British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 17 Issue 1 (March 1999), Pages 1-166

Do young children use echoic information in their comprehension of sarcastic speech? A test of echoic mention theory (pages 83-96)

This study sets out to provide a test of echoic mention theory, which predicts that irony and sarcasm are most easily comprehended by a listener when the speaker explicitly ‘echoes’ a previous utterance or some shared norm rather than when the speaker only implicitly alludes to the same information. Children aged 6‐10 years were given stories containing either a sarcastic comment that explicitly echoed an earlier remark, a sarcastic comment that only implicitly alluded to an earlier remark, or a literal comment from a speaker. Half of the children heard the stories presented with a sarcastic intonation and half heard the stories presented with an uninflected intonation. The results of the study showed that when vocal intonation was absent, children comprehended explicit stories better than implicit stories. The findings suggest that echoic mention theory is a useful theory for describing children's developing comprehension of sarcastic speech, but is only one of many factors that play a role in the comprehension process.

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