When Negatives Are Easier to Understand Than Affirmatives: The Case of Negative Sarcasm

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Abstract

Based on Hebrew items, I present here findings showing that some novel negative constructions (e.g. Supportive he is not; Punctuality is not her forte/what she excels at) are interpreted and rated as sarcastic even when in isolation, and even when involving no semantic anomaly or internal incongruity. Their affirmative alternatives (Supportive he is; Punctuality is her forte/what she excels at) are interpreted literally and rated as literal. In strongly supportive contexts, the negative constructions are processed faster when biased toward their nonsalient sarcastic interpretation than toward their equally strongly biased literal interpretation. In contrast, affirmative utterances are slower to process when embedded in sarcastically biasing contexts than in salience-based (often literal) ones. Corpus-based studies provide further corroborative evidence. They show that the environment of such negative utterances resonates with their sarcastic rather than their literal interpretation; the opposite is true of affirmative sarcasm. The priority of nonsalient sarcastic interpretation of negative constructions is shown to be affected by negation rather than by the structural markedness of the fronted constructions. No contemporary processing model can account for these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNegation and Polarity
Subtitle of host publicationExperimental Perspectives
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Pages127-143
Number of pages17
Volume1
ISBN (Electronic)9783319174648
ISBN (Print)9783319174631
DOIs
StatePublished - 28 Jul 2015

Publication series

NameLanguage, Cognition, and Mind
Volume1
ISSN (Print)2364-4109
ISSN (Electronic)2364-4117

Keywords

  • Affirmative sarcasm
  • Default sarcastic interpretations
  • Negation
  • Negative sarcasm
  • Processing ease

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