Types of Irony in Literature Faced by Iraqi EFL Students / Ali Haif Abbas ,


Types of Irony in Literature Faced by Iraqi EFL Students

Asst. Lec. Ali Haif Abbas , University of Wasit, College of Education, Department of English

أنواع السخرية في الأدب التي يواجهها طلاب اللغة الإنكليزية كلغة أجنبية

م.م علي حايف عباس، جامعة واسط، كلية التربية ـ قسم اللغة الإنكليزية ـ العراق

 مقال نشر في مجلة جيل الدراسات الأدبية والفكرية العدد  38 الصفحة 141.


الملخص تبحث هذه الدراسة مدى قدرة طلاب اللغة الإنجليزية كلغة أجنبية في العراق على التعرف على أنواع السخرية (السخرية اللفظية، والسخرية الظرفية، والسخرية الدرامية) والتمييز  بينهم. السخرية هي إحدى الصيغ البلاغية المهمة حيث إنها تستعمل لنقل رسالة، لإضافة الفكاهة، وانتقاد شخص ما أو شيء إما عن قصد أو عن غير قصد. بالإضافة إلى أهميتها، تعتبر السخرية مشكلة لمعظم طلاب اللغة الإنجليزية كلغة أجنبية. لذلك، تهدف هذه الدراسة إلى معرفة وحل المشاكل التي يواجهها الطلاب في هذا الموضوع. ويهدف هذا البحث أيضا إلى تمكين الطلاب من التعرف على السخرية في النصوص الأدبية وتحديد الصعوبات التي يواجهها طلاب اللغة الإنجليزية كلغة أجنبية في فهم ومعرفة السخرية. تقدم الدراسة مفهوم السخرية، نظرياتها، وأنواعها، ووظائفها بالتفصيل. من أجل حل مشكلة الدراسة وتحقيق أهدافها، تم تصميم اختبار لقياس قدرة الطلاب على التعرف على أنواع السخرية. يتألف الاختبار من سؤالين: الأول هو سؤال الاختيار من متعدد يتضمن (20) بند. والثاني هو سؤال مقالي يحتوي على (5) بنود. البنود تكون على شكل فقرات مأخوذة من الأدب الأجنبي. بعد تصحيح إجابات الطلاب، وجدت الدراسة أن معظم الطلاب فشلوا في الاختبار. وتستكشف الدراسة أيضا أن الطلاب لم يعرفوا حتى أنواع السخرية على الإطلاق. وعلى أساس هذه النتائج، طرحت بعض الحلول والتوصيات في نهاية البحث.



This study examines the ability of Iraqi EFL students in recognising and distinguishing of types of irony (verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony). Irony is one of the important figures of speech because it is used to convey a message, to add humour, and criticise someone or something either intentionally or unintentionally. In addition to its importance, irony is considered to be problematic for most of EFL students. Therefore, this study aims to find out and solve the problems that the students encounter in this topic. This research also aims to enable the students to recognise irony in literary texts and identify the difficulties that Iraqi EFL students face in understanding and recognising of irony. The study introduces the concept of irony, its theories, types, and functions in detail. In order to solve the problem of the study and achieve its aims, a test is designed to measure the students’ ability in recognising types of irony. The test consists of two questions: the first one is a multiple choice question which involves (20) items. The second is an essay question that has (5) items. The items are in the form of paragraphs taken from foreign literature. After correcting the students’ answers, the study finds out that most of the students failed in the test. The study also explores that the students did not even know the types of irony at all. On the bases of these findings, some solutions and recommendations are put forward at the end of the research.

Keywords: irony, verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony, Grice, Sperber and Wilson.                                                                                                                               

  1. Introduction

Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used to mean the opposite of what one really thinks to emphasise an important event in the story. Irony also allows the audience and readers to discover what is meant by certain utterances and expressions in order to motivate them to complete the reading of the text.

Recognising irony depends on the contrast between the spoken and the intended meaning. This contrast should be as large as possible. For example, in blatant contradiction, irony can be noticed clearly as in the statement ‘what beautiful weather’ which is used by a speaker to refer to bad weather. Listeners and readers can also recognise irony through various linguistic clues such as modal particles, intonation, an ironical tone of voice, hyperbole, a resigned shrug, exclamative sentence, a weary shake of the head, a wry facial expression (Bussmann, 1996: 596; Wilson and Sperber, 2012: 123).

Irony is a problematic concept for many EFL college students in general and Iraqi EFL college students in particular. There has been limited research on the notion of irony and its three main types, namely, verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony in applied linguistics, and because irony is a problematic and tough topic for Iraqi college students, this research aims to solve this problem and enable the students a better way of understanding irony and its three main types. The study aims to find out the difficulties that Iraqi EFL students in the University of Wasit-College of Education-Department of English are facing in detecting and extracting irony in literary texts. The study also aims to enable the Iraqi EFL students a better way of understanding irony and especially its types. This research is supported by two questions:

  1. What are the difficulties that Iraqi EFL students in the University of Wasit are facing in irony?
  2. To what extent Iraqi EFL students in the University of Wasit-College of Education-Department of English cannot differentiate between the main three types of irony.
  3. Literature Review

2.1 The Pragmatics of Irony                                                         

Grice (1975: 53) illustrates that people understand irony when an utterance violates a conversational maxim. Then, people derive an interpretation that is compatible with the cooperative principle in communication.

Clark (1996: 85) illustrates that Grice’s (1975) theory of communication focuses on the idea that speakers cooperate with each other by being, informative, truthful and relevant. In other words, speakers obey the cooperative principle (CP) by following four maxims: quantity, quality, relation, and manner. In maxim of quantity, the speaker should make his conversational contribution as informative as is required. More specifically, the speaker should neither give more information than is required nor less. In maxim of quality, the speaker should say accurate and truthful information supported by evidence. In maxim of relevance, the speaker should say things that are relevant. In maxim of manner, the speaker should say things clearly, briefly, and orderly without any vagueness.

Grice’s (1989: 34) gives a clear example that illustrates his theory of irony as follows: two speakers: one is called Y and the other one is called Z. Both of them are good friends until now. But Z has betrayed his best friend by revealing his secret to a business rival. The audience and Y know Z’s betrayal. Then, Y says ‘Z is a good friend’. In actual fact, the audience do not believe in what Y has just said about his unfaithful friend. Y himself does not believe in what he said, but he intentionally wants to convey a different proposition-that Z is not a good friend in an ironic way.

Sperber and Wilson (1996: 25) criticise Grice’s theory of irony and argue that irony is not always present if one of the maxims of conversation is flouted. They propose the relevance theory which is opposed to the cooperative principle and assume that every utterance whether it fulfils or flouts Grice’s maxims is expressed in that way for a reason, and it is the listener’s job to understand the speaker’s meaning by depending on the sentence meaning, the context, and the irrelevant details and information that the speaker gives. Consider this example:

Mary (after a difficult meeting): That went well.

In the above example, Mary does not assert that the meeting went well, but she wants to convey her reaction to a thought with a similar content to other people or to herself to illustrate that the meeting did not go well ironically. More specifically, Mary echoes a thought with a similar content to the one expressed in her utterance, for the purpose of expressing a critical or mocking attitude to it. There is a sense of contradiction or discrepancy between the way things are represented in the world in general and in Mary’s utterance in particular and the way things actually are (Wilson, 2006: 1722-1725).

Similar to the echoic-mention theory (EMT), a theory emerged in the 1990s and is called the pretence theory (PT). The theories are similar in the sense that they both emphasise the idea that the interpreters do not need to interpret the literal meaning of expressions and sentences, just the non-literal meaning. According to the PT, Mary, in the above example, does not assert but merely pretend to assert that the meeting went well and at the same time, she expects her audience to see through the pretence and recognise the critical or mocking attitude behind it. The PT has also been criticised because it does not give a convincing explanation to how irony is different from parody. In parody, the audience know that the speaker only pretends to be another person. The speaker imitates the style of someone or something else in an amusing way for comic effect or ridicule. The speaker also intends to deceive his audience and make them think he is that person. The PT does not illustrate the difference that the lie must be obvious (Hesse, n.d. p. 12-13).

Giora (1998: 7) argues that when one hears or sees a word (without any context), his/her first interpretation will be the one which is the most known to them. For example, when a group of people want to interpret the word “bank”, their interpretation will differ. For some of them, the word “bank” is an establishment that deals with money, for others, it is a sloping land. Giora, in place of Grice’s literal (the dictionary meaning of words, phrases, and sentences) and non-literal meaning (the broad meaning of words, phrases, and sentences which is acquired through different associations), gives salient meaning and non-salient meaning and argues that in the interpretation of any utterance whether ironic or not, both salient (literal) meaning and non-salient (non-literal) meaning should be taken into consideration and in turn criticises the EMT and PT negligence of the role of literal meaning in the interpretation of utterances.

2.2 Definitions of Irony                                                                  

The notion of irony belongs to Aristotelian times, in which it refers to abusive and contrarian meaning of the utterances. Irony is also understood as a falsehood or another form of lying and deceit (Rosolovska, 2011: 13).

Irony is one of the main and important types of figurative language. In irony, the intended (non-literal) meaning of an expression is the opposite of the literal meaning. For example, when someone says ‘You’ve been a great help!’ to a person who has not done anything, the literal meaning of an ironic expression typically echoes the words or assumed opinions of someone else and is intended to mock or ridicule (Cruse, 2006: 90). Katthoff (2003: 1388) defines irony as a figure of speech in which one says something and means its opposite. According to Searle (1979: 113), the mechanism of irony works when a speaker says a literal expression and this expression is obviously inappropriate to the situation. In this case, the listener is obliged to reinterpret it to make it more appropriate and understandable. The simplest way to interpret any expression is by replacing the literal meaning of an expression with its opposite meaning.

2.3 Types of Irony                                                                                

This section illustrates with examples the definitions and differences of the three main types of irony namely, verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony as follows:

2.3.1 Verbal Irony                                                                                                

This type of irony involves saying what one does not mean. In other words, verbal irony occurs when someone says something and means the opposite of what he/she says, as for instance, in the statement ‘I haven’t seen you for ages’, from one person to another when they meet every day; or ‘that is not bad’, refers to something good or beautiful (Cuddon, 1998: 430).

In verbal irony, ironists intentionally make statements contrary to their ideas and beliefs. Ironists often express their feelings and attitudes towards something by contradicting the true state of affairs. For example, one might express irritation about bad weather by saying ‘what perfectly gorgeous weather we’re having!’ The speaker may employ hyperbole to make an ironic intention clearer (Kreuz and Roberts, 1993: 99).

Intentionality of an expression is the main feature that distinguishes verbal irony from other types. The speaker deliberately mentions an ironic statement to convey a message that is opposite to what s/he states (Abrams, 1999: 135).

2.3.2 Situational Irony                                                                                         

Situational irony occurs when there is a certain incongruity between what a person says, beliefs, or does and how, unbeknownst to that person, things actually are. Oedipus vows to discover the murderer and avenge his father’s death, but later on he discovers that he is the reason behind the death of his father (Wolfsdore, 2007: 176).

According to Li (2008: 5-6), situational irony is an incongruity in a situation emerging from tension between what is expected or intended and what actually happens. This incongruity is often filled with a sense of misfortune or unfairness for individuals involved in the situation. The incongruity in the situation itself is not intended and is often uncontrolled by the people who may be victims of the situational irony. Situational irony is observed whereas other forms of irony are created.

There is a significant example of this kind of irony in religion. The Pharaoh ordered to kill all the new born baby boys of Israel children, because of the prophecy which says that one of them will be the reason behind the downfall of the Pharaoh. Moses’ mother tried to hide him and ultimately he was adopted by the royal family. The irony lies in that Moses was that baby who was the cause behind the downfall of the Pharaoh (Khan, 2010: 1).

2.3.3 Dramatic Irony                                                                                             

This type of irony occurs in drama when the audience know more about the fate and ends of the characters than the characters of the story themselves. The incongruity happens between what the character does and what the audience already know about the situation (Savkaničová, 2013: 18).

In dramatic irony, there is a contradiction or discrepancy between what the audience know to be true and what the character perceives to be true (Li, 2008: 4). Kreuz and Roberts (1993: 99) demonstrate that in dramatic irony, there are two important points: first, the knowledge that exists among the characters in the work. Second, the knowledge that only the audience possess. Typical example is that of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. There is a duality of meaning in the words spoken by the characters. When Oedipus says “as for my parentage, humble though it may be, I want to know it”. The audience know that Oedipus’s birth was not at all humble and when Oedipus learns his parentage, he will learn that he is the murderer of his father. Oedipus’s words make the discrepancy in knowledge between himself and the audience clear. Because only the audience are aware of this discrepancy, only the audience are aware of the irony.

2.4 Functions of Irony                                                                         

One of the functions of irony is that it is used for emphasis, or sometimes for the accuracy of communication of an attitude. There are some speech communities where irony has an important role to prove its communicative competence among friends, professionals, or even in universities (Hutcheon, 1992: 222).

Dews et al (1995: 348-350) identify four main functions of irony. They are presented as follows:

  1. Humour

It is useful for people to be funny when they are also being critical. Ironic statements are funnier than literal language because of the surprise that is produced by the contradiction between what is said and what is meant.

2.Status Elevation                                                                                             

When people criticise someone, they either try to praise or derogate the status of the person that is being criticised. Through irony, people may over elevate the status of someone than the literal language, because they attempt to illustrate how the recipient must have acted in contrast to what he has done. In other words, irony can be less status elevating in light of the fact that it could be viewed as a joke. When praising someone ironically, the recipient becomes confused and does not know whether the speaker’s intention is to praise or underestimate.

  1. Aggression

Aggression is another function of irony. Irony is considered as an unpleasant form of criticism. Ironical statements can make the addressee angry and push him/her to act violently. It is even worse than the direct negative expression. It is a way of making fun and humiliating the addressee. It is severer than the literal statement, because of the discrepancy between what is said and what is implied.

  1. Emotional Control

A fourth essential and important function of irony is that of emotional control. The ironist shows some measure of self-control by virtue of having made a “joking”, literally positive comment. If ironic comments are perceived as funnier than literal comments, and if ironic comments yield less status discrepancy, are less critical, and show more self-control than literal comments, it follows that irony should leave addressees feeling less defensive and insulted. It also follows that irony should prove less detrimental to the speaker-addressee relationship.

  1. Method

3.1 Population and Sample of the Study

According to Richards and Schmidt (2010: 443), population is used in statistics to refer to any set of items and individuals that share some common and observable characteristics and from which a sample can be taken. For example, a sample of a population of students can be taken to compare test scores across them. In this study, the target population is the Iraqi EFL college students at the University of Wasit. The sample of the study includes the Iraqi EFL 4th year college students at the University of Wasit/College of Education for Humane Sciences/Department of English Language and Literature. The reasons behind choosing the 4th year students as the main sample of the study are the fact that the students have mastered the English language and they have studied Literature starting from their first year in college up to the third year. The total number of the subjects (students) that will participate in the test are (100) students. All the subjects of the test are identical-that is all of them have studied the same syllabuses and topics in their third year in college. All the students have almost the same age and they are all in their 4th year of study in college. Since the aim of this research is to measure the ability of the students in recognising and understanding of types of irony, a simple random sample (SRS) is needed here. The selected data consist of a test which consists of two questions:  multiple choice question (MCQ) which includes (20) items and an essay question (EQ) which includes (5) items. The (25) items of the test are taken from foreign literature including novels, plays, and poems. The test will be given to Iraqi EFL students in the University of Wasit-College of Education-Department of English Language and Literature and the students will answer the items on the types of irony respectively. Then, results and conclusions will be drawn from their answers.

3.2 The Test    

Burton et al (1991: 4) demonstrate that multiple-choice questions (henceforth MCQs) can be used in many subject-matter areas, and can measure various educational objectives. Controlling the difficulty of MCQs depends on the changing of the alternatives. The more homogeneous the alternatives (options), the finer the distinction the students must make in order to recognise the correct answer. MCQs are amenable to item analysis, which empowers the instructor to enhance the item by replacing distractors that are not functioning properly.  Furthermore, the distractors picked by the student might be used to diagnose and analyse misconceptions of the student or weaknesses in the teacher’s instruction. According to Harris (1969:42), the multiple choice test is the most proper way to measure students’ recognition ability. Recognising types of irony is one aspect of linguistic recognition ability.

Richards and Schmidt (2010: 203) define an essay question as a test item in which a person is required to write an extended piece of text on a set topic.

Essay questions (henceforth EQs) can be used to assess complex learning outcomes that cannot be effectively assessed by other most often used assessment procedures. EQs enable the students to demonstrate their thinking skills, evaluate facts and ideas, think critically, and solve problems. This gives teachers the chance to recognise problems and weaknesses students may have with their thinking processes. At the point when teachers detect the problems in the students’ reasoning and thinking, they can help them defeat those problems. EQs consume time. In other words, they need long time to answer and score. Therefore, the number of EQs in a test should be limited. EQs are graded less reliably than other types of questions. The students should write their own writing skills, select and compose words, sentences, and paragraphs, decide upon correct grammar, punctuation, capitalisation, and spelling. In this case, the students are given a chance to practice and develop their writing skills. Many of life’s questions and problems do not come in multiple choice or other objective items such as business, technical, engineering, and service jobs, because such occupations require people to communicate in sentences and paragraphs. In EQs, students can bluff but they cannot guess the answer and it’s difficult to cheat the answer (Reiner et al, 2002: 10-13; Cashin, 1987: 1).

According to Harris (1969: 45), the suitability of the test depends on the following points:

  1. The objectivity of the test: the test should include one correct answer.
  2. The reliability of the test results: the results are given by the test when reproduced under the same circumstances.
  3. Practicality of the test: it is so easy to be completed by the students and easy to be marked by the researcher.
  4. Economy of the time required for the test a large number of subjects can be tested at the same time.

The above test has two aims. The aims are presented as follows:

  1. Identifying points and areas of difficulties that the learners face in learning irony and its types.
  2. Studying the students’ recognition in types of irony.

The test is evaluated by following certain steps, they are:

  1. Preparing the items of the test. Some selected paragraphs from foreign literature which contain the three different types of irony.
  2. The present test will be exposed with the scoring scheme procedure to a jury of specialists. The jury for this research consists of a number of prominent figures in the fields of language teaching methodology and linguistics at the University of Wasit/College of Education/Department of English Language and Literature. The jury members are:
  3. Asst. Prof. Al-Husseini Hashim A. Mohammed, Ph.D. /College of Education-University of Wasit.
  4. Asst. Prof. Al-Maqssoossi Enas N. Kadim, Ph.D. / College of Education-University of Wasit.
  5. Inst. Dr. Al-Atabi Faris K. Te’ima, Ph.D. / College of Education-University of Wasit.

In order to achieve the aims of the study and solve its questions, the test consists of (25) paragraphs which are taken from foreign literature. The test sheet comprises two main questions. The first question is in multiple choice item format. The number of the questions are (20) items. The students will choose the correct answer or the correct type of irony that is found in the paragraphs. The second question is an essay question. Because essay questions need long time to answer by the students and long time to score by graders, their number should be limited. The researcher has found that (5) essay questions are enough to be answered and scored in an average time. Testees are asked to write a clear and correct answer to the aforementioned (5) EQs by using their own words.

The test is clarified to the students before their response in order to have a clear idea about their task. A good test should be characterised by validity, reliability, and practicality:

3.2.1 Validity

According to Richards and Schmidt (2010: 622), validity is the degree to which a test measures what it is supposed to measure, or can be used successfully for the purposes for which it is intended. For example, a survey is designed to measure anxiety but it measures depression is not a valid study (Heale and Twycross, 2015: 66). There are different types of validity such as face validity (the degree to which a test is right and appropriate), content validity (all the content of the test, samples, and language skills should be sufficient, satisfactory, representative, and comprehensive), construct validity (the extent to which the items in a test reflect the essential aspects of the theory on which the test is based), concurrent validity (the extent to which a test correlates with some other test that is aimed at measuring the same skill, the use of well organised and more reputable test to validate one’s own test), and predictive validity (the degree to which a test accurately predicts future performance) (Kimberlin and Winterstein, 2008, 2279; Richards and Schmidt, 2010: 114, 124, 126, 215, and 451).

3.2.2 Reliability

The second important characteristic of any test score is ‘reliability’. It is the degree to which a test produces consistent results. A test is said to be reliable if it gives the same scores or results on different occasions under similar conditions (Al-Mutawa and Kailani, 1989: 166).

Reliability relates to the consistency, repeatability, stability, and dependability in the test results (Mousavi, 1999: 323). There are four types of reliability: test-retest reliability (the extent the test gives the same results if it is administrated at two different times). Parallel/Alternate forms reliability means two or more different forms of a test designed to measure exactly the same skills or abilities which use the same methods of testing, and that are of equal length and difficulty. Inter-rater reliability means the degree to which different raters (researchers) making different subjective ratings of ability. Internal consistency reliability is a measure of the degree to which the items or parts of a test are homogenous, equivalent or consistent with each other (Richards and Schmidt, 2010: 22, 294, 297, and 593).

3.2.3 Practicality

Sárosdy et al (2006: 136) demonstrate that practicality means the efficiency in terms of the necessary equipment, the time needed for controlling or making the test, showing the facility in scoring the test, and taking into account how easy and quick it is to set and score the test.

According to Rogier (2014: 8), practicality involves the cost of the test development and maintenance, the period of time that is needed to mark and administer the test, ease of marking, and the availability of well-trained testers and logistics.

  1. Results Analysis

This section includes the presentation of the students’ responses in the test and the results of the study. The results are obtained by the students’ marks and according to the aims of the present work, which are:

  1. Illustrating the points and areas of difficulties that the students face and are still facing in learning irony and its three main types.
  2. Demonstrating the level of the students in recognising types of irony.

4.1 Results                                                                                                       

          The obtained results will be presented according to the aforementioned aims of the present study. Table (1) below illustrates the scores of the participants in each task and the mean average of the recognition in both of them:

Table (1): Students’ marks in questions one (MCQs) and two (EQs)            

  1. M
No. of Students
  1. M
  2. of Students
35 22 25 1
40 23 20 2
20 24 45 3
25 25 30 4
40 26 45 5
20 27 40 6
45 28 20 7
40 29 30 8
20 30 25 9
50 31 35 10
35 32 40 11
30 33 45 12
40 34 50 13
30 35 50 14
55 36 25 15
60 37 55 16
45 38 50 17
30 39 55 18
55 40 20 19
65 41 25 20
55 42 50 21
35 71 45 43
70 72 65 44
35 73 50 45
50 74 55 46
35 75 60 47
25 76 25 48
30 77 30 49
40 78 45 50
50 79 60 51
65 80 40 52
20 81 30 53
40 82 45 54
60 83 55 55
50 84 50 56
25 85 30 57
50 86 45 58
65 87 40 59
35 88 55 60
25 89 40 61
30 90 55 62
45 91 65 63
60 92 70 64
45 93 35 65
20 94 35 66
35 95 55 67
50 96 35 68
45 97 50 69
35 98 55 70
45 100 50 99


Table (2): The number and percentage of students’ success in the two questions

Percentage Correct Answer No. of Students
%37 37 100


Tables (1) and (2) show that all the mean scores for the (25) items are very low and poor. The number of the Testees that failed is (63). The Testees failed with low marks between (20%) to (45%). This signifies that many learners show unsuccessful recognition in the three main types of irony.

Table (3): Items difficulty in the recognition of questions one and two

Items Name Correct Answers Percentages
Verbal Irony 35 35%
Situational Irony 30 30%
Dramatic Irony 40 40%


  1. Verbal Irony

According to the students’ responses for this type of irony, it is shown that (35%) of the students answered the questions correctly, while the other (65%) failed.

  1. Situational Irony

In this type of irony, the students also failed with (30%) correct answers only, while the other (70) failed.

  1. Dramatic Irony

The number of the students that passed this type of irony are (40) only. In other words, (40%) passed, while the other (60%) did not.

4.2 Discussion                                                                                  

Although the students studied most of the literary paragraphs of the test, they showed very low and poor recognition in the three types of irony. This is due to the following reasons: The insufficient knowledge of the semantic meaning of these items. In most situations, the students find the paragraphs vague or ambiguous and this is due to their weak background knowledge in the literary works and the concept of irony. Most of the students are unable to select the proper type of irony and this is due to their poor understanding of this important figure of speech. The students’ answers of the two questions show that their instructors who specialised in literature do not pay attention to the concept of irony. The results show this weakness in the instructors teaching of the literary curricula. In terms of their answers to the first question (MCQs), some students answer the items with double choice, while others select two choices for one item. In other words, the strategy of guessing is used in most of the items by choosing two types of irony together. This indicates their poor understanding of irony and their low credits of words meaning. Because the students have no information about the correct answer of many of the items in the test, they use avoidance strategy in which the students avoid the items that present difficulty to them. In In terms of essay questions, their written sentences are rather unstable, ungrammatical, and full of spelling, punctuation, and capitalisation mistakes. For example, some of the students write the type of irony without comments. Others write wrong comments that have nothing to do with the type of irony they choose. Many of the students select a tense to their sentences that is incompatible with or different form the tense of the paragraphs. Most of them also do not pay attention to the form of the verbs. In other words, they do not put (ed) to the verb when they write in the past tense and they do not put S3rd person singular when they talk in the present tense. The students do not make compound or complex sentences in order to make their answers clear and understandable. This also indicates that the students do not know what the notion of irony means at all.

  1. Conclusions

The results of the present study conclude that Iraqi EFL college students show no competency in the recognition of irony and its three types namely, verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony. They do not even know what the term irony means. Most of the students fail in the test and their scores are approximately the same in the three types of irony. The research shows weaknesses in teaching literature. Therefore, this study recommends that literary instructors should focus on irony and its three types. It is clear from the analysis that irony and many other figures of speech are completely ignored and there are deficiencies or weaknesses in the instructors’ methods of teaching and the prescribed textbooks of Literature at the college level. EFL college students must be able to recognise figures of speech including irony and this can be done through practice. Therefore, figures of speech can be used as an activity to enhance both students’ recognition and performance in figures of speech, especially irony. Because it is a crucial topic, figures of speech should receive more care and attention by both college instructors and students.


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The Test

Dear Students,                                                                                    

Iraq EFL college students are facing difficulties in distinguishing the main three types of irony, namely verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony. The purpose of this test is to investigate this problem and measure Iraqi EFL learners’ recognition in types of irony. By filling out this test, your contributions will definitely help solving this problem, thank you.

Q1. Choose the correct answer that indicates the exact type of irony to the followings:                                                                                                          

  1. 1. In Julius Caesar, Marc Antony refers to Brutus as “an honorable man”, but he participated in murdering Caesar:
  2. Situational irony
  3. Dramatic irony
  4. Verbal irony
  5. 2. In Miller’s “The Crucible” when John is forced into a false confession that he has been visited by a demon, he sarcastically responds, ‘A fire, a fire is burning! I hear the boot of Lucifer, I see his filthy face!’ referring to the court officials as doing the devil’s work to express his frustration:
  6. Dramatic irony
  7. Verbal irony
  8. Situational irony
  9. 3. In Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, Jordan baker says this quote “I hate careless people”, but in fact Jordan herself is careless:
  10. Situational irony
  11. Dramatic irony
  12. Verbal irony
  13. 4. In Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, the pigs start to sleep in beds. The rule of “No animal shall sleep in a bed” is changed to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets”. Then the pigs start to drink and after the drinking the rule is changed from “No animal shall drink alcohol” to “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess”:
  14. Verbal irony
  15. Situational irony
  16. Dramatic irony
  17. 5. In Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, the speaker Prufrock keeps on repeating the statement “There will be time, there will be time”, but in actual fact there is no time and Prufrock himself knows this fact:
  18. Situational irony
  19. Dramatic irony
  20. Verbal irony
  21. 6. In Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter”, Mary says “Patrick!”, “how are you darling?”, but she knows that Patrick was dead and treated him as if he were alive:
  22. Dramatic irony
  23. Verbal irony
  24. Situational irony
  25. 7. In Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Mr. Bennet says that Wickham is a pleasant fellow, but in reality he hates him and finds him unbearable:
  26. Verbal irony
  27. Situational irony
  28. Dramatic irony
  29. 8. In Dickens’s “Great Expectations”, Miss Havisham tells Pip to love Estella, but she does not want Estella to love Pip, to break his heart:
  30. Dramatic irony
  31. Verbal irony
  32. Situational irony
  33. In Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, when Lear divides his fortune between his two loyal daughters, namely Goneril and Regan, he imagines the kind of comfortable life that he will lead in the future, but later on in the play he discovers that he has been betrayed by his two devilish daughters:
  34. Situational irony
  35. Dramatic irony
  36. Verbal irony
  37. In “The Scarlet Letter” by Hawthorne, Dimmesdale’s eloquence and religious fervour had already given the earnest of high eminent in his profession, but Dimmesdale is the cause of Hester’s sin:
  38. Verbal irony
  39. Situational irony
  40. Dramatic irony
  41. In Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath”, the dike is built to control water and especially to protect an area from flooding, but ironically it causes a flood:
  42. Situational irony
  43. Dramatic irony
  44. Verbal irony
  45. In Hardy’s “The Return of the Native”, Henchard suffers a lot to make Jane his daughter and teach her to call him “father”, but when he succeeds and she agrees to call him her father, he discovers that she is not his real daughter and finds no pleasure in his success:
  46. Dramatic irony
  47. Verbal irony
  48. Situational irony
  49. In Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Oberon orders Puck to put the juices from the flower, or the love potion, into Demetrius’s eyes so that he will fall in love with Helena, but Puck accidentally puts the love potion into Lysander’s eyes, therefore making Lysander fall in love with Helena, and not Demetrius:
  50. Dramatic irony
  51. Situational irony
  52. Verbal irony
  53. In the Poem “The Patriot: An Old Story” by Robert Browning, the patriot, who was once welcomed by, is now hated by the same people. They made him patriot and by turn they made him traitor as well:
  54. Situational irony
  55. Verbal irony
  56. Dramatic irony
  57. In Virgil’s “Aeneid”, the reader knows that the Trojan horse is full of Greek soldiers, a fact the Trojans do not know it, and this leads to their defeat:
  58. Dramatic irony
  59. Verbal irony
  60. Situational irony
  61. In Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to conquer”, to Mr. Hardcastle, Marlow has appeared extremely rude and impudent, whereas his daughter has found him to be awkward and bashful. The audience know that Marlow is neither so impudent nor so awkward:
  62. Dramatic irony
  63. Situational irony
  64. Verbal irony
  65. In Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”, the audience know that the Parachutist was a soldier who died in the air force while serving his country, but the boys thought the parachutist was a beast:
  66. Situational irony
  67. Verbal irony
  68. Dramatic irony
  69. In Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King”, Oedipus unintentionally kills his father. He vows to find the murderer, but the audience know the fact that the killer is Oedipus himself:
  70. Dramatic irony
  71. Verbal irony
  72. Situational irony
  73. In Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”, Faustus gives his soul to Lucifer for the ability to use magic to make himself as powerful as God and wealthy as a king, but the audience know that the magic is just fancy tricks:
  74. Verbal irony
  75. Situational irony
  76. Dramatic irony
  77. In Capote’s “Cold Blood”, the reader knows that the Clutter family will be murdered, because the author keeps switching back and forth between the Clutters and the murderers:
  78. Dramatic irony
  79. Verbal irony
  80. Situational irony

Q2. Explain which types of irony that best suits the following literary paragraphs by writing your short answer in the blank area:

  1. In the poem “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning, the Duke praises his Duchess when he says “She had a heart-how shall I say? Too soon made glad, too easily impressed” but in reality he doesn’t like these traits of his wife—————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
  2. In Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, Raskolnikov before committing the murder, thinks that he can get away with the murder without suffering any consequences, but when he committed the murder, he starts suffering from the psychological distress of his actions——————————————————————————————————————-
  3. In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Hamlet believes that the person that is hiding behind the curtain is Claudius. Therefore, he decides to avenge his father by stabbing him through the curtain but it turned out to be Polonius——————————————————————————————————————————————————
  4. In Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, the audience know that the monster wants to kill Elizabeth rather than killing Victor, because the monster hopes that by killing Elizabeth, Victor will have nothing left in his life——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————
  5. In Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, Satan decides to build his own hierarchy and once it is accomplished, he will not be under the authority of God. But the reader knows the fact that Satan himself has been created by God————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Updated: 2018-03-04 — 21:50

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