Verbal irony as conversational implicature

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Chen, Rong, 1955-
Houlette, Forrest T.
Issue Date
Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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This study offers a pragmatic account of verbal irony, arguing that verbal irony can be best treated as a special type of conversational implicature.As the first part of the thesis, Grice's theory of conversational implicature is revised. This is done by 1)an addition to Grice's Maxim of Quality so that this maxim will be able to take presupposition into account; 2)an inclusion of the notion of mutual knowledge in Grice's framework and 3)an establishment of speakers' motivation for violating Grice's Maxims. This motivation is subsumed into three principles--the Politeness Principle (PP) (following previous writers such as R. Lakoff, Brown and Levinson), which embodies the speaker's need and want to be polite to others, the Selfishness Principle (SP), which constrains the speaker to say things that will bring him/her desirable consequences, and the Expressivity Principle (EP), by observing which the speaker will succeed in leaving more propositional and emotional impact on the hearer. Lastly, a heuristic of implicature production and understanding is offered which is believed to be more coherent and explanatory than Grice's original procedures for implicature calculation.Second, the revised theory is applied to verbal irony. Based on the heuristic of implicature production and understanding, a heuristic of irony production and understanding is provided. This heuristic demonstrates that irony is both similar to and different from ordinary conversational implicatures. It is similar in that it results from the speaker's observance of the motivating principles, and thus violation of Grice's maxims. It is different because 1)It is seen as the violation of the Maxim of Quality alone, while in ordinary conversational implicatures, any of the maxims may be violated; and 2)This violation is caused by all the three motivating principles, the PP, the SP, and the EP, whereas an ordinary conversational implicature is usually motivated by one of these three principles. Finally, this heuristic is applied to various cases of verbal irony, showing that the revised theory of conversational implicature is better than previous proposals on the subjuct.