chapter  4
26 Pages


The title of this section is not meant in the least ironically: given the manifest difficulties, it does seem to me to be some kind of miracle that people ever really understand each other at all, much less when they are communicating in an ironic mode. What is true of irony is true of all communication, in other words: comprehension is a complex process (even if most people take that complexity for granted the greater part of the time), a process fraught with difficulties. People lie; people misunderstand one another. Yet they also share meaning, even if they are always having to (re)learn from experience that meaning is not something fixed and firm that is transmitted through some sort of transparent medium. They also have to remind themselves of the need to acknowledge that, in what sociolinguists call a “communicative event,” there is a great diversity of speech within even a single speech community (Hymes 1974: 29): “different people live in ‘different worlds of discourse’. The whole communicative process is altered and distorted by these different worlds” (Martin 1983: 432).