Strongly attenuating highly positive concepts: The case of default sarcastic interpretations

Rachel Giora, Inbal Jaffe, Israela Becker, Ofer Fein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


What are the constraints rendering stimuli, such as Alert he is not; He is not the most organized person around; Hospitality is not his best attribute; Do you really believe you are sophisticated? sarcastic by default? Recent findings (Filik, Howman, Ralph-Nearman, & Giora, in press; Giora et al., 2005, 2013, 2015a, 2015b, in progress a) suggest that strongly attenuating a highly positive concept, e.g., alert, sophisticated, most organized, best attribute (associated here with hospitality), induces sarcastic interpretations by default. To be interpreted sarcastically by default, items should be construable as such in the absence of factors inviting sarcasm.1 They should, thus, be (i) novel, noncoded in the mental lexicon, (ii) potentially ambiguous between literal and nonliteral interpretations, so that a preference is allowed, and (iii) free of specific and biasing contextual information. Online and offline studies, collecting self-paced reading times, eye-tracking data during reading, sarcasm rating, and pleasure ratings, alongside corpus-based studies, further support this view.2

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-47
Number of pages29
JournalReview of Cognitive Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018


  • Attenuation
  • Default interpretation
  • Pleasure
  • Sarcasm


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