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LINGUIST List 17.2049

Thu Jul 13 2006

Diss: Discourse Analysis: Kalbermatten: 'Verbal Irony as a Prototy...'

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        1.    Maria Kalbermatten, Verbal Irony as a Prototype Category in Spanish: A discoursive analysis

Message 1: Verbal Irony as a Prototype Category in Spanish: A discoursive analysis
Date: 12-Jul-2006
From: Maria Kalbermatten <mkalbermgustavus.edu>
Subject: Verbal Irony as a Prototype Category in Spanish: A discoursive analysis

Institution: University of Minnesota
Program: Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006

Author: Maria Isabel Kalbermatten

Dissertation Title: Verbal Irony as a Prototype Category in Spanish: A discoursive analysis

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis

Subject Language(s): None ()

Dissertation Director:
Timothy L. Face
Francisco Ocampo

Dissertation Abstract:

The present dissertation focuses on the use of verbal irony in
conversation. The main goal is to outline the parameters for characterizing
verbal irony as a prototype category. Two issues have motivated this
research. The first is that most of the scholars have defined verbal irony
as an Aristotelian category with necessary and sufficient conditions, even
though many of them are aware that different instances of irony exist.
Secondly, some of these definitions are based on the analysis of ironic
sentence in isolation or in the context of constructed text. Therefore,
these definitions fail to explain many instances of verbal irony in
naturally occurring conversation.

Thus, I claim that verbal irony is a prototype category. The classical,
Aristotelian theory of categorization states that categories are defined in
terms of necessary and sufficient conditions that exhibit clear-cut
boundaries and permit only two degrees of membership (i.e. member and
non-member). On the other hand, the prototype view of categories considers
that a prototype is a typical instance of a category and that other
instances are assigned to the category on the basis of their similarity to
the prototype. Thus, there are degrees of membership based on degrees of
similarity: the closer an entity is to the prototype, the more central its
status within the category. In other words, there are prototype members,
which share the main attributes, and peripheral members, which share some
of those attributes. Finally, I propose that an exploration of irony's
attributes is most clearly revealed through the analysis of conversation
because the conversation is the basic site of verbal irony.

To achieve the goal of the present research, I analyzed excerpts from ten
face-to-face multiparty conversations in Argentinean Spanish. These
conversations were audio-recorded and transcribed according to
Conversational Analysis conventions. The subjects are my relatives and
friends from the city of Santa Fe, Argentina. The benefit of the selected
subject population is that they share contextual background, which is
recognized as the main factor in the interpretation of an utterance as ironic.

My research shows empirically -through an ethnomethodological analysis of
real conversations- that verbal irony is a prototype category. I found in
the data compelling evidence for graded membership of this category. I
found that the prototypic ironic instances or central members of the
category present an opposition between the literal and the intended meaning
of the utterance, a hidden attitude of criticism, a victim of the
criticism, and shared experience and knowledge that help the audience infer
the irony. I found that in the less-than-central members the opposition
between what is said and what was said in previous utterances leads the
audience to infer the irony. However, in the case of moderately marginal
members the opposition between what the speaker says and the facts of the
situation is what leads the audience to interpret the utterance as ironic.
In the extreme marginal members, I did not find any kind of opposition. In
these instances the ironic interpretation is triggered by the negation of
the felicity conditions of a speech act, or from the echo of a previous
utterance, as was described by Sperber and Wilson in their Mention Theory
of irony. Finally, the identification of ironic instances in real
conversations is sometimes complicated by the presence of sarcasm and
parody because these three phenomena are closely related. Indeed, I found
good representative examples of each of these categories as well as
instances in which two of them overlap.

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