open access

Abstract

Irony has been approached by different disciplines concerned with language. The more socio-historical approach taken by literary theorists contrasts with the more analytical bias of linguistic accounts. A comparative study of both perspectives reveals the need to enhance mutual cross-disciplinary dialogue with a view to producing a constructive integrated perspective. Following this premise, this paper puts forward an approach that combines insights from inferential pragmatics, cognitive linguistics, and literary theory. It acknowledges the centrality of the relevance-theoretic notion of echo, taken as a cognitive mechanism rather than just as a pragmatic phenomenon. In this view, irony arises from the clash between an echoed and an observed scenario, which reveals the speaker’s attitude. The construction of the former is constrained by socio-cultural, communicative, and personal factors. This view allows for a distinction between different types of ironist (communicator) and interpreter (addressee), a study of their roles in the ironic event, and a classification of echoed scenarios from the standpoint of their grounding in an array of personal and presumed interpersonal beliefs, and in socio-cultural stereotypes. It also allows for a correlation between irony types and echoed scenario types and reveals the gradable character of the pragmatic felicity of the ironic act.