Advertisement

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

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

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Affirmative sarcasm Negative sarcasm Processing ease Negation Default sarcastic interpretations 

Notes

Acknowledgments

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.

References

  1. Attardo, S. (2000). Irony as relevant inappropriateness. Journal of Pragmatics, 32(6), 793–826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Attardo, S. (2001). Humorous texts: A semantics and pragmatics analysis. Berlin: de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beardsley, M. C. (1958). Aesthetics. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.Google Scholar
  4. Bergson, H. (1900/1956). Laughter. In W. Sypher (Ed.), Comedy (pp. 61–190). New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  5. Booth, W. (1974). A rhetoric of irony. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brisard, F., Östman, J.-O., & Verschueren, J. (Eds.). (2009). Grammar, meaning and pragmatics. Amsterdam: Benjamins.Google Scholar
  7. Bryant, G. A., & Fox Tree, J. E. (2002). Recognizing verbal irony in spontaneous speech. Metaphor and Symbol, 17, 99–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burgers, C., van Mulken, M., & Schellens, P. J. (2012). Type of evaluation and marking of irony: The role of perceived complexity and comprehension. Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 231–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell, J. D., & Katz, A. N. (2012). Are there necessary conditions for inducing a sense of sarcastic irony? Discourse Processes, 49(6), 459–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carston, R. (2002). Thoughts and utterances: The pragmatics of explicit communication. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Clark, H. H., & Gerrig, R. (1984). On the pretense theory of irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology General, 113, 121–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Colston, H. L., & Gibbs, R. W, Jr. (2002). Are irony and metaphor understood differently? Metaphor and Symbol, 17, 57–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Curcó, C. (2000). Irony: Negation, echo and metarepresentation. Lingua, 110, 257–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Du Bois, W. J. (2007). The stance triangle. In R. Englebretson (Ed.), Stancetaking in discourse: Subjectivity, evaluation, interaction (pp. 139–182). Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Du Bois, W. J. (2014). Toward a dialogic syntax. Cognitive Linguistics, 25(3), 359–410.Google Scholar
  16. Eisterhold, J., Attardo, S., & Boxer, D. (2006). Reactions to irony in discourse: Evidence for the least disruption principle. Journal of Pragmatics, 38(8), 1239–1256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fein, O., Yeari, M., & Giora, R. (2015). On the priority of salience-based interpretations: The case of irony. Intercultural Pragmatics, 12(1), 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Filik, R., Leuthold, H., Wallington, K., & Page, J. (2014). Testing theories of irony processing using eye-tracking and ERPs. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(3), 811–828.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Filik, R., & Moxey, L. M. (2010). The on-line processing of written irony. Cognition, 116(3), 421–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fodor, J. A. (1983). The modularity of mind: An essay on faculty psychology. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gibbs, R. W, Jr. (1986a). On the psycholinguistics of sarcasm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115, 3–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gibbs, R. W, Jr. (1986b). Comprehension and memory for nonliteral utterances: The problem of sarcastic indirect requests. Acta Psychologica, 62, 41–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gibbs, R. W, Jr. (1994). The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Gibbs, R. W, Jr. (2002). A new look at literal meaning in understanding what is said and implicated. Journal of Pragmatics, 34, 457–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Giora, R. (1995). On irony and negation. Discourse Processes, 19, 239–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Giora, R. (1997). Understanding figurative and literal language: The graded salience hypothesis. Cognitive Linguistics, 8(3), 183–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Giora, R. (1999). On the priority of salient meanings: Studies of literal and figurative language. Journal of Pragmatics, 31, 919–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Giora, R. (2003). On our mind: Salience, context, and figurative language. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Giora, R. (2006). Anything negatives can do affirmatives can do just as well, except for some metaphors. Journal of Pragmatics, 38, 981–1014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Giora, R. (2011a). Irony. In J.-O. Östman & J. Verschueren (Eds.), Pragmatics and practice (pp. 159–176). Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Giora, R. (2011b). Will anticipating irony facilitate it immediately? In M. Dynel (Ed.), The pragmatics of humour across discourse domains (pp. 19–31). Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Giora, R. (2014). Literal vs. nonliteral language—novelty matters. In T. Holtgraves (Ed.), Handbook of language and social psychology (pp. 330–347). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Giora, R., & Attardo, S. (2014). Irony. In S. Attardo (Ed.), Encyclopedia of humor studies (pp. 397–401). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.Google Scholar
  34. Giora, R., Drucker, A., Fein, O., & Mendelson, I. (2015). Default sarcastic interpretations: On the priority of nonsalient interpretations of negative utterances. Discourse Processes, 52(3), 173–200.Google Scholar
  35. Giora, R., Drucker, A., & Fein, O. (2014). Resonating with default sarcastic interpretations. Belgian Journal of Linguistics, 28, 3–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Giora, R., & Fein, O. (1999). Irony: Context and salience. Metaphor and Symbol, 14, 241–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Giora, R., Fein, O., Ganzi, J., Alkeslassy Levi, N., & Sabah, H. (2005). On negation as mitigation: The case of irony. Discourse Processes, 39, 81–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Giora, R., Fein, O., Kaufman, R., Eisenberg, D., & Erez, S. (2009). Does an “ironic situation” favor an ironic interpretation? In G. Brône & J. Vandaele (Eds.), Cognitive poetics. Goals, gains and gaps (pp. 383–399). Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  39. Giora, R., Fein, O., Laadan, D., Wolfson, J., Zeituny, M., Kidron, R., et al. (2007). Expecting irony: Context versus salience-based effects. Metaphor and Symbol, 22, 119–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Giora, R., Fein, O., Metuki, N., & Stern, P. (2010). Negation as a metaphor-inducing operator. In L. Horn (Ed.), The expression of negation (pp. 225–256). Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  41. Giora, R., & Gur, I. (2003). Irony in conversation: Salience and context effects. In B. Nerlich, Z. Todd, H. V & D. D. Clarke (Eds.), Polysemy: Flexible patterns of meanings in language and mind (pp. 297–316). Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  42. Giora, R., Livnat, E., Fein, O., Barnea, A., Zeiman, R., & Berger, I. (2013). Negation generates nonliteral interpretations by default. Metaphor and Symbol, 28, 89–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Giora, R., Raphaely, M., Fein, O., & Livnat, E. (2014b). Resonating with contextually inappropriate interpretations in production: The case of irony. Cognitive Linguistics, 25(3), 443–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Givoni, S., Giora, R., & Bergerbest, D. (2013). How speakers alert addressees to multiple meanings. Journal of Pragmatics, 48(1), 29–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole, & J. Morgan (Eds.), Speech acts: Syntax and semantics (pp. 41–58). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  46. Hasson, U., & Glucksberg, S. (2006). Does understanding negation entail affirmation? An examination of negated metaphors. Journal of Pragmatics, 38, 1015–1032.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Horn, L. R. (1989). A natural history of negation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  48. Horn, L. R. (2001). Flaubert triggers, squatitive negation and other quirks of grammar. In J. Hoeksema, H. Rullmann, & V. Sánchez-Valencia (Eds.), Perspectives on negation and polarity items (pp. 173–202). Amsterdam: Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Horn, L. R. (2016, this volume). Licensing NPIs: Some negative (and positive) results. In P. Larrivée & C. Lee (Eds.). Negation and polarity: Experimental perspectives (pp. 281–305). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  50. Israel, M. (2002). Literally speaking. Journal of Pragmatics, 34(4), 423–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Israel, M. (2004). The pragmatics of polarity. In L. R. Horn & G. Ward (Eds.), The handbook of pragmatics (pp. 701–723). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  52. Israel, M. (2011). The grammar of polarity: Pragmatics, sensitivity, and the logic of scales. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kotthoff, H. (2003). Responding to irony in different contexts: Cognition and conversation. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 1387–1411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kreuz, R. J., & Caucci, G. M. (2007). Lexical influences on the perception of sarcasm. Proceedings of the Workshop on Computational Approaches to Figurative Language (pp. 1–4).Google Scholar
  55. Kreuz, R., & Glucksberg, S. (1989). How to be sarcastic: The reminder theory of verbal irony. Journal of Experimental psychology: General, 118, 347–386.Google Scholar
  56. Kumon-Nakamura, S., Glucksberg, S., & Brown, M. (1995). How about another piece of pie: The allusional pretense theory of discourse irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 124(1), 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Meytes, D., & Tamir, A. (2005). Negation is sometimes faster than affirmation. Ms., Tel Aviv University. Google Scholar
  58. Moon, R. (2008). Conventionalized as-similes in english: A problem case. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 13(1), 3–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Partington, A. (2011). Phrasal irony: Its form, function and exploitation. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(6), 1786–1800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pexman, P. M., Ferretti, T., & Katz, A. (2000). Discourse factors that influence irony detection during on-line reading. Discourse Processes, 29, 201–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Phelan, J. (2009). The narrative turn and the how of narrative inquiry. Narrative, 17(1), 1–10.Google Scholar
  62. Schwoebel, J., Dews, S., Winner, E., & Srinivas, K. (2000). Obligatory processing of the literal meaning of ironic utterances: Further evidence. Metaphor and Symbol, 15, 47–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Searle, J. R. (1979). Expression and meaning: Studies in the theory of speech acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sperber, D. (1984). Verbal irony: Pretense or echoic mention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 113, 130–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1981). Irony and the use-mention distinction. In P. Cole (Ed.), Radical pragmatics (pp. 295–318). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  66. Sperber, D., & Wilson, D. (1986/1995). Relevance: Communication and cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  67. Veale, T. (2012). Exploding the creativity myth. London: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  68. Veale, T. (2013). Humorous similes. Humor, 26(1), 3–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Voyer, D., & Techentin, C. (2010). Subjective acoustic features of sarcasm: Lower, slower, and more. Metaphor and Symbol, 25, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Wason, P. C. (1959). The processing of positive and negative information. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 11, 92–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wilson, D., & Sperber, D. (1992). On verbal irony. Lingua, 87, 53–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of LinguisticsTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

Personalised recommendations