Producing Irony in Adolescence: A Comparison Between Face-to-Face and Computer-Mediated Communication

Open access


The literature suggests that irony production expands in the developmental period of adolescence. We aimed to test this hypothesis by investigating two channels: face-to-face and computer-mediated communication (CMC). Corpora were collected by asking seventh and 11th graders to freely discuss some general topics (e.g., music), either face-to-face or on online forums. Results showed that 6.2% of the 11th graders’ productions were ironic utterances, compared with just 2.5% of the seventh graders’ productions, confirming the major development of irony production in adolescence. Results also showed that adolescents produced more ironic utterances in CMC than face-to-face. The analysis suggested that irony use is a strategy for increasing in-group solidarity and compensating for the distance intrinsic to CMC, as it was mostly inclusive and well-marked on forums. The present study also confirmed previous studies showing that irony is compatible with CMC.

Ackerman, B.P. (1983). Form and function in children’s understanding of ironic utterances. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 35 (3), 487–508.

Adams, C. (2002). Practitioner Review: The assessment of language pragmatics. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 43 (8), 973–987.

Aguert, M. & Laval, V. (2013). Request complexity is no more a problem when the requests are ironic. Pragmatics & Cognition, 21 (2), 329–339.

Attardo, S. (2000a). Irony as relevant inappropriateness. Journal of Pragmatics, 32 (6), 793–826.

Attardo, S. (2000b). Irony markers and functions: Towards a goal-oriented theory of irony and its processing. Rask, 12, 3–20.

Attardo, S., Eisterhold, J., Hay, J., & Poggi, I. (2003). Multimodal markers of irony and sarcasm. Humor, 16 (2), 243–260.

Blakemore, S-J. (2008). The social brain in adolescence. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9 (4), 267–277.

Blakemore, S-J. & Choudhury, S. (2006). Development of the adolescent brain: implications for executive function and social cognition. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47 (3-4), 296–312.

Brown, P. & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge, MA: University Press.

Bryant, G.A. & Fox Tree, J.E. (2002). Recognizing verbal irony in spontaneous speech. Metaphor & Symbol, 17 (2), 99–119.

Bryant, G.A. & Fox Tree, J.E. (2005). Is there an ironic tone of voice? Language and Speech, 48 (3), 257–277.

Burgers, C., van Mulken, M., & Schellens, P.J. (2011). Finding irony: An introduction of the Verbal Irony Procedure (VIP). Metaphor and Symbol, 26 (3), 186–205.

Caucci, G.M. & Kreuz, R.J. (2012). Social and paralinguistic cues to sarcasm. Humor, 25 (1), 1–22.

Channon, S., Pellijeff, A., & Rule, A. (2005). Social cognition after head injury: Sarcasm and theory of mind. Brain and Language, 93 (2), 123–134.

Climie, E. A., & Pexman, P. M. (2008). Eye gaze provides a window on children’s understanding of verbal irony. Journal of Cognition and Development, 9 (3), 257–285.

Creusere, M. (1999). Theories of adults’ understanding and use of irony and sarcasm: Applications to and evidence from research with children. Developmental Review, 19 (2), 213–262.

Cutler, A. (1976). Beyond parsing and lexical look-up: An enriched description of auditory sentence comprehension. In R. Wales & E. Walker (Eds.), New Approaches to Language Mechanisms (pp. 133–150). Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Dews, S. & Winner, E. (1997). Attributing meaning to deliberately false utterances: The case of irony. In C. Mandell & A. McCabe (Eds.), Advances in Psychology (Vol. 122, pp. 377–414). Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Dews, S., Winner, E., Kaplan, J., & Rosenblatt, E. (1996). Children’s understanding of the meaning and functions of verbal irony. Child Development, 67 (6), 3071–3085.

Eisterhold, J., Attardo, S., & Boxer, D. (2006). Reactions to irony in discourse: Evidence for the least disruption principle. Journal of Pragmatics, 38 (8), 1239–1256.

Gibbs, R.W. (2000). Irony in talk among friends. Metaphor & Symbol, 15 (1–2), 5–27.

Giedd, J.N. (2008). The teen brain: Insights from neuroimaging. Journal of Adolescent Health, 42 (4), 335–343.

Griffin, R.S. & Gross, A.M. (2004). Childhood bullying: Current empirical findings and future directions for research. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 9 (4), 379–400.

Hancock, J.T. (2004). Verbal irony use in face-to-face and computer-mediated conversations. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23 (4), 447–463.

Harris, M. & Pexman, P.M. (2003). Children’s perceptions of the social functions of verbal irony. Discourse Processes, 36 (3), 147–165.

Herring, S. (2001). Computer-mediated discourse. In D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen, & H. Hamilton (Eds.), The Handbook of Discourse Analysis (pp. 612–634). Oxford: Blackwell.

Ivanko, S.L., Pexman, P.M., & Olineck, K.M. (2004). How sarcastic are you? Individual differences and verbal irony. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23 (3), 244–271.

Keltner, D., Capps, L., Kring, A.M., Young, R.C., & Heerey, E.A. (2001). Just teasing: A conceptual analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 127 (2), 229–248.

Kotthoff, H. (2003). Responding to irony in different contexts: On cognition in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics, 35 (9), 1387–1411.

Kreuz, R.J. (1996). The use of verbal irony: Cues and constraints. In J.S. Mio & A.N. Katz (Eds.), Metaphor: Implications and Applications (pp. 23–38). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Kreuz, R.J., Roberts, R.M., Johnson, B.K., & Bertus, E.L. (1996). Figurative language occurrence and co-occurrence in contemporary literature. In R.J. Kreuz & M.S. MacNealy (Eds.), Empirical Approaches to Literature and Aesthetics (pp. 83–97). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Kunneman, F., Liebrecht, C., van Mulken, M., & van den Bosch, A. (2015). Signaling sarcasm: From hyperbole to hashtag. Information Processing & Management, 51 (4), 500–509.

Laval, V. & Bert-Erboul, A. (2005). French-speaking children’s understanding of sarcasm: The role of intonation and context. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 48 (3), 610–620.

Lee, C.J. & Katz, A.N. (1998). The differential role of ridicule in sarcasm and irony. Metaphor & Symbol, 13 (1), 1–15.

MacWhinney, B. (2014). The Childes Project: Tools for Analyzing Talk (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Martin, R.A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., & Weir, K. (2003). Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal of Research in Personality, 37 (1), 48–75.

Muecke, D.C. (1978). Irony markers. Poetics, 7 (4), 363–375.

Myers Roy, A. (1981). The function of irony in discourse. Text, 1 (4), 407–423.

Nippold, M.A. (2007). Later Language Development: School-Age Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Nippold, M.A. & Taylor, C.L. (2002). Judgments of idiom familiarity and transparency: A comparison of children and adolescents. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45 (2), 384–391.

Pexman, P.M. & Glenwright, M. (2007). How do typically developing children grasp the meaning of verbal irony? Journal of Neurolinguistics, 20 (2), 178–196.

Pexman, P.M., Glenwright, M., Krol, A., & James, T. (2005). An acquired taste: Children’s perceptions of humor and teasing in verbal irony. Discourse Processes, 40 (3), 259–288.

Pexman, P.M., Zdrazilova, L., McConnachie, D., Deater-Deckard, K., & Petrill, S.A. (2009). “That was smooth, mom”: Children’s production of verbal and gestural irony. Metaphor and Symbol, 24 (4), 237–248.

Pexman, P.M. & Zvaigzne, M.T. (2004). Does irony go better with friends? Metaphor and Symbol, 19 (2), 143–163.

Recchia, H.E., Howe, N., Ross, H.S., & Alexander, S. (2010). Children’s understanding and production of verbal irony in family conversations. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28 (2), 255–274.

Sherer, S.L. & Clark, R.A. (2009). Changes in teasing patterns from early adolescence to adolescence. Communication Research Reports, 26 (3), 175–187.

Sproull, L. & Kiesler, S. (1986). Reducing social context cues: Electronic mail in organizational communications. Management Science, 32 (11), 1492–1512.

Utsumi, A. (2000). Verbal irony as implicit display of ironic environment: Distinguishing ironic utterances from nonirony. Journal of Pragmatics, 32 (12), 1777–1806.

Valkenburg, P.M. & Peter, J. (2009). Social consequences of the internet for adolescents: A decade of research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18 (1), 1–5.

Walther, J.B. (1992). Interpersonal effects in computer-mediated interaction. A relational perspective. Communication Research, 19 (1), 52–90.

Whalen, J.M., Pexman, P.M., & Gill, A.J. (2009). “Should be fun—not!”: Incidence and marking of nonliteral language in e-mail. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 28 (3), 263–280.

Whalen, J.M., Pexman, P.M., Gill, A.J., & Nowson, S. (2013). Verbal irony use in personal blogs. Behaviour & Information Technology, 32 (6), 560–569.

Wilson, D. (2013). Irony comprehension: A developmental perspective. Journal of Pragmatics, 59 (Part A), 40–56.

Journal Information

CiteScore 2016: 0.24

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2016: 0.200
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2016: 0.380


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 103 103 32
PDF Downloads 29 29 9