When Negatives Are Easier to Understand Than Affirmatives: The Case of Negative Sarcasm

  • Rachel GioraEmail author
Part of the Language, Cognition, and Mind book series (LCAM, volume 1)


Based on Hebrew items, I present here findings showing that some novel negative constructions (e.g. Supportive he is not; Punctuality is not her forte/what she excels at) are interpreted and rated as sarcastic even when in isolation, and even when involving no semantic anomaly or internal incongruity. Their affirmative alternatives (Supportive he is; Punctuality is her forte/what she excels at) are interpreted literally and rated as literal. In strongly supportive contexts, the negative constructions are processed faster when biased toward their nonsalient sarcastic interpretation than toward their equally strongly biased literal interpretation. In contrast, affirmative utterances are slower to process when embedded in sarcastically biasing contexts than in salience-based (often literal) ones. Corpus-based studies provide further corroborative evidence. They show that the environment of such negative utterances resonates with their sarcastic rather than their literal interpretation; the opposite is true of affirmative sarcasm. The priority of nonsalient sarcastic interpretation of negative constructions is shown to be affected by negation rather than by the structural markedness of the fronted constructions. No contemporary processing model can account for these findings.


Affirmative sarcasm Negative sarcasm Processing ease Negation Default sarcastic interpretations 



The research reported here was supported by THE ISRAEL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (grant no. 436/12). I am also obliged to the editors of this volume and to 4 anonymous reviewers and deeply so to Ari Drucker and Ruth Filik for very valuable comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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