Children's Exposure to Irony in the First Four Years of Their Life: What We Learn About the Use of Ironic Comments by Mothers from the Analysis of the Providence Corpus of Childes

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Abstract

There has been little research conducted on the use of figurative language in parents' input provided by caregivers in child-directed speech during the first four years of the child's life. The aim of the described study was to check (a) how often ironic comments are present in child-directed speech when the interaction takes place between a mother and a child aged 4 and below and (b) what types of ironic comments children of this age are exposed to. In order to answer these questions, ironic utterances were identified in the videos of 50 hours of recordings that included mother-child interactions of five children aged 2;10‒3;05, available through the CHILDES ‒ Providence Data (Demuth, Culbertson, & Alter, 2006; MacWhinney, 2007). The extracts were then assessed by competent judges to make sure the identified instances met the criteria for verbal irony (Dynel, 2014). Results suggest that irony is present in the mother's language used while interacting with her child, with a significant number of comments where the child seems not to be the actual addressee of the message, but rather the overhearer. The ironic utterances identified during the interactions included mostly references to the child's behavior or being overwhelmed. The most common ironic markers present in these utterances were rhetorical questions and hyperboles.

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