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Nilsen, E., Glenwright, M., & Huyder, V. (2011). Children understand that verbal irony comprehension depends on listener knowledge. Journal of Cognition and Development, 12, 1-36.

Nilsen, E., Glenwright, M., & Huyder, V. (2011). Children understand that verbal irony comprehension depends on listener knowledge. Journal of Cognition and Development, 12, 1-36.
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  This article was downloaded by: [University of Waterloo]On: 08 August 2011, At: 11:44Publisher: Psychology PressInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK Journal of Cognition andDevelopment Publication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information: Children and AdultsUnderstand That Verbal IronyInterpretation Depends onListener Knowledge Elizabeth S. Nilsen a , Melanie Glenwright b &Vanessa Huyder aa University of Waterloo, Canada b University of Manitoba, CanadaAvailable online: 08 Aug 2011 To cite this article: Elizabeth S. Nilsen, Melanie Glenwright & Vanessa Huyder (2011):Children and Adults Understand That Verbal Irony Interpretation Depends on ListenerKnowledge, Journal of Cognition and Development, 12:3, 374-409 To link to this article: PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes.Any substantial or systematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan,sub-licensing, systematic supply or distribution in any form to anyone isexpressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make anyrepresentation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up todate. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug doses should be  independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liablefor any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damageswhatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connectionwith or arising out of the use of this material.    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   W  a   t  e  r   l  o  o   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   4   0   8   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   1  Children and Adults Understand ThatVerbal Irony Interpretation Dependson Listener Knowledge Elizabeth S. Nilsen University of Waterloo, Canada Melanie Glenwright University of Manitoba, Canada Vanessa Huyder University of Waterloo, Canada Incongruity between a positive statement and a negative context is a cue toverbal irony. Two studies examined whether school-age children and adultsrecognized that listeners require knowledge of context to detect irony. Specifi-cally, the studies investigated whether participants could inhibit their own con-text knowledge to appropriately gauge listener interpretation of ironic intentwhen the listener lacked context knowledge. Adults and older children (8- to10-year-olds), but not younger children (6- to 7-year-olds), demonstrated thisrecognition; their responses indicated that listeners would be less likely tointerpret statements as ironic when the listeners were ignorant to an incongru-ent context compared with when they were knowledgeable. Second-ordertheory-of-mind reasoning was related to the older children’s ability to shifttheir responses regarding listener inferences of ironic statements based onthe listeners’ knowledge of context. Correspondence should be sent to Elizabeth S. Nilsen, Psychology Department, Universityof Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada N2L 3G1. E-mail: JOURNAL OF COGNITION AND DEVELOPMENT, 12(3):374–409Copyright # 2011 Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1524-8372 print = 1532-7647 onlineDOI: 10.1080/15248372.2010.544693 374    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   W  a   t  e  r   l  o  o   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   4   0   8   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   1  One difficulty faced by individuals engaged in conversations is that ourlanguage system is inherently ambiguous. Many expressions can have morethan one meaning, and for successful comprehension, listeners must inte-grate information from a number of sources to resolve the ambiguity, suchas linguistic information (what is said), paralinguistic information (how it issaid including intonation, facial expression, and body language), and con-text (what is happening when it is said). Verbal irony, a class of nonliteralutterances that includes counterfactual and sarcastic remarks, provides asalient case in which successful interpretation requires an integration of these various cues. Ironic language often involves instances in which a state-ment is at odds with the context. For example, when Kate arrives 20 minuteslate and hears the ironic criticism, ‘‘ Thanks for showing up on time ,’’ theincongruity between statement and context cues leads Kate to appreciatethat the speaker means something vastly different from what was spoken.If Kate was unaware of the context (e.g., perhaps she did not know shewas late because her watch stopped), she may miss the speaker’s intendedmeaning altogether (although the speaker’s tone of voice and facialexpression might cue her to question the sincerity of the statement). Inthe present work, we examined if children and adults would attend to a lis-tener’s knowledge of context when ironic statements and literal statementswere made and if they would modulate their attributions of the listener’sinterpretation accordingly. We were also interested in determining whetherchildren’s theory-of-mind (ToM) skills would relate to their performance onthis challenging metarepresentation task. More specifically, we askedwhether children’s advanced mentalizing skills would enable them to moresuccessfully appreciate and use the perspective of a listener when interpret-ing ambiguous language.The study of children’s developing understanding of irony has importanttheoretical and practical implications. Irony comprehension is a social– cognitive development that rests on advanced ToM skills because it requireslisteners to represent the speaker’s beliefs and intentions. In addition toproviding information about how typically developing children come tobe successful communicators, and the mechanisms by which this occurs,research examining the development of this skill provides insight intosocial–communicative deficits associated with clinical populations whoshow impairment in advanced ToM skills, including autism spectrumdisorders (Kaland, Callesen, Moller-Nielsen, Mortensen, & Smith, 2008),brain injury (Geraci, Surian, Ferraro, & Cantagallo, 2010; Martin-Rodriguez & Leon-Carrion, 2010), and schizophrenia (Bailey & Henry,2010; Mehl, Rief, Mink, Lullmann, & Lincoln, 2010). Irony comprehensioncan also be conceptualized as a social–communicative skill that allows chil-dren to reflect on the speaker’s pragmatic goals for using nonliteral VERBAL IRONY AND LISTENER KNOWLEDGE 375    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   W  a   t  e  r   l  o  o   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   4   0   8   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   1  discourse (i.e., to criticize, to joke, to tease, etc.). This skill has practical rel-evance because children regularly encounter irony in their daily lives. Forexample, it commonly occurs in family conversations with children in thehome (Recchia, Howe, Ross, & Alexander, 2010) and in children’s televisionprograms (Dews & Winner, 1997).Research with adults suggests that verbal irony is perceived to serve parti-cular communicative functions that literal language does not. Depending onthesocialcontext, ironycanallowspeakers tomute theircriticalintent(Dews,Kaplan, & Winner, 1995; Dews & Winner, 1995) or enhance it (Colston,1997). In addition, speakers who make ironic statements are perceived tobe funnier than speakers who make literal remarks (e.g., Colston & Keller,1998; Colston & O’Brien, 2000; Gibbs, 2000; Jorgensen, 1996; Kreuz, Long, &Church, 1991; Kumon-Nakamura, Glucksberg, & Brown, 1995; Pexman &Zvaigzne, 2004; Roberts & Kreuz, 1994; Toplak & Katz, 2000). Together,the adult literature indicates that verbal irony serves two key communicativepurposes for speakers, namely criticism and humor.Children start to detect that an ironic speaker does not believe whathe = she has literally stated around 6 years of age (Ackerman, 1981, 1983;Andrews, Rosenblatt, Malkus, Gardner, & Winner, 1986; de Groot,Kaplan, Rosenblatt, Dews, & Winner, 1995; Dews et al., 1996; Glenwright& Pexman, 2010; Hancock, Dunham, & Purdy, 2000; Harris & Pexman,2003; Nakassis & Snedeker, 2002; Winner & Leekam, 1991). Children’sappreciation of the social functions of irony unfolds during a long periodbetween middle and late childhood. Although many 5- to 6-year old childrencan correctly infer that the ironic speaker holds a belief that is different fromwhat he or she has literally said, children of this age do not tend to appreci-ate that the ironic speaker is intending to be funny. Some researchers suggestchildren are just beginning to appreciate the humor function of verbal ironyaround 7 to 9 years of age (Dews et al., 1996; Harris & Pexman, 2003), andothers have shown that this appreciation is still developing at 13 years of age(Demorest, Meyer, Phelps, Gardner, & Winner, 1984). These observationshave led psychologists to speculate that children and adults see the prag-matic goals of verbal irony differently in that children perceive that thepurpose of irony is to criticize in a muted way, whereas adults perceive thatan additional function of irony is to be funny (Dews et al., 1996; Pexman,Glenwright, Krol, & James, 2005).While developmental tests of irony understanding vary, the widely usedapproach involves showing participants a conversation between two partiesand asking a speaker belief question to tap irony detection (Did the speakerbelieve that Kate was punctual or late?) and a speaker intent question to tapirony inference (Was the speaker being mean or nice? In other words, was hecomplimenting Kate’s punctuality or criticizing her tardiness?). In this 376 NILSEN, GLENWRIGHT, AND HUYDER    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y  o   f   W  a   t  e  r   l  o  o   ]  a   t   1   1  :   4   4   0   8   A  u  g  u  s   t   2   0   1   1
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