A study of Chinese learners’ ability to comprehend irony
Event type: Public Lectures24 June 2021 from 4.00 pm - 5.00 pm
2021 LALS Public Lectures by Professor Rod Ellis (Curtin University)
Sponsored by the Ian Gordon Endowment Fund
The purpose of this study was to investigate Chinese University students’ ability to recognize irony. To this end, a test was developed that included literal and ironic items and focused on the students’ ability to identify which of the items were ironic. 112 first- and second-year Chinese university students completed the test, a C-test as a measure of language proficiency, and a language experience questionnaire. 24 native speakers (NSs) completed the irony test and C-test to provide a baseline for comparison.
Results showed that the learners’ scores were markedly lower than the NS’s on the ironic items but not on literal items. Both learners and NSs had difficulty with the positive irony items. The learners’ response times were also markedly slower than the NSs. There were significant but relatively weak correlations between the learners’ irony scores and their proficiency and the amount of time they had spent in an English-speaking country. Overall, the results of the study confirm the findings of previous studies, namely that irony is a late acquired aspect of L2 pragmatic competence.
I conclude that unlike NSs, even those learners with quite advanced language proficiency rely on explicit processing strategies to detect irony and propose explicit instruction is needed to help learners acquire the ability to recognize irony.
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