Will anticipating irony facilitate it immediately?
This research paper reports findings of eight studies looking into the processes involved in making sense of context-based (ironic) versus salience-based (nonironic) interpretations, the latter relying on the lexicalised and cognitively prominent meanings of the utterances’ constituents. The aim of these studies was to test the claim that rich contextual information, supportive of the contextually appropriate (ironic) interpretation, can affect that interpretation immediately, without having to go through the inappropriate, salience-based interpretation first (Gibbs 1994, 2002). Results demonstrate that strong contexts, inducing anticipation for an ironic utterance, did not facilitate ironic interpretations immediately compared to salience-based nonironic interpretations. They show that ironic interpretations were neither faster than nor as fast to derive as nonironic interpretations, which were always first to be processed. For comprehenders, then, irony was slow to make sense of; slower than deriving the inappropriate but salience-based interpretation, regardless of whether the context was conversational or narrative. Overall, comprehenders’ processing of salient meanings has a bearing on communicative processes, affecting the ease and the speed of language users’ gleaning ironic import.