Understanding verbal irony: a case study of Gikuyu verbal utterances
This study seeks to explain how irony is detected and understood in Gikuyu verbal utterances. Of concern in this study is to explain how a hearer successfully interprets the speakers intended meaning in an ironical verbal utterance. The Relevance Theory has been used to explain how this happens. The researcher obtained data by listening to and watching videotapes by three Gĩkũyu comedians namely: Kĩhenjũ, Gĩthingia and Machan’gi. Data was also obtained from reading three Gĩkũyũ narratives namely: Rũgano rwa Wacici, Rũgano rwa Wagaciairi and Ciana ciatigwo Iganjo, all as narrated by Kabebe and Kabera 1983. Two post Gricean accounts of irony have been used to explain the irony in these utterances. These are the echoic and the pretence accounts. In an echoic account, the speaker does not express her own thoughts but echoes a thought that he/she attributes to someone else, and simultaneously expresses her mocking sceptical or contemptuous attitude to the thought. According to the pretence accounts, the speaker of an ironical utterance is not performing a genuine speech act but pretending to perform one, while expecting her audience to see through the pretence and recognise the sceptical, mocking or contemptuous attitude behind it. The researcher groups data according to the source of echo. Four main sources of echoes were identified. These are: echoes of stereotypes, echoes of societal norms and values, echoes of societal expectations on an individual and echoes of the immediate context (what has been said earlier in context). Since different accounts of irony have different ways of bringing out the ironic effect in utterances, the researcher explores how each account treats the various utterances. Some irony is clearer when treated as a case of pretence while another comes out better when treated as a echoic. The echoic account is for example better suited for echoes of stereotypes, societal norms and values as well as echoes of societal expectations on an individual. The pretence account is best suited for echoes of what has been said earlier, in a given context.