Default Sarcastic Interpretations: On the Priority of Nonsalient Interpretations

Rachel Giora*, Ari Drucker, Ofer Fein, Itamar Mendelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Findings from five experiments support the view that negation generates sarcastic utterance-interpretations by default.1 When presented in isolation, novel negative constructions (“Punctuality is not his forte,” “Thoroughness is not her most distinctive feature”), free of semantic anomaly or internal incongruity, were interpreted sarcastically and rated as sarcastic compared to their novel affirmative counterparts (Experiments 1 and 3). In strongly supportive contexts, they were processed faster when biased toward their noncoded (nonsalient) sarcastic interpretation than toward their noncoded but (salience-based) literal interpretation (Experiments 2 and 4). Experiment 5 reduces the possibility that it is structural markedness rather than negation that prompts nonliteralness. Such findings, attesting to the priority of sarcastic interpretations, are unaccountable by any contemporary processing model, including the Graded Salience Hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-200
Number of pages28
JournalDiscourse Processes
Issue number3
StatePublished - 3 Apr 2015


FundersFunder number
Israel Science Foundation436/12


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