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Recognizing sarcasm without language: A cross-linguistic study of English and Cantonese

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The goal of the present research was to determine whether certain speaker intentions conveyed through prosody in an unfamiliar language can be accurately recognized. English and Cantonese utterances expressing sarcasm, sincerity, humorous irony, or neutrality through prosody were presented to English and Cantonese listeners unfamiliar with the other language. Listeners identified the communicative intent of utterances in both languages in a crossed design. Participants successfully identified sarcasm spoken in their native language but identified sarcasm at near-chance levels in the unfamiliar language. Both groups were relatively more successful at recognizing the other attitudes when listening to the unfamiliar language (in addition to the native language). Our data suggest that while sarcastic utterances in Cantonese and English share certain acoustic features, these cues are insufficient to recognize sarcasm between languages; rather, this ability depends on (native) language experience.

Keywords: Cantonese; communicative intentions; cross-linguistic; sarcasm; speech perception

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-01-01

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