Chapter 11. Fronting and irony in Spanish

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This paper aims at explaining why irony is particularly salient in a certain kind of Spanish sentences that involve fronting of a constituent. This fact should be totally unexpected if one assumes – as we do – that irony is mainly a contextual phenomenon (Wilson & Sperber 1992 et passim). An analysis of the syntactic pattern of the examples under consideration shows that it corresponds to a specific construction where a marked word order triggers a ‘verum focus’ interpretation (Leonetti & Escandell-Vidal 2009). Our proposal is quite simple: we argue that ‘verum focus’ gives rise to emphasis, and emphasis magnifies certain aspects of meaning. Together with other grammatical devices, the ‘verum focus’ construction highlights the inappropriateness of the utterance with respect to the context in which it occurs, thus making irony a very accessible interpretive solution. The more a representation is emphasized, the easier it is for it to receive an ironic reading. This approach provides evidence in favor both of Sperber and Wilson’s proposal for irony and of our analysis of Verum Focus-Inducing Fronting in Spanish: the connection of this construction with irony cannot be understood if this kind of fronting is taken as an instance of focalization.


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