Verbal irony as a prototype category in Spanish: A discoursive analysis
The goal of the present research is to outline the parameters for characterizing verbal irony as a prototype category. Although many scholars are aware that different instances of irony exist, most of them have defined irony as a category with necessary and sufficient conditions. Furthermore, some of the definitions are based on the analysis of ironic sentences in isolation or in the context of a constructed text. Therefore, these definitions are too specific and fail to explain many instances of irony in naturally occurring conversation.
I analyzed excerpts from multiparty conversations in Argentinean Spanish using ethnomethodology. I made observations on the data from my intuition as a Spanish native speaker and from the participants' reactions and their own analysis of the situations. The subjects are my relatives and friends. The benefit of the selected subject population is that I share with them a contextual background, recognized as the main factor in the interpretation of an utterance as ironic.
My research shows empirically that irony is a prototype category. I found in the data compelling evidence for graded membership in this category. The prototypic ironic instances present an opposition between the literal and the intended meaning of the utterance, a hidden attitude of criticism, a target, and shared experience and knowledge that help the audience infer the irony. In the less-than-central members, the opposition between what is said and what was said in previous utterances leads the audience to infer irony. However, in the case of moderately marginal members the opposition between what the speaker says and the facts of the situation is what leads the audience to interpret the utterance as ironic. In the more marginal members, the ironic interpretation is triggered by the negation of the felicity conditions of a speech act, or from the echo of a previous utterance. Finally, the identification of ironic instances in real conversation is sometimes complicated by the presence of sarcasm and parody because these three phenomena are closely related. Indeed, I found good representative examples of each of these categories as well as instances in which two of them overlap.