A Pragmatic Study of the Recognition and Interpretation of Verbal Irony by Malaysian ESL Learners

Sahira M. Salman


Verbal irony is understood to be a strategy that uses incongruity between reality and expectation. Since it intends to communicate more than what is literally stated, it is expected that Malaysian ESL learners face difficulty in recognizing and interpreting it. The purpose of this study is to investigate Malaysian ESL learners’ competence in recognizing verbal irony and interpreting its functions according to irony type and the strategies used to express them. These are intended to be tested by subjecting Malaysian undergraduate ESL learners to a questionnaire which consists of thirty situations.To investigate the subject’s ability in recognizing ironic utterances, both illusional pretense theory by Kumon-Nakamura, et al. (1995) and Utsumi’s (2000) implicit display theory are adopted. To investigate the interpretation of ironic utterances, Kreuz and Link (2002) canonical/non-canonical types of irony are identified. These types, in turn, are categorized according to the pragmatic strategies adopted form Gibbs (2000) and the functions associated with them. Also, both descriptive and inferential statistical methods are used to analyse the data. The result of the analysis reveals that, overall, Malaysian ESL learners’ performance in recognizing and interpreting verbal irony is very low. It is also concluded that some functions are more easily interpreted in ironic utterances than others and that the strategies used to make verbal irony also affect the extent of its recognition and interpretation. The subjects are able to recognize ironic utterances which are examples of the canonical type more than the non-canonical ones.

DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2016.v7n2p445

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Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences ISSN 2039-9340(Print) ISSN 2039-2117(Online)

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