Echo and Pretence in Communicative Irony


speech acts
language etiolation
expressive communication



In the article we present a model of communicative irony formulated within the framework of speech act theory. We claim that acts of verbal irony are special cases of phenomena that John L. Austin referred to as “etiolations of language”. After discussing the concept of communicative irony understood in the spirit of Mitchell S. Green’s expressive communication model, we propose to develop the Austinian idea of etiolation and show how cases of etiolative use of language parasitize the mechanisms of its serious or ordinary applications. In particular, we argue that echoing and overt pretence are two etiolation techniques that allow the sender to express a negative attitude towards contextually available mental or linguistic representations. We also show that the proposed model allows the explanation of verbal forms of communicative irony.



Attardo, S. (2000). Irony as Relevant Inappropriateness. Journal of Pragmatics, 32, 793–826.

Austin, J. L. (1961). Philosophical Papers. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Austin, J. L. (1975). How to Do Things with Words. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.

Austin, J. L. (2013). Truth. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society. The Virtual Issue, 1, 1–15.

Bach, K. (1994). Conversational Impliciture. Mind & Language, 9(2), 124–162.

Bach, K., Harnish, R. M. (1979). Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: the MIT Press.

Bar-On, D. (2013). Origins of Meaning: Must We ‘Go Gricean’? Mind & Language, 28(3), 342–375.

Clark, H. H., Gerrig, R. J. (1984). On the Pretence Theory of Irony. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 113(1), 121–126.

Dynel, M. (2014). Isn’t It Ironic? Defining the Scope of Humorous Irony. Humor. International Journal of Humor Research, 27(4), 619–639.

Garmendia, J. (2011). She’s (not) a Fine Friend: “Saying” and Criticism in Irony. Intercultural Pragmatics, 8(1), 41–65.

Garmendia, J., Korta, K. (2007). The Point of Irony. In: M. Aurnague and J. M. Larrazabal (Eds.), Language, Representation, and Reasoning (pp. 189–200). Leioa: UPV-EHU.

Green, M. (2007). Self-Expression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Green, M. (2009). Speech Acts, the Handicap Principle and the Expression of Psychological States. Mind & Language, 24(2), 139–163.

Green, M. (2017). Irony as Expression (of a Sense of the Absurd). Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication, 12, 1–24.

Grice, P. H. (1989). Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: Harvard University Press.

Levinson, S. C. (1983). Pragmatics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pelc, J. (1971). O użyciu wyrażeń [On Using Expressions]. Wrocław-Warszawa-Kraków-Gdańsk: Zakład Narodowy imienia Ossolińskich, Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk.

Sbisà, M. (2007). How to Read Austin. Pragmatics, 17(3), 461–473.

Sbisà, M. (2009). Uptake and Conventionality in Illocution. Lodz Papers in Pragmatics, 5(1), 33–52.

Sbisà, M. (2013). Locution, Illocution, Perlocution. In M. Sbisà, K. Turner (Eds.), Pragmatics of Speech Actions (pp. 25–76). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

Searle, J. R. (1969). Speech Acts. An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sperber, D. (1984). Verbal Irony: Pretence or Echoic Mention? Journal of Experimental Psychology, 113(1), 130–136.

Szymura, J. (1982). Język, mowa i prawda w perspektywie fenomenologii lingwistycznej J. L. Austina. Wrocław-Warszawa-Kraków-Gdańsk-Łódź: Zakład Narodowy Imienia Ossolińskich, Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk.

Wharton, T. (2003). Natural Pragmatics and Natural Codes. Mind & Lan¬guage, 18(5), 447–477.

Wilson, D. (2006). The Pragmatics of Verbal Irony: Echo or Pretence? Lingua, 116, 1722–1743.

Wilson, D., Sperber, D. (2012). Meaning and Relevance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Witek, M. (2011). Spór o podstawy teorii czynności mowy. Szczecin: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego.

Witek, M. (2015a). An Interactional Account of Illocutionary Practice. Language Sciences, 47, 43–55.

Witek, M. (2015b). Linguistic Underdeterminacy: A View from Speech Act Theory. Journal of Pragmatics, 76, 15–29.

Witek, M. (2015c). Mechanisms of Illocutionary Games. Language and Communication, 42, 11–22.

Witek, M. (2016). Accommodation and Convention. Polish Journal of Philosophy, 10(1), 101–116.

Witek, M. (2019a). Illocution and Accommodation in the Functioning of Presumptions. Synthese. doi:10.1007/s11229-019-02459-4.

Witek, M. (2019b). The Expressive Dimension and Score-changing Function of Speech Acts from the Evolutionist Point of View. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 96(3), 381–398.

Witek, M. (forthcoming). Self-Expression in Speech Acts. Organon F.

Witek, M. (in preparation). Irony as a Speech Action.