Irony as Inferred Contradiction

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“If we acknowledge the existence of an Irony Principle, we should also acknowledge another ‘higher-order principle’ which has the opposite effect. While irony is an apparently friendly way of being offensive (mock politeness), the type of verbal behaviour known as ‘banter’ is an offensive way of being friendly (mock impoliteness).” Geoffrey Leech, Principles of Pragmatics (1983: 144) In this work I present some theoretical considerations about what I consider to be a permanent and ever-present feature of verbal irony, namely, inferred contradiction , which has to be distinguished from plain, direct (non-inferred) contradiction as well as from indirect negation , for a contradiction which is directly expressed cannot be interpreted as ironical (since it lacks a crucial component: inference), and an indirect negation may or may not be ironic (depending on the situation), and thus cannot be considered a permanent feature of the phenomenon. In spite of the fact that many scholars have proposed different theories in order to capture the essence of this intricate and complex phenomenon, not all of them have managed to find a feature or characteristic that applies to or is found in all possible occurrences of irony. I briefly discuss the tenets of some of the best-known of these theories, namely the Classical theories (Socrates, Cicero, Quintilian), the Echoic-Mention Theory (later Echoic Theory), the Echoic Reminder Theory, the Pretence Theory and the Relevant Inappropriateness Theory, trying to show that in all the types of irony emerging from these proposals (e.g. echoic irony, pretence irony, etc.) it can be observed that the irony is triggered by inferred contradiction . The one theory that according to my view and knowledge- seems to capture its whole essence to date is Attardo’s (2000) Relevant Inappropriateness Theory, to whose proposal I adhere, but I argue at the same time that inferred contradiction is another feature of irony (which goes hand in hand with relevant inappropriateness) that should be considered in any theoretical approach to irony. I also try to show how the feature of inferred contradiction is found in all the types of verbal irony identified by different authors (e.g. Alba-Juez’s 1995 negative, positive and neutral irony, Leech’s 1983, 2014 conversational irony, etc.), and thus conclude that this is a feature of irony that should be taken into consideration as a distinguishing and identifying characteristic of the phenomenon.

Laura Alba-Juez

The National Distance Education University (UNED)


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