How we recognize irony – and why it is so important

How we recognize irony – and why it is so important

Was that ironic now? A question that everyone has probably asked themselves at some point. A research team has now figured out how to tell the difference.

You know what? Actually, the climate crisis does not exist and bad weather is great for mood. Exactly – that was irony. In this case quite easily recognizable by the obvious absurdity of the statements. Normally, however, it is often not so easy for us to recognize irony. This is mainly due to the fact that the rhetorical form is often well camouflaged between all the other statements that we make during the day.

This often leads to us misunderstanding one another and talking past one another. Anyone who uses irony to get in touch with others and thus encounters a lack of understanding quickly feels left out and sometimes resigned. On the other hand, anyone who takes ironic statements at face value runs the risk of developing a completely false image of their counterpart. Recognizing irony is therefore quite relevant for our interpersonal communication.

It all depends on the right tone

Reason enough for a research team from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main to take a closer look at the whole thing. The researchers recently published the results of their study in the journal “”. And while the research was small in scope, the results can at least give us a first indication of how to better identify irony.

For the study, the researchers asked 14 speakers to speak 14 short German sentences once seriously and once ironically. The resulting 392 recordings were each played to 20 listeners. 53 other participants were also asked to rate how ironic the respective statement was meant. The result: irony is primarily signaled by shifting the emphasis.

Irony is evident right from the start

“By emphasizing words at the beginning of a sentence, the speaker gives hints that the literal meaning is not necessarily the intended one. This shift in position could serve as a kind of ‘cautionary note’ for listeners to consider possible alternative meanings of the sentence pulling”, explains the head of research the phenomenon. So if our counterpart stresses the beginning of the sentence instead of incorporating the stress into the last part, then we should check again more closely whether he is not just kidding us.

Source: Stern

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