Linguistic Cues in Chinese English Learners’ Sarcasm Comprehension on Twitter

30 May 2024
Room E1

Linguistic Cues in Chinese English Learners’ Sarcasm Comprehension on Twitter

Twitter, as a text-based platform, offers fewer contextual sources compared to other social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. Consequently, linguistic cues play a critical role in individuals’ ability to identify and comprehend sarcasm. Plenty of studies in existing literature (e.g., Burgers et al., 2012; Attardo, 2003) have explored the linguistic characteristics of sarcasm across various media (e.g., literature, online communication and face-to-face communication). These deviations from formal linguistic norms create foregrounding (Lugea & Walker, 2023), enabling users to recognise the speaker’s sarcastic intent. However, most existing studies primarily focus on identifying the characteristics of sarcasm from a production perspective rather than a comprehension perspective. Therefore, this study examined the linguistic features used by Chinese adult English learners (CAEL) and English native speakers (NS) in the process of recognising and comprehending sarcastic tweets.

To accomplish this, we selected 25 sarcastic tweets and 10 non-sarcastic tweets as the research materials and invited 15 CAEL and 5 NS to participate in concurrent think-aloud protocols and follow-up interviews. Analysis of the research results reveals significant disparities between the linguistic features identified in the existing literature and the linguistic cues employed by CAEL in their identification and comprehension of sarcastic tweets. Additionally, the experimental results indicate that CAEL and NS focus on different types of paradox at different linguistic levels.

This study contributes to the field of L2 pragmatic comprehension by providing insights into the differences in the use of linguistic cues between CAEL and NS for sarcasm comprehension. Furthermore, it offers pedagogical suggestions for teaching, learning, and utilising sarcasm in a second language.



Attardo, S. et al. (2003) ‘Multimodal markers of irony and sarcasm’, Humor – International Journal of Humor Research, 16(2). pp. 243–260.

Burgers, C., van Mulken, M. and Schellens, P.J. (2012) ‘Verbal irony’, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 31(3), pp. 290–310.

Lugea, J. and Walker, B. (2023) Stylistics: Text, cognition and Corpora. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.