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Is Verbal Irony Special?

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The way we speak can reveal much about what we intend to communicate, but the words we use often only indirectly relate to the meanings we wish to convey. Verbal irony is a commonly studied form of indirect speech in which a speaker produces an explicit evaluative utterance that implicates an unstated, opposing evaluation. Producing and understanding ironic language, as well as many other types of indirect speech, requires the ability to recognize mental states in others, sometimes described as a capacity for metarepresentation. This article aims to connect common elements between the major theoretical approaches to verbal irony to recent psycholinguistic, developmental, and neuropsychological research demonstrating the necessity for metarepresentation in the effective use of verbal irony in social interaction. Here I will argue that verbal irony is one emergent, strategic possibility given the interface between people's ability to infer mental states, and use language. Rather than think of ironic communication as a specialized cognitive ability, I will claim that it arises from the same set of abilities that underlie a wide range of inferential communicative behaviors. © 2012 The Author. Language and Linguistics Compass © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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