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Echo and Mention in the Dan Sperber and Deidre Wilson's Theory of Irony – Polemics 

Zurück zum Heft: Linguistische Berichte Heft 211
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In this paper, I discuss the Sperber/Wilson theory of irony. I argue that this theory does not accomplish its goal, due to the obscurity, broadness and ad hoc application of its key notions: “echo” and “mention.” In particular:

1. The notion of echo is too broad. It applies to imagined utterances or thoughts. This leads to odd explanations. One has to assume that the speaker is echoing her own utterances or thoughts. This assumption would be ad hoc. From a practical point of view this leads to a situation in which the hearer does not recognize the intended irony, because she does not recognize the echo character of the utterance.

2. The notion of mention is too broad, too. It varies from cases of direct quotation to cases of interpretive resemblance. This latter possibility allows an assumption that the speaker echoes some imagined content indirectly by interpreting its implications, which is absurd.

3. The Relevance Principle is not a convincing limit for the echo interpretation. In cases of echoing of some imagined content it is more relevant (in the sense of S&W) to assume that the ironic remark applies to some situation in the world. In many cases, echo interpretation of irony increases effort, which contradicts the Relevance Principle.