Socio-cultural and individual factors in verbal irony use and understanding What we know, what we don’t know, what we want to know

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Natalia Banasik-Jemielniak
Piotr Kałowski


A significant part of everyday verbal communication consists of nonliteral language, including irony (Gibbs 2000). Efficient irony use can serve a wide range of pragmatic goals, while deficits in irony comprehension can have negative social consequences. Whereas a large body of psycholinguistic research has been produced on irony use and understanding by adults, little attention has been paid to the socio-cultural characteristics of this phenomenon so far. Some individual factors that have been identified as correlates of irony use include personality of the speaker, gender, age, or speaking a second language. In this article, we argue that it is necessary to bring the aspects of socio-cultural variables and individual characteristics together in the further study of irony across national cultures. To this end, we present a narrative review of theoretical and quantitative empirical literature from the field of psycholinguistics on both national cultural and individual/psychological factors impacting the use and understanding of verbal irony in communication. Based on the review, we suggest a theoretical model that could guide future quantitative studies on irony use such that both contextual factors (including national cultural dimensions) and individual differences between the speakers are clearly defined and related to one another in terms of their influence.

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