Irony in a second language: exploring the comprehension of Japanese speakers of English

Togame, Naoko (2016) Irony in a second language: exploring the comprehension of Japanese speakers of English. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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This thesis focuses on the extent to which non-native speakers of English understand potentially ironic utterances in a similar way to native speakers. Barbe (1995: 4) sees irony as one of ‘the final obstacles before achieving near native-speaker fluency.’ This assumption is supported by the findings of earlier studies (Bouton 1999, Lee 2002; Manowong 2011; Yamanaka 2003) which assumed a Gricean framework seeing irony as communicating the ‘opposite of what is said’ (Grice 1975, 1978). This thesis adopts instead the relevance-theoretic account of irony as echoic (Sperber and Wilson 1995; Wilson and Sperber 2012), arguing that previous work suffers from both problematic theoretical assumptions and flawed experimental methods.

The thesis reports the findings of two experiments designed to examine similarities and differences between the responses of non-native speakers of English (here Japanese speakers) and native speakers and how similar or different the effects of prosody are for these groups. The first experiment, conducted by an online survey, provided surprising results, suggesting that Japanese speakers can respond to potentially ironical utterances similarly to native speakers. The second experiment, focusing on the effects of prosody, compared the groups with regard to response trends. Three prosodic contours were used in this study, labelled ‘basic’ (a kind of default, unmarked tone), ‘deadpan’ (with a narrower pitch range), and ‘exaggerated’ (with a wider pitch range). The results indicated that Japanese participants could perceive English prosodic structure in similar ways to native speakers and were affected by prosodic contours in similar ways. It also suggested that Japanese participants were affected less strongly by ‘exaggerated’ intonation and slightly more strongly by ‘deadpan’ tones. These findings suggest that a relevance-theoretic framework provides the means to carry out fuller investigations than carried out previously and to develop a more systematic explanation of the understanding of irony in a second language.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts
A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
B. > Theses
Item ID: 21371
Depositing User: Jennifer Basford
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2017 14:19
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2019 12:40

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