Let’s talk (ironically) about the weather: Modeling verbal irony

Abstract

Verbal irony plays an important role in how we communicate and express opinions about the world. While there exist many theories and empirical findings about how people use and understand verbal irony, there is to our knowledge no formal model of how people incorporate shared background knowledge and linguistic information to communicate ironically. Here we argue that a computational approach previously shown to model hyperbole (Kao, Wu, Bergen, & Goodman, 2014) can also explain irony once we extend it to a richer space of affective subtext. We then describe two behavioral experiments that examine people's interpretations of utterances in contexts that afford irony. We show that by minimally extending the hyperbole model to account for two dimensions of affect---valence and arousal---our model produces interpretations that closely match humans'. We discuss the implications of our model on informal theories of irony and its relationship to other types of nonliteral language understanding.


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