Online sarcasm and its perception by second language learners : the case of Iraqi EFL learners in Iraq and the UK

Al-Fatlawi, Dheyaa and Culpeper, Jonathan and Rebuschat, Patrick (2018) Online sarcasm and its perception by second language learners : the case of Iraqi EFL learners in Iraq and the UK. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 2018alfatlawiphd]
PDF (2018alfatlawiphd)
2018_DHEYAA_AL_FATLAWI_PhD.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.

Download (2MB)


Although many studies have been written within L2 pragmatics, very few have dealt with L2 irony and sarcasm. The main purpose of this study is to investigate how EFL learners recognize written British English sarcasm. For this purpose, an L2 pragmatics study was designed and applied to two groups of L2 learners of English. Another purpose of the study is to pragmatically analyse online sarcasm, and see how it is used and by what features it is characterized. A corpus study was conducted for the latter purpose. Regarding data, this study used naturally-occurring sarcasm from real-life situations. The data was collected from a football forum (Manchester United forum; likely used by males) and two parenting forums (Mumsnet and Netmums; likely used by females). These different forums were targeted to ensure a rough gender balance. Sarcasm was identified within these forums by means of a metalanguage strategy. This strategy involved searching for the metalinguistic labels sarcasm and sarcastic, and then extracting and analyzing the antecedent discourses these labels are referring to. Those discourses were considered a potential environment for sarcasm. One hundred and forty two sarcasm-containing threads were collected via the metalanguage strategy. First, the data was pragmatically investigated to reveal the general pragmatic characteristics of sarcasm (e.g. Contradiction: saying something and meaning the opposite or Insincerity: flouting the Gricean quality maxim), as well as its pragmalinguistic characteristics (e.g. hyperbolic expressions, capitalization, exclamation marks) that are used in the data. This is the ‗Corpus Study‘. Second, the analysed data served as an item pool for the judgment task of the L2 pragmatics study. From that pool, 30 items were ultimately selected as stimuli for that L2 study. Two groups of Iraqi EFL learners participated in the L2 pragmatics study. Each group contained 30 participants. The members of the first group were studying L2 English at home (Iraq) and had never been to any English-speaking country. The second group involved learners who received their BA and/or MA degree(s) in English from Iraq and were pursuing MA or PhD degrees at different UK universities. Members of the latter group had 1-4 years sojourn in the UK. A Control group was also provided by 30 British-English native speakers. The 30 stimuli, derived from the online data of the Corpus study, were placed in a two-fold judgement task. The task was designed to: (1) test the participants‘ recognition of sarcasm within the given texts (threads) on a 7-point Likert scale, and (2) reveal what they consider as ‗sarcastic‘ within those texts by highlighting the potentially sarcastic part(s) in them. Results of the corpus study revealed that general pragmatic characteristics bear the greatest load in creating/indicating online sarcasm. Among these characteristics ‗Insincerity‘ seems to be the most fundamental or prototypical one. As for pragmalinguistic characteristics, they appear to play only a minor role in triggering and comprehending online sarcasm. ‗Hyperbole‘ seems to be the most prototypical one among pragmalinguistic characteristics. Regarding the L2 pragmatics study, ANOVA results reveal that both learners‘ groups are significantly different from English Native Speakers. Thus, Iraqi EFL learners appear not to have reached the native level of sarcasm perception. Results also indicate no effect of studying abroad or L2 proficiency upon the sarcasm recognition of those learners. Another finding of the L2 study is that the more characteristics (general pragmatic or pragmalinguistic) available the easier the comprehension of sarcasm turns out to be for both native speakers and learners. However, learners seem to be more sensitive to pragmalinguistic characteristics than English native speakers. They are found to identify sarcasm at the sight of these features more than the native speakers do. More interestingly, the current study has also found out that sarcasm does not always express a negative attitude. Sometimes, it can be used to express a positive emotion in a friendly way. This study encourages further research on L2 sarcasm, particularly with regard to the kind and amount of L2 input the learners are exposed to. It also focuses attention on the necessity of developing the learners‘ L2 pragmatic competence in general and their competence of L2 sarcasm in particular in order to bridge the gap between their performance and that of the native speakers.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
?? l2 pragmatics online sarcasm ??
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
05 Apr 2018 14:32
Last Modified:
12 Jul 2024 01:59