Scholarly article on topic 'On Differences in the Use of Hedging in English and Armenian Academic Discourse'

On Differences in the Use of Hedging in English and Armenian Academic Discourse Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

CC BY-NC-ND
0
0
Share paper
OECD Field of science
Keywords
{"scientific discourse" / modality / "hedge ;unhedged" / pragmalinguistic / "face-threatening act" / vagueness / confidence.}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Yelena Mkhitaryan, Sona Tumanyan

Abstract The aim of the present paper is to show differences in the ways scientific discourse is presented in English and Armenian. The first part of the paper examines hedging as one of the features that distinguish English scientific discourse from that of many languages. It focuses on the use of hedges in the English and Armenian academic writing, revealing considerable differences between them – English characterized by an abundant use of hedges, in contrast to Armenian least characterized by this feature. It also considers the difference in the character of hedges used in the related languages: English manifests diverse forms of hedging - modal words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs), approximators, impersonal and passive constructions, if-clauses, etc., while Armenian uses predominately modal words. The second part of the paper considers the pragmalinguistic aspect of hedging, emphasizing the fact that the lack of hedges may have a negative perlocutionary effect and that the strategies employed in the unhedged discourse could be considered as face-threatening acts, functioning as a means of imposition on the reader or listener. The final part presents various types of assignments for Armenian students to achieve competence in the appropriate use of hedges. These include rewriting, inserting, translation with variation and other exercises, which would help students present their critical views on various issues in a more acceptable communicative fashion.

Academic research paper on topic "On Differences in the Use of Hedging in English and Armenian Academic Discourse"

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

ScienceDirect

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 197 (2015) 2506 - 2511

7th World Conference on Educational Sciences, (WCES-2015), 05-07 February 2015, Novotel

Athens Convention Center, Athens, Greece

On Differences in the Use of Hedging in English and Armenian

Academic Discourse

Yelena Mkhitaryana, Sona Tumanyanb*

a PhD, professor, head of chair of Germanic languages, faculty of Foreign languages, Kh.Abovian Armenian State Pedagogical University,

Yerevan, Armenia.

bInstructor of chair of Germanic languages, faculty of Foreign languages, Kh.Abovian Armenian State Pedagogical University, Yerevan,

Armenia.

Abstract

The aim of the present paper is to show differences in the ways scientific discourse is presented in English and Armenian. The first part of the paper examines hedging as one of the features that distinguish English scientific discourse from that of many languages. It focuses on the use of hedges in the English and Armenian academic writing, revealing considerable differences between them - English characterized by an abundant use of hedges, in contrast to Armenian least characterized by this feature. It also considers the difference in the character of hedges used in the related languages: English manifests diverse forms of hedging - modal words (verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs), approximators, impersonal and passive constructions, if-clauses, etc., while Armenian uses predominately modal words. The second part of the paper considers the pragmalinguistic aspect of hedging, emphasizing the fact that the lack of hedges may have a negative perlocutionary effect and that the strategies employed in the unhedged discourse could be considered as face-threatening acts, functioning as a means of imposition on the reader or listener. The final part presents various types of assignments for Armenian students to achieve competence in the appropriate use of hedges. These include rewriting, inserting, translation with variation and other exercises, which would help students present their critical views on various issues in a more acceptable communicative fashion. © 2015TheAuthors. Published by ElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center.

Keywords: scientific discourse; modality; hedge;unhedged; pragmalinguistic; face-threatening act; vagueness; confidence.

* Sona Tumanyan. Tel.:+4-3-4543-21. E-mail address: sona_tumanyan@mail.ru

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.324

1. Main text

Hedging is a linguistic means of effective interaction and cooperation between people in all spheres of life, science included. Scientists seek proper strategies to express uncertainty, doubt, tentativeness, etc. that the language of science is characterized by. As Salager-Meyer says, "scientists as any other language users resort to those forms which better fit their communicative purposes and the claims they present to the world's store of knowledge" (Salager-Meyer 1997:117). lakoff who took keen interest in hedges referred this class of discourse markers to words "whose job is to make things fuzzier or less fuzzy" (Lakoff 1972:195). Th. Payne notes, "Hedging adverbs 'protect' the speaker from possible charges of uttering false information" (Payne 2011: 74). Hedging is inherent in all languages but the extent of its use varies from language to language.

This linguistic device in the Armenian language has not been acknowledged as a special lexical-grammatical category, therefore there is no special term for it. It is close in concept to the category of modality, but is much wider in meaning, covering not only proper modal words and expressions, but also lexical verbs of modal meaning, impersonal and passive constructions, if - clauses and other hedges. We can suggest only the calqued version as an Armenian equivalent for the term hedge - hej , hedging- hejavorum. Linguists distinguish the following structural types of hedges: simple and compound, the latter consisting of more than one hedge -double, treble, quadruple and so on ( Salager-Meyer 1997:110-111).

Researches show that English scientific discourse is distinguished from other languages for an abundant use of hedges (Vassilieva 2001:88). Since the English language (due to its diversified merits) has been acknowledged as a franca lingua, the principal medium of communication among people across the world, scientific community included, it can be inferred that English is empowered to serve as a model for presenting written and oral scientific discourse at various academic levels and strata. This task of English has become of greater significance in view of ever-increasing academic contacts and dissemination of scientific information all over the world. It is of special importance to Armenians as the English language has gained a dominant position amongst the foreign languages taught at Armenian schools and universities, ousting even the Russian language which used to be a second language in Soviet Armenia.

However, the critical analysis of EAO or EAP textbooks being in use in Armenian universities shows that the pragmatic and communicative aspects of hedging is underestimated or neglected altogether in these courses. Now there is a need for a proper and due attention to be paid to this important communicative strategy, since understanding a text implies not only the factual content, but also the writer's intention, which is often encoded in hedges. It is of paramount importance that students should recognize hedging as one of the most essential aspects of written text. Therefore one of the major tasks of Armenian university instructors and practitioners is to make the students aware of the importance of writing and speaking good scientific English as well as to teach them how to best achieve it. Even those students who manifest a good mastery of grammar and vocabulary often fail to use hedging in their academic papers. But as Skelton remarks student writers (especially non-native students) should then be made aware of the fact that unhedged conclusions are open to criticism and could even be considered as intellectually dishonest (Skelton 1988, cited in Salager-Meyer 1997:114).

Even the superfluous comparison between the uses of hedging in English and Armenian scientific writing allows us to state a substantial difference between them. To illustrate the difference we suggest examining passages of approximately identical linguistic content in English and Armenian and note the extent of hedging used in each language.

The English text The Armenian text (in English translation)

The word sentence is actually somewhat problematic. In written language, a sequence of structurally related clauses normally begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. In other words, the sequence is marked as being a sentence. In addition, a sequence of structurally related clauses in speech might not be acceptable as a sentence in written language. If it were to be written, for

Oral communication can take place between two or more people who can interact by means of sentences, both simple and composite as well as by single words and phrases, depending on the speech situation and the character of communication. Hence, it follows that a sentence is a linguistic unit through which the act of communication is actualized. Consequently, a sentence is a main and principal syntactic unit, its maximal unit.

example, it would probably be split up into two or more sentences. There is, in fact, a general tendency for such sequences to be longer and more complex in speech than in writing. However, it is important to bear in mind that a sentence of spoken language may look very different from a sentence of written language (an extract from Functional English Grammar by G. Lock,1966).

Since a sentence consists also of words, the latter function as minimal syntactic units displaying all grammatical categories inherent in them. The syntactic plane as the highest linguistic level includes also elements of the lower strata: phonetic, lexical and morphological, as well as structures and components... (translated from Syntax of Modern Armenian Language by A.Papoyan and Kh.Badikyan, 2003).

As we see the English text contains eight hedges: simple- normally, might, in fact; double- would probably, general tendency, may look; trible - actually somewhat problematic; if clause -If it were to be written; an impersonal clause -it is important.

As far as the English version of the Armenian text is concerned, it contains one modal verb can used twice against eight hedges in the English text. There is not a single lexical verb with a modal meaning, the assertive verb to be being the domineering one throughout the whole text.

Note how different the very definitions of the sentence sound in the related languages: English - actually somewhat problematic - three hedges against one assertive verb to be in the Armenian text.

Of special interest is the study of the way native and non-native scientists formulate the concluding part of their researches. Conclusion constitutes the final and most essential part of a speech or a piece of writing in which the author presents his/her findings and observations in a manner as to convince the reader of the reliability and relevance of the assumptions and claims put forward in his/her writings. This largely depends on the extent of confidence he/she shows when doing so. This confidence ranges from tentative assumption to complete certainty when the writer takes the whole responsibility for the claims on himself. On the contrary, tentativeness as A. Huebler notes avoids personal accountability for statements, reducing the author's "degree of liability (Huebler 1983:18).

To illustrate our point we will compare two conclusions presented in English by native and Armenian writers and state to what degree they differ from each other as regards the usage of hedging in them.

The native writer's text The non-native writer's text (English translation)

One conclusion that will be drawn from reading this book is that semantics is not a single, well-integrated discipline. It is nor a clearly defined level of linguistics, not even comparable to phonology nor grammar. Rather it is a set of studies of the use of language in relation to many different aspects of experience... It would be foolhardy to attempt to forecast precisely what future trends will be. Yet there is some hope that linguists are beginning to accept once again language, but is more a matter of relating language to the world of experience. Yet we must accept the fact that there will be no massive 'breakthrough'.The complexity of semantics is merely one aspect of the complexity of human language. What we can say will be unprecise and often controversial. There are no easy answers (Palmer Semantics 1981:.97).

Thus, from the above discussed we can assume that borrowing is a consequence of cultural contact between two language communities. The part played by borrowings on the vocabulary of a language depends upon the history of each given language, being conditioned by direct linguistic contacts and political, economic and cultural relationships between nations. The Armenian history contains innumerable occasions for all types of such contacts. As a result it has enriched its vocabulary with many loanwords.

However, due to the specific features of the Armenian language system these new words have been remodeled according to its own standards, so that it is sometimes difficult to tell an old borrowing from a native word. (A.Galstyan, A.Hakobyan One World, One Language// Foreign Languages in a Higher School, 2009, # 10).

As is seen from the extract, the English text contains about nine hedges of different composition: simple - rather,

can, unprecise; compound - would be foolhardy, some hope; the last sentence as a whole. All of them describe the conclusion in the form of epistemic modality, with uncertainty, unprecision prevailing in it. Interestingly, the tense forms of the verb seem to contain some degree of modality as well. The forms of the Future Simple Tense (to be -what future trends will be; What we can say will be unprecise...), even the Present Continuous Tense (to begin- are beginning to accept) indicate that what the author is saying cannot be considered as the final word concerning the issues described in the text and leaves it for the future linguists to give more precise and exhaustive answers to them. The linguist is honest enough to acknowledge that at present he cannot find easy answers to them. This does not imply the linguist's incompetence or lack of confidence. It is the indication of the real state of things that is characteristic of the present stage of linguistic development in that particular sphere.

The Armenian text contains only two hedges - the combination of the modal can with the lexical modal verb assume and the phrase sometimes difficult to say against the nine hedges occurring in the English text. Statements are presented in rather a categorical manner, allowing no hesitation or lack of confidence as to the truth value of the author's claims and assumptions.

Interestingly, the verbs enrich and remodel are given in the Present Perfect to emphasize the completeness of the actions expressed by these verbs, presenting them as established facts. This is in contrast to the English text in which the verbs used in Future and Continuous tenses show envisaged, supposed actions, which may or may not occur at all.

So we can suggest that tense forms of the verb can also perform the functions of hedges, thus adding to the class of the words of pragmatic value.

A question arises as to what communicative-pragmatic functions hedges perform in the utterance and why it is important to apply them in the text? First of all, it is conditioned by the tendency of scientists not to be unduly assertive in their claims. A. Kubui claims that hedges are used to signal distance and to avoid absolute statements which might put scientists in an embarrassing situation if subsequent results are not confirmed (Kubui 1988). Linguists suggest viewing intercultural academic discourse in the light of "face" theory emphasizing the fact that the lack of hedges may have a negative perlocutionary effect and that the strategy employed in the unhedged discourse could be considered as a face-threatening act, functioning as a means of imposition on the reader or listener. As D. Bousfield says, "We must recognize that there are discourses in which conflicting illocutions are not marginal human phenomena" (Bousfield 2008: 16). This means that we must avoid using language means that could entail conflicting and unpleasant situations. The appropriate use of hedging is of paramount significance for another reason as well. As Crismore and Farnsworth say hedging is a mark of a professional scientist, "one who acknowledges the caution with which s/he does and writes on science (Crismore and Farnsworth 1990:135).

The comparative analysis of the English and Armenian texts discussed above shows that the former is characterized by an abundant use of modals and other hedges, which make it less categorical and assertive, whereas in the Armenian academic discourse one can come across comparatively fewer modal expressions, due to which it often sounds drily assertive and authoritative. This kind of presentation appears to be less exposed to discussion or criticism in contrast to the English type in which the author seems to leave room for debating as if inviting the reader to discuss some points with him, ready to hear the opposing view.

Now note how different the very definitions of the word sentence sound in the related texts: English uses three hedges -actually somewhat problematic against one assertive verb be in Armenian. The Armenian definition sounds rather categorical and uncompromising, whereas the English definition is tentative, non-pretentious, leaving room for yielding. The difference will appear still glaring if we quote P.H. Matthews' words concerning the definition of the sentence, "In a monograph published in the early 30s, Ries listed seventeen pages of varying definitions, to which later schools have added several more, still with no consensus (Matthews 1971: 240). In view of this approach the Armenian definition of the sentence sounds somewhat categorical. Interestingly enough, we cannot claim that the Armenian writer of the conclusion intends or means to be so assertive and categorical in his/her judgement. It is used to be and nowadays continues to be usual practice with Armenian scholars to present their ideas and points in a more confident manner as to ascribe some reliability and weightiness to their views and points. On the contrary, the general assumption is that the lack of confidence could be taken for uncertainty, unreliability of the facts highlighted in the research. All this indicates how different from the pragmatic point of view the native and non-native writers' academic texts are presented. Non-native learners of English should always be aware of this specificity of English academic writing and try to adjust their writings to it.

This is especially crucial for Armenian students, for historically Armenians like representatives of many other

eastern cultures used to display somewhat a benevolent, submissive attitude towards printed text, often regarding it as a sort of fetish that is meant to be taken without questioning. Under Soviet regime this attitude had been aggravated throughout the Soviet republics, Armenia included. That was the time of the installation of the so-called personality cult reigning in almost all spheres of life: politics, science, education, culture, etc. The negative effect of that notorious phenomenon was most apparent in the system of education. Schools and even universities were not prepared to establish basic intellectual and mental standards for developing students' independent thinking. Unlike western universities in which instructors and professors focus on enhancing students' critical thinking, in Armenian universities independent thinking was not encouraged; professors put emphasis mainly on information transmission and its mechanical feedback from the students. As a result students failed to manifest their opinions and views, especially concerning the statements and assertions presented in an authoratative and uncomprising manner. Fortunately, at present the situation has changed for the better and students feel more emancipated, and independent, expressing their ideas and views openly and freely. However, the old attitude is still preserved in Armenian universities where students seldom feel free to display critical attitude towards the views and ideas of scientists and professors.

One of major tasks is to break this stereotyped behavior of students. It is quite evident that it requires great efforts on the part of instructors and professors to make students achieve competence in that pragmatic sphere. And here another problem arises: how to teach students to use the correct scientific language in speech and writing while discussing various theoretical issues and points. We will start by teaching them to use the correct forms of scientific language for presenting their critical views in a more acceptable communicative fashion.

To realize this goal we suggest some types of assignments for Armenian students to achieve competence in the appropriate use of hedges. These include rewriting, inserting, replacement, translation and other exercises.

Below are given some types of these assignments.

1.Underline all the hedges used in the English passage and justify their uses.

2. Compare the English and Armenian text of an identical linguistic content and point out the pragmatic differences observed in the usage of hedges.

3. Render the English text in Armenian inserting some hedging words where possible.

4. Rewrite the Armenian text inserting hedging words where possible.

5. Translate the Armenian text into English using the missing hedges and explain the differences.

6. Rewrite the English text replacing the modal verbs and adverbs by assertive words.

Here are some patterns of how to do these exercises:

1.Change the original English text leaving out the hedges used in it. Compare the hedged and unhedged texts and substantiate your answers.

The hedged text The unhedged text

The word sentence is actually somewhat problematic. In written language, a sequence of structurally related clauses normally begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. In other words, the sequence is marked as being a sentence. In addition, a sequence of structurally related clauses in speech might not be acceptable as a sentence in written language. If it were to be written, for example, it would probably be split up into two or more sentences. There is, in fact, a general tendency for such sequences to be longer and more complex in speech than in writing. However, it is important to bear in mind that a sentence of spoken

The word sentence is. . problematic. In written language, a sequence of structurally related clauses . begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop. In other words, the sequence is marked as being a sentence. In addition, a sequence of structurally related clauses in speech. is not acceptable as a sentence in written

language. If it is...... written, for example, it will......

be split up into two or more sentences. Such sequences are longer and more complex in speech than in writing. But you must bear in mind that a sentence of spoken language. looks very different from a sentence of written language.

language may look very different from a sentence of written language.

2.Rewrite the English version of the Armenian text inserting hedges where possible. The original text The changed text

Oral communication can take place between two or more people who can interact by means of sentences, both simple and composite as well as by single words and phrases, depending on the speech situation and the character of communication. Hence, it follows that a sentence is a linguistic unit through which the act of communication is actualized. Consequently, a sentence is a main and principal syntactic unit, its maximal unit. Since a sentence consists also of words, the latter function as minimal syntactic units displaying all grammatical categories inherent in them. The syntactic plane as the highest linguistic level includes also elements of the lower strata: phonetic, lexical and morphological, as well as structures and components.. .(translated from "Syntax of Modern Armenian Language by A.Papoyan and Kh.Badikyan 2003)._

Oral interaction can take place between two or more people who can interact by means of sentences, both simple and composite as well as by single words and phrases, depending on the speech situation and the character of interaction. Hence, it follows that a sentence can be regarded as a linguistic unit through which communication is actualized. Consequently, a sentence is considered a main and principal syntactic unit, its maximal unit. Since a sentence may consist also of words, the latter function as minimal syntactic units with all their grammatical categories. The syntactic plane as the highest linguistic level may also include elements of the lower strata: phonetic, lexical and morphological, as well as all structures and component parts....

So we see that instead of the original two hedges (can take place, can interact) there are four more hedges in the new version: the modal auxiliary verbs may (used twice), can; the modal lexical verbs regard and consider.

Summing up, hedging is one of major features of good academic discourse when scientists try to take precautions in expressing their views and opinions on some issues in a more modest, unpretentious, and vague manner. The comparative analysis of the use of hedging in English and Armenian academic discourse reveals a considerable difference between them: the former is characterized by an abundant use of hedges, whereas the latter seems to be less characterized by this feature. This kind of differences reveal the non-correspondence of native and non-native academic writing and can be interpreted in the frame of cross-cultural pragmatics. Some special exercises are suggested to minimize this difference: insertion, replacement, translation with variation, etc.

References

Bousfield D. (2008). Impoliteness in Interaction. Amsterdam: John Benjamin's Publishing Company.

Crismore A. and R.Farnsworth. (1990).Metadiscourse in popular and professional science discourse. The Writing Scholar. Studies in Academic

Discourse ed. by W.Nash. Newbury Park, Ca:Sage. Huebler A. Understatements and Hedges in English. .Pragmatics and Beyond,IV, 6. Amsterdam /Philadelphia.

Kubui A. (1988).Aspects of hedging in the discussion of medical research discourse.LSU/ESP Collection. University of Aston in Birmingham. Lakoff G. (1972). Hedges: A Study in meaning criteria and the logic of fuzzy concepts. Chicago Linguistic Society Papers, #8. Chicago; Chicago University Press.

Matthews P.H(1971). Syntax. Cambridge ; Cambridge Unversity Press.

Payne Th. E. (2011).Understanding English Grammar.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.