Analysis To "On Verbal Irony"

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The co-writers Deirdre Wilson and Dan Sperber in their essay ‘On Verbal Irony’ discuss in details what verbal irony is. They explore and illustrate traditional accounts of verbal irony, and also draw attention to some problems with this definition.  Traditional accounts of verbal irony Verbal irony is a trope, and involves the substitution of a figurative for a literal meaning. It is defined as the trope in which the figurative meaning is the opposite of the literal meaning: Irony is the figure used to covey the opposite of what is said. In irony the words are not taken in their basic literal sense. (Du Marsais: Des Tropes, chapter XIV) And Dr Johnson defined it as: “a mode of speech in which the meaning is contrary to the words”. According to Grice (1975, p. 53), the ironist deliberately flouts the maxim of truthfulness, implicating the opposite of what was literally said. The writers point out some of the weaknesses in the traditional definition of irony. 1. Ironical understatements We come upon a customer complaining in a shop, mad with rage, making a fool of himself in public. I turn to my friend and say: o You can tell he’s upset. As a typical example of ironical understatements, my saying is not the opposite of what I meant, as the definition of traditional irony would suggest, but merely less than what I meant. 2. Ironical quotations In a cold, wet, rainy spring, somebody would say ironically: o Oh to be in England Now that April’s there. (Browing, “Home thoughts from abroad”) To succeed as irony, it must be recognized as a quotation, and not treated merely as communicating the opposite of what is literally said. What these lines would communicate when ironically intended is not – as the traditional definition suggest – a
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