“That Was Smooth, Mom”: Children's Production of Verbal and Gestural Irony

Metaphor and Symbol 24 (4):237-248 (2009)
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Abstract

Research suggests that typically developing children begin to understand verbal irony around 5 or 6 years of age. Children's production of verbal irony, however, has not previously been examined. This study was a preliminary investigation of children's irony production, including both verbal and gestural (nonverbal) forms. We coded instances of irony in interactions within 118 family triads, each consisting of 1 parent and 2 children, aged 3 to 15 years. Triads performed an 8-min cooperative task with dominos. In this context, gestural irony was used more frequently than verbal irony: 80% of the families used gestural irony at least once and 32% used verbal irony at least once. Children produced gestural irony as early as 4 years of age, and verbal irony as early as 5 years of age. Children's use of irony was not related to their general cognitive ability or vocabulary, but was related to use of irony by other members of the triad. Results suggest that social context is important to the emergence of irony production.

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