The perception of irony in newspaper articles in English and Ukrainian

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This paper sets forth a contrastive analysis of irony in 60 newspaper articles extracted from two journals written in English, The New York Times and The Guardian, and the Ukrainian newspaper Ykraincka Prabda, all published in March 2011. The point of departure will be a prototype approach to irony, according to which it has a high degree of overlap with neighbouring categories such as metaphor, sarcasm or humour. Irony will not be considered to involve violation of Gricean maxims, but flouting instead, since its use is due to the writer’s intention to communicate additional meanings rather than to provoke communication problems. The paper will offer a classification of different linguistic devices that express irony (Barbe, 1995, Beals 1995, Booth 1975, Kreuz and Glucksberg, 1989 and Stanel 2006), which may be basically divided between: a) clausal devices, such as reversed polarity (i.e. negation instead of affirmation or vice versa), metaphors, rhetorical questions, exaggerations and unexpected speech acts, and b) lexical devices such as reinforcing expressions (sure(ly), it is clear / natural…), antonyms or homonyms as well as oxymorons and polysemy. The articles, whose topics are politics, economy and society (life and style, sports, entertainment and culture), were analyzed in terms of irony and then distributed among 60 informants, aged 18-55 of different nationalities and with education at university level. The informants, after reading the articles, filled in a questionnaire with tasks about rating the degree of irony of the articles as a whole, detecting concrete expressions of irony and explaining them by means of non-ironical paraphrases. The responses to the questionnaires were inserted in a database for quantitative analysis, whose results are discussed: among other issues, the articles in Ykraincka Prabda display a remarkably higher degree of irony than those of the other two newspapers, and age plays a crucial role in understanding irony. The article also aims to shed light into the degree of correspondence between different theoretical studies (Barbe 1995; Muecke 1970, 1980; Stanel 2006) and the layperson’s idea of irony, in order to redefine the concept and scope of irony for application to further studies.