The Translation of Irony

Examining its Translatability into Narratives

by Alícia Moreno Giménez (Author)
©2022 Monographs XIV, 248 Pages


Verbal irony is a common phenomenon in communication, but its convoluted nature makes it difficult to translate. This book expands on previous studies of the translation of irony by examining the mechanisms of verbal irony in its translation from Catalan and Spanish into English. It accentuates the importance of ironic cues not only in processing irony but also in rendering it across cultures. It also interrogates its translatability in the narratives of two Latin American authors, Julio Cortázar and Juan José Arreola, and two Catalan writers, Pere Calders and Quim Monzó. Comparative analyses of the source and target texts further reveal obstacles in the cross-cultural communication of irony. Based on a proposed classification of ironic cues, this book provides guidelines for the effective translation of irony. The corpus, which is subject to an interdisciplinary analysis rooted in Discourse Stylistics, comprises a compelling range of short stories that tacitly bespeak the authors’ stances towards twentieth-century sociohistorical events as well as more general contemporary issues. The connection between Calders’s and Cortazar’s exiles and their ironic styles is equally explored.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Chapter 2 What Is Verbal Irony?
  • 2.1. Gricean and Neo-Gricean theories
  • 2.1.1. Deviation from politeness
  • 2.1.2. Deviation from the speech act felicity conditions
  • 2.1.3. Collocation clashes
  • 2.1.4. Register clashes
  • 2.1.5. Hyperbole and litotes
  • 2.2. Irony as echoic mention
  • 2.2.1. Relevance theory
  • 2.2.2. Echoic metaphors
  • 2.3. Irony as indirect negation
  • Chapter 3 Ironic Voices in Narrative Discourses
  • 3.1. Narrative voices in discourse: Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism
  • 3.2. The theory of shift of footing
  • Chapter 4 Contextualizing Irony
  • 4.1. The context of irony
  • 4.2. The functions of irony
  • Chapter 5 The Translation of Irony
  • 5.1. Achieving equivalence in translation
  • 5.2. Approaches to the translation of irony
  • 5.3. Strategies and procedures for the translation of irony
  • 5.4. Assessing a translation: Kitty van Leuven-Zwart’s comparative and descriptive model
  • Chapter 6 Graphological Cues of Irony
  • 6.1. Parenthetical diversions
  • 6.2. Scare quotes
  • 6.3. Footnotes
  • 6.4. Italics
  • Chapter 7 Grammatical Cues of Irony
  • 7.1. Thematic meaning
  • 7.2. Attributive adjectives
  • 7.3. Modality
  • 7.4. Evaluative suffixes
  • Chapter 8 Semantic Cues of Irony
  • 8.1. Semantic parallelism
  • 8.2. Semantic clashes
  • 8.2.1. Double entendre
  • 8.2.2. Connotation
  • 8.2.3. Register clash
  • 8.3. Collocation clashes
  • 8.3.1. Clash of noun with adjective
  • 8.3.2. Clash of verb and subject
  • 8.3.3. Lexical set clash
  • 8.3.4. Lexis versus context
  • 8.3.5. Colligation clash
  • 8.4. Neologisms
  • Chapter 9 Ironic Tropes
  • 9.1. Ironic analogies
  • 9.1.1. Active metaphors
  • 9.1.2. Inactive metaphors
  • 9.1.3. Symbols
  • 9.1.4. Allegory
  • 9.1.5. Similes
  • 9.2. Paradox
  • Chapter 10 Pragmatic Cues of Irony
  • 10.1. Speech act deviations
  • 10.1.1. Speech acts at sentence level: Rhetorical questions
  • 10.1.2. Speech acts at textual level
  • 10.2. Schemata clashes
  • 10.3. The role of social context in ironic communication: Politeness exaggerated
  • 10.4. Speech presentation
  • 10.5. Interpersonal context: Deixis in ironic communication
  • 10.5.1. Social deixis
  • 10.5.2. Place deixis
  • 10.5.3. Time deixis
  • 10.6. Irony as a distortion of the truth
  • 10.6.1. Hyperbole
  • 10.6.2. Litotes
  • 10.7. Scalar implicatures
  • Chapter 11 The Translatability of Irony
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


This book is the outcome of my doctoral research, which I completed in 2007 at Lancaster University. It is thanks to my husband’s support, encouragement and patience that I completed my PhD whilst working full-time, teaching as well as having endless responsibilities as a mum. A few years later, the loss of my husband threw my life upside down. Ironically, this traumatic episode in my life gave me a sense of direction. Putting life into perspective instilled the zest to explore new horizons in academia and stay mentally focused. As a result, the present monograph has been born.

I would like to dedicate this book to my late husband and my four wonderful children Reese, Cody, Maya and Arianne. Truly fascinated by irony, they have been eager to read my work (Good luck to them!).

Above all, I warmly thank Professor Jonathan Culpeper, whose guidance during the completion of my PhD was most encouraging. I am also thankful to Frederic Barberà, who gave me some valuable advice in the early stages of my research. I am much indebted to the Research Centre for Migration, Diaspora and Exile (MIDEX) at the University of Central Lancashire, who financially supported this venture and inspired me to persevere and pursue my professional goals. My special thanks go to Eduardo Tasis who prompted me to publish my thesis. I should also like to thank my parents, Antonio and Mati, for contributing to this research by finding some of the original short stories in Spain.

Chapter 1


Mummy, what is your book about?

The translation of irony.

What is irony?

Good question, darling.

←1 | 2→

To a 9-year-old, irony may be an unfamiliar concept that is difficult to grasp. It is around this age that children start retrieving non-literal meaning, although they will not understand intentions until they are 11 or 12 (Demorest et al. 1984). For adults, the term ‘irony’ can also befuddle, presumably because of it being ‘extended’ and ‘overused’ (Hutcheon 1994: 54), which explains why sarcasm, irony and humour are often regarded as interchangeable. Even the experts have not approached irony in a very uniform way. Studies in irony started more than 2,000 years ago, and they have become a more or less central concern to scholars depending on their literary and historical period. Works on research on this phenomenon have not been very fruitful, often falling into contradiction with each other and only raising more questions about the nature of irony. Nonetheless, the numerous studies and papers discussing irony have been in some way valuable, and they are at the very least proof of its complexity. Although irony has fascinated many scholars, the translation of irony has not always been central to research, perhaps due to a lack of consensus regarding the concept of irony itself.

If this is a convoluted communicative phenomenon in one language, how does ironic communication occur across languages? My passion for languages infused a growing interest in cross-cultural miscommunication. Born and bred in Barcelona, I was raised speaking both Catalan and Spanish. Occasional encounters with my French relatives during my childhood made me appreciate that translating is not always plain sailing. Aged 15, I ventured solo to Salford in England for the first time in the hope of improving my English with a family that my relatives were acquainted with. I recall when I first went to the corner shop accompanied by the children with whom I was living. After being greeted by the shop assistant, I pointed to some sweets and uttered ‘I want this’. When my companions laughed out loud, I was puzzled and clueless. I later fathomed that using the verb ‘want’ to order in a shop sounded somehow impolite, even though in Spain it is a more habitual language choice within this setting. A linguistic deviation from our expectations, like this one, may result in humour. If there is a fine line between humour and irony, cross-cultural communication may pose some serious challenges to speakers of different languages engaging in ironic exchanges, as my anecdote illustrates.

Let us introduce the focal point of this book, that is, verbal irony, which is not just saying the opposite of what a person means, and neither is it synonymous with sarcasm. It says something other than what is meant, which is why it has often been lumped within the category of rhetorical tropes. What makes language ironic? The following verbal interaction will serve as an illustration. In a parking dispute, a speaker (A) approaches his neighbours (B) who continuously park in front of their door and cause an obstruction, instead of using their driveway at the side of their house:

(A) ‘Just wanted to let you know that I am having important deliveries, which is why access to my property should be clear.’

(B)‘I usually just park in front of the door for loading and unloading.’

(A)‘You are lucky to park in front of your door.’


XIV, 248
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (March)
Translating verbal irony Latin American and Catalan narratives Ironic cues The Translation of Irony Alícia Moreno Giménez
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XIV, 248 pp., 2 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Alícia Moreno Giménez (Author)

Alícia Moreno Giménez is Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Central Lancashire and a tutor in Spanish at Edge Hill University. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from Lancaster University (2007), an MA in Advanced Translation Studies from the University of Salford (1999) and a BA in English Language and Literature with German from the University of Barcelona (1996). Her research centres on translation studies, verbal irony and exile, concentrating on the works of Pere Calders and Julio Cortázar. She has delivered and published papers on the ironic short stories of Pere Calders. She is currently working on a collaborative project entitled Objects in Transit(ion), which is based at UCLan and aims to build an interdisciplinary network that draws on methodologies rooted in material culture to explore themes related to global mobility, identity, home, belonging and marginalization. She is a member of the Migration, Diaspora and Exile research center at the University of Central Lancashire.


Title: The Translation of Irony