Volume 7 Number 2
  • ISSN 1876-1933
  • E-ISSN: 1876-1941
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This study considers sarcasm as a linguistic genre, and explores the use of constructions to capture conventions of sarcastic speech. It does so by examining the English Split Interrogative (SI), e.g., , We argue that lexical, syntactic and semantic idiosyncrasies of SI require us to recognize it as a distinct grammatical construction with two related conversational functions. In its basic, or sincere, function, SI is a collateral-track signal in terms of Clark & Fox Tree 2002: it comments on ongoing performance by (a) indexing the user’s effort to attach the right value to a property variable in a contextually salient open proposition and (b) proposing the result of that effort. In its secondary, or sarcastic, function, SI expresses a dissociative , or double judgment. Just as topic-comment utterances involve two communicative acts — acknowledging a particular entity as a locus of inquiry and attributing a property to that entity — sarcastic SI makes a judgment about the present situation — it’s the inverse of the expected one — and offers an assessment of what makes it so: the value of the -variable (a variable over people, places, things, reasons, etc.) is extreme on some contextually available scale. We postulate that the sarcastic function is a conventionalized (or short-circuited) conversational implicature (in terms of Morgan 1978). Certain divergent syntactic properties support the view that SI is ambiguous with respect to sincere and sarcastic senses. We thus view SI as a case in which what started as a rhetorical gambit has become conventionalized into a rhetorical figure (Kay 1997).


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