Article published in:On the Interaction of Constructions with Register and Genre
Edited by Kerstin Fischer and Kiki Nikiforidou
[Constructions and Frames 7:2] 2015
► pp. 148–180
What is this, sarcastic syntax?
This study considers sarcasm as a linguistic genre, and explores the use of constructions to capture conventions of sarcastic speech. It does so by examining the English Split Interrogative (SI), e.g., What are you, a senior?, What is this, Spain? We argue that lexical, syntactic and semantic idiosyncrasies of SI require us to recognize it as a distinct grammatical construction with two related conversational functions. In its basic, or sincere, function, SI is a collateral-track signal in terms of Clark & Fox Tree 2002: it comments on ongoing performance by (a) indexing the user’s effort to attach the right value to a property variable in a contextually salient open proposition and (b) proposing the result of that effort. In its secondary, or sarcastic, function, SI expresses a dissociative Doppelurteil, or double judgment. Just as topic-comment utterances involve two communicative acts — acknowledging a particular entity as a locus of inquiry and attributing a property to that entity — sarcastic SI makes a judgment about the present situation — it’s the inverse of the expected one — and offers an assessment of what makes it so: the value of the wh-variable (a variable over people, places, things, reasons, etc.) is extreme on some contextually available scale. We postulate that the sarcastic function is a conventionalized (or short-circuited) conversational implicature (in terms of Morgan 1978). Certain divergent syntactic properties support the view that SI is ambiguous with respect to sincere and sarcastic senses. We thus view SI as a case in which what started as a rhetorical gambit has become conventionalized into a rhetorical figure (Kay 1997).
Keywords: sarcasm, irony, Construction Grammar, diglossia, conversation, corpus syntax, interrogatives, information structure
Published online: 24 March 2016
Cited by other publications
Alm, Maria, Janina Behr & Kerstin Fischer
Hilpert, Martin & Samuel Bourgeois
Panther, Klaus-Uwe & Linda L. Thornburg
Põldvere, Nele & Carita Paradis
PÕLDVERE, NELE & CARITA PARADIS
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