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Irony from linguistic to semiotic rhetoric

HENRY YIHENG ZHAO | 2022-02-18 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

A Study on Irony 

A Study on Irony, written by Ni Aizhen, a research fellow and director of the Institute of Literature and Culture at the Jiangxi Academy of Social Sciences, tries to open up a new field for irony in semiotics. 
Today’s social culture has entered a new period. The proportion of literature in cultural life has irresistibly declined, and the importance of language mediums on which literary activities depend has decreased accordingly. This forces us to shift our theoretical consideration of culture from literature to images and videos, and the rhetoric we discuss must also expand to cross-media semiotic rhetoric. As a result, the study of various main figures of speech has to turn from language and literature to symbols and images. 
To move a figure of speech from a language to a nonverbal symbol is not a simple transplant. Language is the largest and most systematic semiotic system known to mankind. The combination of rhetoric and language is so close that rhetorical semiotics must find a whole new method. Research on the linguistic forms of rhetoric has a history of three millennia. Only giving a few examples is far from enough to break through these rules. 
For instance: similes and metaphors, comparatively simple forms of figures of speech. How can the rhetorical relations in image/auditory texts be explained without semantically explicit words such as “is,” “as,” and “like”? Since simple figures of speech are already so, it is even more difficult to deal with complex rhetorical relations such as irony, paradox, and the vortex of interpretations in non-linguistic media. 
The book turns ironic studies from the linguistic form of texts to the interpretation of texts by the receiver, that is, the interpreter’s comprehensive consideration of the symbolic text and context. In the author’s words, it translates rhetoric into a “cognitive framework for the naturalization of texts.” This is a valid research footing that expects a wise shift in emphasis, and also a philosophical method of interpretation. 
To this end, it is necessary to change the argumentation route from the textual form to the combination of text and accompanying text, focusing on the social and cultural background factors contained in texts. In other words, irony is transformed from a method of textual constitution into a semiotic signification. This change of perspective aims to achieve a complex operation—jumping from linguistic irony research to semiotic irony. The book’s value lies in the fact that it is a fresh start: the “interpretative shift” in the book deserves further discussion to welcome a new vision and methodology. 
Henry Yiheng Zhao is a professor from the College of Literature and Journalism at Sichuan University.