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Is there an Ironic Tone of Voice?

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Research on nonverbal vocal cues and verbal irony has often relied on the concept of an ironic tone of voice. Here we provide acoustic analysis and experimental evidence that this notion is oversimplified and misguided. Acoustic analyses of spontaneous ironic speech extracted from talk radio shows, both ambiguous and unambiguous in written form, revealed only a difference in amplitude variability compared to matched nonironic speech from the same sources, and that was only among the most clear-cut items. In a series of experiments, participants rated content-filtered versions of the same ironic and nonironic utterances on a range of affective and linguistic dimensions. Listeners did not rely on any set of vocal cues to identify verbal irony that was separate from other emotional and linguistic judgments. We conclude that there is no particular ironic tone of voice and that listeners interpret verbal irony by combining a variety of cues, including information outside of the linguistic context. © Kingston Press Ltd.

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