In everyday conversation, a great deal of information is communicated without ever actually being said. For example, speakers may use irony to express information that is contrary to the literal meaning of an utterance (e.g., saying “What a fabulous chef Fred is” after he just burned a meal). By integrating such contextual information with the linguistic input, listeners are able to arrive at the appropriate interpretation of speakers’ utterances. However, it remains unknown what specific types of extra-linguistic information listeners use and the time course with which they do so. For example, do listeners initially access the literal interpretation and use it to guide the identification of relevant contextual cues? Alternatively, are listeners able to use contextual information to rapidly generate an expectation for irony and constrain the literal interpretation?
In this talk, I will present a set of studies that use eye-tracking to examine listeners’ moment-to-moment interpretations as they listen to ironic utterances in contextually-rich environments. These findings will reveal how linguistic and extra-linguistic information is integrated during irony comprehension and pave the way for future work examining the mechanisms underlying nonliteral language processing.