It's very important to develop and maintain courteous relations between the speaker and the hearer in everyday conversation. Politeness is the basic principle of human relations which protects basic human values and needs, such as personal freedom, freedom of choice, the right to personal space, the desire to be understood and get approval, to be involved in something common, to show solidarity and get support. Politeness is aimed at conflict-free and harmonious communication according to socially accepted rules in interactional communication. Creating favorable psychological conditions of communication is achieved, among other things, through the use of non-categorical and fuzzy statements. The core of fuzzy language is hedging. Hedging occurs quite frequently in interpersonal communication and indicates degree of less than full commitment to the accuracy or precision of what is said. The paper reviews the meaning and functions of hedges in everyday conversation. The main functions of hedging in conversational discourse include: avoiding conflicts, minimizing face-threatening acts, mitigating the imposition. Hedging is an important issue in the language study as the correct use of hedging devices reflects a high level of knowledge of the principles of rhetoric in the process of social interaction. Hedging makes communication more polite and effective. When a non-native speaker fails to recognize a hedge he may be perceived as impolite, arrogant, rude or it may even lead to miscommunication.
Keywords: Linguistic hedgingfuzzy languageeveryday conversationpoliteness
Although the term hedging has existed in linguistics for more than four decades, there is no unitary definition covering all aspects of its usage. Weinreich (1966) was the first to write about this phenomenon as metalinguistic operators whose designata are themselves aspects of the language, and they cannot be characterized either grammatically or morphologically. Such operators include true, real, so-called, strictly speaking, like;
The concept of hedging in linguistics was first introduced by Lakoff (1973). According to Lakoff (1973), hedges are “words whose meaning implicitly implies fuzziness – words whose job is to make things fuzzier or less fuzzy” (p. 471). Lakoff offered the following as examples of hedges in English: sort of, kind of, loosely speaking, more or less, roughly, pretty (much), relatively, somewhat, rather, mostly, technically, strictly speaking, essentially, in essence, basically, principally, particularly, par excellence, largely, for the most part, very, especially, exceptionally, quintessentially, literally, often, more of a ___ than anything else, almost, typically/typical, as it were, in a sense, in a real sense, in a way, in a manner of speaking, details aside, so to say, practically, a true, a real, a regular, virtually, all but technically, practically, actually, really, all but a, anything but a, (he as much as...), -like, -ish, can be looked upon as, can be viewed as, pseudo-, crypto-, in name only, etc. (Lakoff, 1973, p. 472).
I think last year
This made for a
You can get there on motorway, erm, all the way
Lakoff based his work on Zadeh’s (1965)
Initially, hedging was considered by Lakoff (1973) from the point of view of formal semantics within the ideational function of language. He emphasized that natural language sentences are not always entirely true, false or nonsensical, but rather somewhat true and somewhat false, and that membership in conceptual categories is not a simple yes-no question but a matter of degree. In real situations, it is rare to find objects that exactly match a particular class or category. Some categories do not have clear boundaries and belongingness to them is expressed not absolutely, but gradually. The sentence
To define the most frequently used types of hedges in everyday conversation and specify their functions.
Post-Lakoff approaches to hedging
Lakoff's approach was taken as a starting point in future studies of hedging (Lewis & Lawry, 2014; Rosanti & Jaelani, 2015). Later, the concept of hedging has been further developed in the course of linguistic pragmatics where its semantic content has considerably expanded.
Salager-Meyer (1995) states that hedging is an application in pragmatics and discourse analysis in the general sense of the word to a range of items which express a notion of imprecision or qualification. Brown and Levinson (2000) offer a broader definition of hedging:
[...] a particle, word or phrase that modifies the degree of membership of a predicate or a noun phrase in a set, [and] says of that membership that it is partial or true only in certain respects, or that it is more true and complete than perhaps might be expected. (p. 145)
Fraser (2010) considers hedging a rhetorical strategy, arguing that:
There is general agreement today that
The scope of hedging has considerably broadened since Lakoff's (1973) initial work.
Fraser (2010) suggests the following list of hedges:
•impersonal pronouns (one);
•concessive conjunctions (though, whereas);
•hedged performative (must);
•indirect speech acts (could you...);
•introductory phrases (we feel that, it is our view that);
•modal adverbs (practically, possibly, apparently);
•modal adjectives (likely, unlikely, possible);
•modal noun (suggestion, possibility);
•modal verbs (should, would, could);
•epistemic verbs (think, believe);
•reversal tag (..., isn’t it?);
•parenthetic construction (I guess);
•if clause (if true, ...);
•conditional subordinators (given that, so long as);
•conditional clause implying permission (if I may say so);
•conditional clause expressing uncertainty about the extralinguistic knowledge required for a correct interpretation of the utterance (if I’m correct), etc.
This is not the whole list of hedges represented in Fraser’s (2010) work and for sure it does not capture the whole list of linguistic means used as hedges in the English language, but it gives a clear idea of the issue.
Types of hedges
Prince suggests two types of hedging: approximators and shields. The first type affects the truth condition of a proposition (propositional hedging), and the second type affects the degree and type of speaker-commitment that is inferred (speech act hedging) (Prince, Frader, & Bosk, 1982, p. 85).
Let us have a look at the following examples:
And the conditions on the ground floor are
No side effects, fine
Approximators are subdivided into adaptors (some, somewhat, sort of, kind of, more or less, a little bit, etc.) that relate to class membership and rounders (about, approximately, roughly, around, something, etc.). These words do not affect the speaker's propositional attitude but its content. Sometimes precise terms or numbers are not relevant or not known by the speakers and they simply give approximate terms.
Dinner for two should run to
Shields include the following two types: plausibility shields (I think, I am afraid, as far as I can tell, probably, I guess, I suspect, etc.) expressing doubt and a lack of speaker certainty and attribution shields (it is believed, it is said, somebody says that, presumably, according to his estimates, etc.) which attribute the belief in question to someone other than the speaker. As the term 'shield' indicates, they protect the speaker from having to take full responsibility for the propositional content of her utterance.
You say you've loved your wife for twenty-six years.
According to Namsaraev (1997) there are 9 types of lexical hedges: modal verbs (will, must, might, can, should, could, would, may), lexical verbs (believe, assume, suggest,estimate, think, argue, seem, propose, suppose), probability nouns (assumption, claim, possibility, estimate, suggestion), probability adjectives (possible, likely, unlikely, clear,definite, certain, probable), probability adverbs (practically, presumably, clearly, probably, possibly, perhaps, definitely, certainly, apparently, completely), adverbs of frequency (often, occasionally, generally, usually, sometimes, normally, frequently, always, rarely, never, seldom), if clause (if true, if anything), compound hedges (seems reasonable, looks probable, may be suggested), fillers (you know, you see, by the way, sort of, well, hmm, uhm, uhh, uh..huh, all I know, I mean, yeah, like).
Hedging is a pragmatic phenomenon and its interpretation depends on the context. Virtually any linguistic unit can function as a hedge. It depends on pragmatic factors.
I think it’s a little odd. (think is a hedge)
I think about you all the time. (think is not a hedge)
Based on the theoretical overview above, the research question for this study is:
What are the functions of hedging in everyday conversation?
Purpose of the Study
The present study approaches hedging as a strategy by which a speaker can indicate degrees of less than full commitment toward an accuracy of conceptualizations of the world. The focus of this study is the pragmatic functions of hedges in conversational discourse.
The data of this study were spoken dialogues included in British National Corpus (BNC). This study utilized a descriptive method to analyze the pragmatic functions of hedges in conversations, as well as contextual interpretation of linguistic phenomena.
Hedging has received much attention in the pragmatics literature in recent years in relation to social conventions and politeness (McCready, 2014; Barotto, 2018; Zhang & Redeker, 2018). Research of various types of hedges has been primarily associated with politeness, vagueness, hesitation, uncertainty, and indirectness (Kranich, 2015; Takimoto, 2015; Dontcheva-Navratilova, 2017; Malyuga & McCarthy, 2018; Qin & Uccelli, 2019). The terms hedges and hedging generally refer to a large class of lexical and syntactic features of text that have the goal of modifying and mitigating a proposition. Hedging is extremely common in casual conversation. It represents a significant interpersonal communicative resource for speakers.
The research showed that the most frequently used hedges in everyday conversation are plausibility shields. The most numerous shields are
Subjectivity markers like
Well, I imagine that won't be too difficult for you.
The Covent Garden job, though, will be open to applicants, and
Attribution shields are rarely used in conversational discourse. And they are mostly expressed by composite hedges.
Perhaps that's the problem.
Among approximators we singled out
Originally I wanted to be a doctor like my father, but it was soon clear I didn't have the intelligence for that – that's to say I wasn't any good at mathematics and physics and that
When I finish playing football I'll
It should be noted that the frequency of use of adaptors is twice as high as rounders.
Approximators indicate that the actual situation is close to but not identical with the prototypical situation. The main function of approximators is to mitigate the illocutionary force of speech acts or minimize the size of imposition.
The concept of hedging has received the most attention in the area of casual conversation where it is possibly twice as frequent as in written discourse. Thus, hedging helps to maintain and regulate relations between communicants and plays an important role in harmonizing communication and making it more effective.
This research revealed that the most frequent type of hedges in everyday conversation is plausibility shields. Hedges of this type can be expressed by epistemic verbs, introductory phrases and expressions, tag-questions, conditional sentences, modal verbs, and adverbs. The second most frequently used type is adaptors. Then come rounders and attribution shields.
The main functions of hedging in conversational discourse include: avoiding conflicts, saving the face of both the speaker and the hearer, mitigating the imposition.
Hedges are the most typical components of fuzzy language and play a significant role in maintaining politeness in communication. Hedges can make communication polite and flexible, which effectively helps to maintain and adjust the relationship between speakers and hearers and keep communication smooth.
- Barotto, A. (2018). The hedging function of exemplification: Evidence from Japanese. Journal of Pragmatics, 123, 24-37.
- Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (2000). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.
- Dontcheva-Navratilova, O. (2017). Cross-cultural variation in the use of hedges and boosters in academic discourse. Prague Journal of English Studies, 5(1), 163-184.
- Fraser, B. (2010). Pragmatic competence: The case of hedging. In G. Kaltenböck, W. Mihatsch, & S. Schneider (Eds.), New approaches to hedging (pp. 15-34). Bingley: Emerald.
- Kranich, S. (2015). To hedge or not to hedge: the use of epistemic modal expressions in popular science in English texts, English-German translations, and German original texts. Text & Talk – An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies, 31(1), 77-99.
- Lakoff, G. (1973). Hedges: a study in meaning criteria and the logic of fuzzy concepts. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2(4), 458-508.
- Lewis, M., & Lawry J. (2014). A label semantics approach to linguistic hedges. International Journal of Approximate Reasoning, 5, 1147-1163.
- Malyuga, E. & McCarthy, M. (2018). English and Russian vague category markers in business discourse: Linguistic identity aspects. Journal of Pragmatics, 135, 39-52.
- Massad, E., Ortega, N.R.S., de Barros L.C., & Struchiner, C.J. (2008). Basic Concepts of Fuzzy Sets Theory. In: Fuzzy Logic in Action: Applications in Epidemiology and Beyond. Studies in Fuzziness and Soft Computing, vol 232. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
- McCready, E. (2014). Reliability in Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Namsaraev, V. (1997). Hedging in Russian Academic Writing in Sociological Texts. In: Hedging in Discourse: Approaches in the Analysis of a Pragmatic Phenomenon in Academic Texts (pp. 64-79). Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.
- Prince, E., Frader, J., & Bosk, C. (1982). On Hedging in physician-physician discourse. In J. di Prieto (Ed.), Linguistics and the Professions (pp. 83-97). Norwood, NJ : Ablex.
- Qin, W., & Uccelli, P. (2019). Metadiscourse: Variations across Communicative Contexts. Journal of Pragmatics, 39, 22-39.
- Rosanti, E. D., & Jaelani, A. (2015). The use of lexical hedges in spoken language by female and male students. Electronic Journal of UIKA Bogor, 16(1), 29-39.
- Rosch, E. (1978). Principles of Categorization. In Cognition and Categorization (pp. 27-48). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Salager-Meyer, F. (1995). I think that perhaps you should: A Study of Hedges in Written Scientific Discourse. Journal of TESOL France, 2(2), 127-143.
- Takimoto, M. (2015). A corpus-based Analysis of Hedges and Boosters in English Academic Articles. Indonesian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 5(1), 95-105.
- Weinreich, U. (1966). On the Semantic Structure of Language. In: Universals of Language, 2nd ed. (pp. 142-216). Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press.
- Zadeh, L. A. (1965). Fuzzy Sets. Information and Control, 8, 338-353.
- Zhang, G., & Redeker, G. (2018). Pragmatic markers, discourse markers and modal particles: New perspectives, 136, 1-44.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
About this article
07 August 2019
Print ISBN (optional)
Communication studies, press, journalism, science, technology, society
Cite this article as:
Vlasyan*, G. R. (2019). Linguistic Hedging In Interpersonal Communication. In Z. Marina Viktorovna (Ed.), Journalistic Text in a New Technological Environment: Achievements and Problems, vol 66. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 617-623). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.08.02.72