This study examines irony predominantly as it appears in German spontaneous spoken discourse. The main data employed for the study are four conversational texts, each of which has a different irony content. In Chapter One I survey the literature on irony in the fields of rhetoric, literature, and literary criticism, as well as its treatment in linguistic frameworks (based on Austin 1962/1975, Searle 1969). I then compare the function and use of irony in German spontaneous conversation with counterparts in pre-composed conversation. In Chapter Three I discuss some uses of irony in non-Western cultures as contrasted with the functions of irony in modern German culture. Irony emerges as a mode of experience that is closely related to the culture of its inception. This aspect of irony is particularly evident in the difficulties encountered in the internal translation (paraphrase) of ironic discourse (pre-composed as well as spontaneous) or translation from one language or culture to another. In Chapter Four I examine difficulties in translation of instances of irony. Finally, in Chapter Five I distinguish irony from related tropes and concepts. Irony employs a feature of quality, which has usually been associated with opposition. I have expanded the concept of opposition and added the feature of multilayeredness as a necessary condition. Irony is seen here for the most part as an intended incongruence. A pair of readings co-exist, producing the incongruence. Both remain present in an interactive way. I conclude that irony, even though extensively studied and described, remains resistant to precise definition and demarcation. Irony is not only employed as a nonce phenomenon at the propositional level, it can also function as a pervasive feature of discourse, a lifetime, an era, or even of life itself
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