I've been doing some anecdotal research into what indicates sarcasm in spoken form. My goal is to find indicators of sarcasm without relying on the meaning of the words and sentences themselves.

Intonation is the most obvious indicator of sarcasm that I can think of. The sentence has the intonation of a declarative sentence, but it's structured as an interrogative one, or vice versa:

"Did you want my dog to eat your breakfast?"
"How happy am I that breakfast is ruined."

I've also noticed a pause mid sentence, and some elongation of vowels, too - but I'm not sure how to quantify this observation.

Are there commonly known indicators of sarcasm that are expressed orally in English which are not lexical?

  • Why do you think that these are non-semantic??
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 13 '14 at 2:23
  • Maybe semantic isn't the right word. Lexical? I'm looking for meaning that doesn't necessarily come from the literal or figurative meaning of the words themselves.
    – paceaux
    Dec 13 '14 at 5:47
  • 1
    Delivery pitched a little flatter (musical flat = low) than normal is frequently interpreted as ironic or sarcastic. Just say a normal sentence and add a flat mark to each tone. Dec 13 '14 at 17:09

You pretty much summarised the main linguistic indicators of things like sarcasm or irony:

  • intonation
  • pause
  • stress
  • emphasis or volume of voice

But there are also many paralinguistic signals such as:

  • gestures
  • facial expressions
  • symbols (in writing) such as emoticons, quotation marks, italics, etc.

However, often sarcasm is not overly indicated. The things that are used to disambiguate include:

  • context
  • situational knowledge
  • speaker negotiation (the extreme being holding a sarcasm sign as in Big Bang Theory)

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