Verbal irony in the wild
Verbal irony constitutes a rough class of indirect intentional communication involving a complex interaction of language-specific and communication-general phenomena. Conversationalists use verbal irony in conjunction with paralinguistic signals such as speech prosody. Researchers examining acoustic features of speech communication usually focus on how prosodic information relates to the surface structure of utterances, and often ignore prosodic phenomena associated with implied meaning. In the case of verbal irony, there exists some debate concerning how these prosodic features manifest themselves in conversation. A form-function approach can provide a valuable tool for understanding speakers’ varied vocal strategies in this domain. Here I describe several ways conversationalists employ prosodic contrasts, laughter, and other speech characteristics in their attempts to communicate effectively and efficiently. The presented examples, culled from spontaneous conversation recordings, reveal just a small sample of the enormous variation in delivery styles speakers adopt when communicating with ironic language.