Hancock, J.T. (2004). Verbal irony use in computer-mediated and face-to-face conversations. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 23, 447-463
Speakers use a range of cues to signal ironic intent, including cues based on contrast with context, verbal, and paralinguistic cues. Speakers also rely on cues provided by addressees regarding comprehension of irony. When such cues are unavailable, speakers may be less willing to use irony because of the risk of miscommunication, and addressees may be more likely to misinterpret irony. The present study tested these hypotheses by examining the production and comprehension of irony in multimodal (face-to-face) and unimodal (computer-mediated) conversations. Contrary to expectations, speakers in the computer condition used more irony than face-to-face speakers. Comprehension of irony did not appear to differ across settings, although addressees in the computer condition provided less feedback (positive or negative) to their partners about their comprehension. These surprising results are discussed in terms of possible differences in the discourse goals and relational strategies engendered by computer-mediated and face-to-face communicative settings.