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Issues in Applied Linguistics

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Perception of Irony by L2 Learners of Spanish


Recent studies on the second language (L2) acquisition of irony and humor indicate that learners both use and recognize verbal irony in the target language and suggest that the ability to understand irony and to engage in verbal humor increases with greater language proficiency (Bell, 2005, 2006; Bouton, 1999; Cook, 2000; Davies, 2003). While the study of irony has enjoyed a long history in linguistics and the topic of humor in an L2 has received some attention in the field of SLA, few studies have specifically analyzed the understanding of irony by L2 learners. The objective of the present study was to examine the interpretation of ironic utterances in Spanish-language films by L2 learners of Spanish and the impact of an audiovisual context on the ability of learners to interpret irony. The results of the study support previous work on irony and humor in L2 learning in suggesting that the recognition of irony improves as proficiency level and experience with the target language increase. Furthermore, the hypothesis that the greater number of audio and visual sources available to the listener will make irony easier to process and identify (Yus Ramos, 1998; 2000) was only weakly supported and only for the more advanced learners in this study. It was argued that constraints on working memory and processing help to explain why the audiovisual context did not seem to assist the beginning- level learners in interpreting irony and why it seemed to help the more advanced learners in doing so, at least in one movie scene.

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