Is irony ironic?

The role of sense of humour in the production and interpretation of irony




irony production, irony comprehension, sense of humor, humor styles, metapragmatic awareness, metapragmatic reflexivity


The paper explores correlations between irony and sense of humour (HQ). Its questions are informed by functional cognitive pragmatics, with irony considered an emergent way of exploiting reflexivity (the metapragmatic awareness of discourse participants) as an essential feature of linguistic cognition. Accordingly, the research focuses on the folk category of irony, i.e. those utterances are treated as ironic, which informants so judged.

The initial hypothesis of the research was that HQ was in positive correlation with both the production and the interpretation of irony. Our study followed a two-step procedure: two consecutive questionnaire studies measured the correlation between HQ and the production and interpretation of irony. HQ was measured with the Humor Styles Questionnaire, whereas 15 visual stimuli elicited the production and recognition of irony. 397 subjects participated in the study. Performing statistical analysis, we found that participants judged utterances produced by above-average HQ significantly more ironic than those produced by average or below-average HQ. However, there was no significant difference between the below-average and above-average HQ groups in most cases about the interpretation of utterances. At the same time, utterances that contain an appropriate instance of irony were judged significantly more ironic by informants with higher HQ than by informants with low HQ.