter of saying one thing and meaning the opposite, a range of disparate phenomena including hyperbole, banter, understatement, jokes and rhetorical questions have been commonly treated as forms of verbal irony in the literature on irony comprehension. Ray Gibbs (2000/2007: 342), whose pioneering experimental studies of rhetoric and poetics have been deservedly influential, sees this as “an important challenge for cognitive science theories of irony. Is it necessarily the case that a single theory will account for the multiple forms and functions of irony in ordinary speech?” In his view,
Irony is not a single category of figurative language, but includes a variety of types, each of which is motivated by slightly different cognitive, linguistic, and social factors, and conveys somewhat different pragmatic meanings.
After illustrating how this broadened notion of irony is being used in current experimental studies and outlining some distinctive features of typical cases of verbal irony, I will argue that hyperbole, banter, understatement, jokes and rhetorical questions are not inherently ironical, and routinely including them in the data for experimental studies of irony comprehension distorts the results and obscures our understanding of irony.