The Social Functions of Verbal Irony: The Ironic Tone in Arabic Proverbs

Imen Noamen


The question of verbal irony is of expanding relevance to a range of fields of cultural information and inquiry. The present study attempts to shed some new light on the issues revolving around the harmonious relationship between resorting to ironic proverbs and avoiding undesirable reaction in a talk exchange. I refer to a set of irony markers proposed by Attardo’s (2000) to find out that Arabic  proverbs are impregnated with overt and covert irony markers which depend on their degree of indirectness to interpret the social functions of thirty ironic proverbs in the Tunisian cultural context. My study, further, suggests that ironic proverbs are multifunctional and set into relief the speaker’s intentional attempt to communicate irony while magnetizing the addressee to join in a social game. The first conclusion of my study is that people make recourse to such a circuitous route in social exchange in order to attenuate the harshness of the utterance. The second conclusion is that proverbial utterances are multifunctional. They are socially conventional and may vary from one culture to another. The article concludes with a discussion of suggested avenues for validating the importance of the social effects of irony markers to communicate irony to the addressee and help detect the speaker’s real intention. The article also suggests some directions for future study of the hearer’s possible reactions while detecting the speaker’s ironic suggestion.


Verbal Irony, Proverbs, Tricky Hypothesis, social offense, irony markers, social function, Group Affiliation, Politeness, Retractibility, Persuasive Aspect, Evaluation, Sophistication.

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