Seminars

Irony in high-functioning autism: seeking a descriptive theory of irony

Seminar on Language and Communication

Tuesday, February 16, 15:oo

Yolanda García Lorenzo (ILCLI)

Venue: Carlos Santamaria Zentroa, Room 4

Abstract

When being ironic our communicative intention clearly mismatches with the literal meaning of the utterance. Then, how are we able to transmit this communicative intention to our hearer? Many theories of irony explain this phenomenon with the so called "Theory of Mind" (Baron-Cohen et al. 1985; Bowler 1992) that allows "mindreading": the ability we have to attribute mental states to others (Sperber 2000a, 2001; Wilson 2009). Those are then attribute theories of irony, where the explanation is based in the attribution of a particular mental state to the speaker (Sperber & Wilson 1986/95; Wilson & Sperber 1992; Wilson 2006, 2009; Clark & Gerrig 1984).
Nonetheless, based in recent studies with high-functioning autistic patients (Dufour et al. 2013; Wang et al. 2006, 2007), I advocate for a descriptive theory of irony where the ironic utterances are defined as descriptive instead of as attributive utterances, i.e. that describe a state of affairs (Garmendia 2007, 2010, 2011, 2015). That would explain why high-functioning autistic patients are able to understand irony under some circumstances (mastering then this "mindreading" ability), but not when irony is based in event-knowledge, this is, when the situation described by the utterance is blatantly incompatible with the ironic utterance (Wang et al. 2006, 2007). My hypothesis is that this inability reveals that in irony comprehension there is something else than the "mindreading" ability and I claim that a complete theory of irony should be able to give a proper explanation of it.

References:

Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M. & Frith, U. 1985. Does the autistic child have a ‘theory of mind'? Cognition 21 (1): 37-46.
Bowler, D.M. 1992. ‘Theory of mind' in asperger's syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines 33 (5): 877-893.
Clark, H.H. & Gerrig R.J. 1984. On the pretense theory of irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 113 (1): 121-126.
Dufour, N., Redcay, E., Young, L., Mavros, P.L., Moran, J.M., Triantafyllou, C., Gabrieli, J.D. & Saxe, R. 2013. Similar brain activation during false belief tasks in a large sample of adults with and without autism. PloS One 8 (9): e75468.
Garmendia, J. 2007. A critical pragmatic theory for irony: what an ironic utterance means, and how it does so. PhD dissertation, University of the Basque Country.
Garmendia, J. 2010. Irony is critical. Pragmatics and Cognition 18 (2): 397-421.
Garmendia, J. 2011. She's (not) a fine friend: "saying" and criticism in irony. Intercultural Pragmatics 8 (1): 41-65.
Garmendia, J. 2015. A (neo)Gricean account of irony: An answer to relevance theory. International Review of Pragmatics 7 (1): 40-79.
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Sperber, D. 2000. Metarepresentations in an evolutionary perspective. In Sperber, D. (Ed.) Metarepresentations: A Multidisciplinary Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press, 117-137.
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Wang, A.T., Lee S.S., Sigman, M., Dapretto, M. 2006. Neural basis of irony comprehension in children with autism: The role of prosody and context. Brain: A Journal of Neurology 129: 932-43.
Wang, A.T., Lee S.S., Sigman, M., Dapretto, M. 2007. Reading affect in the face and voice: Neural correlates of interpreting communicative intent in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry 64 (6): 698-708.
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Wilson, D. 2009. Irony and metarepresentation. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 21: 183-226.

(Attendance is free, but it should be notified in advance to joana.garmendia@gmail.com)