Scholarly article on topic 'Using Tentative Language in English'

Using Tentative Language in English Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Blanka Frydrychova Klimova

Abstract One aspect of English which non-native speakers (in this case the Czech academics) find difficult when learning the English language is the use of tentative language, sometimes also called hedging or a vague language. The reason is that this phenomenon in the Czech language is not that strong as in English. Therefore, the teachers of English as a foreign language should address this issue since its ignorance might cause serious cross-cultural misunderstandings in all spheres of human activities. The purpose of this paper is to discuss tentativeness or hedging within the framework of teaching academic writing at the Faculty of Informatics and Management at the University of Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic and illustrate the difficulties which the non-native speakers of English face when using it.

Academic research paper on topic "Using Tentative Language in English"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

ELSEVIER Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 116 (2014) 661 - 663

5th World Conference on Educational Sciences - WCES 2013

Using tentative language in English

Blanka Frydrychova Klimova*

University of Hradec Kralove, Faculty of Informatics and Management, Rokitanskeho 62, Hradec Kralove, 500 03, Czech Republic

Abstract

One aspect of English which non-native speakers (in this case the Czech academics) find difficult when learning the English language is the use of tentative language, sometimes also called hedging or a vague language. The reason is that this phenomenon in the Czech language is not that strong as in English. Therefore, the teachers of English as a foreign language should address this issue since its ignorance might cause serious cross-cultural misunderstandings in all spheres of human activities. The purpose of this paper is to discuss tentativeness or hedging within the framework of teaching academic writing at the Faculty of Informatics and Management at the University of Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic and illustrate the difficulties which the non-native speakers of English face when using it.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. Keywords: English language, tentativeness, non-native speakers, difficulties;

1. Introduction

Although British and Czech communication styles are at the same level of directness, they differ in the means of expressing it. The British express their tactfulness and politeness by using tentative language, both in a spoken and written way. In addition to that, the British seem to be more polite and indirect in the statements they make than the Czechs. For example, if a Czech teacher of English tells his/her students that the following lesson there might be a test. It means for the Czech students that there is a little chance of having a test next lesson. If they wrote a test, the teacher would tell them that there will be a test next lesson.

According to Roget's Thesaurus (8.10.2012), the word tentativeness means the act of hesitating or state of being hesitant. Synonyms of tentativeness can be hesitancy, indecision, irresolution or timidity. Sometimes the word tentative is replaced by the word diplomatic since the British are polite and try to express even the negative things in a diplomatic way, i.e. indirectly and tactfully.

For example:

This is a terrible idea. (harsh) x This is not the best idea. (tactful)

They have a problem. (impolite) x They have a slight issue. (tactful)

It was very expensive. (direct) x It was not cheap. (tactful)

He is wrong. (direct) x He might be right. (tactful)

The goods will be delayed. (direct) x The goods may be delayed. (tactful)

* Corresponding name :Blanka Frydrychova Klimova. Tel.: +420-493332318 E-mail address: blanka.klimova@uhk.cz

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Academic World Education and Research Center. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.275

2. Tentativeness/hedging in academic writing

Tentative language is particularly used in the writing of academic papers because the purpose of academic papers is questioning what is true and why it is true. Tentative language puts forth ideas as ideas, rather than offering ideas as definite answers. Sometimes tentative language is called hedging or vague language. The writers of academic papers use tentative language or hedging for several reasons:

1. They downplay their statements in order to reduce the risk of possible opposition, especially if their statements, arguments or claims are new and need further verifications.

2. One could consider hedges as ways of being more precise in reporting results because academic writers may well wish to reduce the strength of claims simply because stronger statements would be justified by the data or evidence presented.

3. Sometimes they use hedging in order to appear humble rather than arrogant or all-knowing.

As Lakoff (1972: 195) puts it, hedging refers to words or phrases whose job it is to make things fuzzier. The latest definition of hedges was given by Crompton (1997: 281): A hedge is an item of language which a speaker uses to explicitly qualify his/her lack of commitment to the truth of a proposition. He also proposes a taxonomy of hedges based on the following sentence patterns:

1. Sentences with copulas other than be. E.g.: The moon appears to be made of cheese.

2. Sentences with modals used epistemically. E.g.: The moon might be made of cheese.

3. Sentences with clauses relating to the probability of the subsequent proposition being true. E.g.: It is likely that the moon is made of cheese.

4. Sentences containing sentence adverbials which relate to the probability of the proposition being true. E.g.: The moon is probably made of cheese.

5. Sentences containing reported propositions where the author(s) can be taken to be responsible for any tentativeness in the verbal group or non-use of factive reporting verbs such as show, demonstrate, prove. These fall into two subtypes:

a) where authors explicitly designate themselves as responsible for the proposition being reported; e.g.: I suggest that the moon is made of cheese;

b) where authors use an impersonal subject but the agent is intended to be understood as themselves; e.g.: It is therefore suggested that the moon is made of cheese.

6. Sentences containing a reported proposition that a hypothesized entity X exists and the author(s) can be taken to be responsible for making the hypothesis. E.g.: These findings suggest a cheese moon.

Furthermore, Hyland (1994) emphasizes that hedging is a salient feature of academic discourse since academic discourse is simply objective and informational, written in an impersonal style with a minimum of overt references to the actions, choices, and judgments of the authors. This means that interactional features such as markers of epistemic modality are frequently presented as conventions of an academic culture in scientific papers. Epistemic modality is expressed through use of modal auxiliary verbs such as may, might and could, adjectival, adverbial and nominal modal expressions (possible, perhaps, probability), or modal lexical verbs (believe, assume). Based on research (Hyland 1994, Butler 1990 or Hanania & Akhtar 1985), the most frequent and important means are modal auxiliary verbs (cf. Hyland ibid.). He also claims that hedging exhibits a level of frequency much higher than many other linguistic features which have received considerably more attention.

Both Czech and English language have a system of modal verbs that express intrinsic/root modality (which includes permission, obligation and volition) and extrinsic/epistemic modality (which includes possibility, necessity and prediction). However, when expressing epistemic modality, adverbs or particles are usually used in the Czech language (cf. Duskova 1988). Epistemic modality refers to the way speakers communicate their doubts, certainties, and guesses — their "modes of knowing". For example:

The concept of themed tourist attractions are by no means a new phenomenon; indeed, it may be argued that the 'modern' perception of tourism owes its existence to stylised historical representations of the holiday or vacation experience, and that the utilisation of 'novelty-specific' leisure pursuits has spawned an entire industry dedicated to the provision of imaginary adventures to suit modern tastes.

Moreover, in English, there can be two means of expressing modality in one sentence while in Czech there is usually only one and in some cases none. For example: It may be possible. (Bude to snad mozne.)

Therefore, it is not natural for the Czech learners of English to master the language of hedging in English. Table 1 presents basic language means of expressing tentativeness/hedging which might be of interest to non-native speakers of English when they write an academic paper.

Table 1. Language means of expressing tentativeness/hedging (Gillett 8.10.2012)

1. Introductory verbs e.g. seem, tend, appear to be, think, believe, doubt, indicate, suggest

2. Certain lexical verbs e.g. believe, assume, suggest

3. Certain modal verbs e.g. will, would, may, might, could, should, ought to

4. Adverbs of frequency e.g. often, sometimes, usually

4. Modal adverbs e.g. probably, possibly, perhaps, likely, conceivably

5. Modal adjectives e.g. probable, possible

6. Modal nouns e.g. assumption, possibility, probability

7. That clauses e.g. It could be the case that . e.g. It might be suggested that . e.g. There is every hope that .

8. To-clause + adjective e.g. It may be possible to obtain . e.g. It is important to develop . e.g. It is useful to study .

3. Conclusion

Politeness expressed through means of tentative language is a pivotal feature of the English language, which is reflected across all the functional styles of English. Therefore, mastering of tentative language or the so-called hedging is a must for any non-native speaker if s/he wants to speak the right language and avoid cross-cultural misunderstandings. The use of hedging and tentativeness is most characteristic of academic discourse.

References

Butler, C. (1990). Qualifications in science: Modal meanings in scientific texts. In W. Nash (Ed.), The writing scholar: Studies in academic

discourse. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Crompton, P. (1997). Hedging in academic writing: Some theoretical problems. English for Specific Purposes, 16(4), 271-287. Duskova, L. (1988). Mluvnice soucasne anglictiny napozadi cestiny. Praha: Academia.

Gillett, A. Features of Academic Writing. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from http://www.uefap.com/writing/feature/featfram.htm. Hanania, E., & Akhtar, K. (1985). Verb form and rhetorical function in science writing: A study of MS theses in biology, chemistry and

physics. ESP Journal, 4, 49-58. Hyland, K. (1994). Hedging in academic writing and EAP textbooks. English for Specific Purposes, 13(3), 239-256. Lakoff, G. (1972). Hedges: A study in meaning criteria and the logic of fuzzy concepts. Chicago Linguistic Society Papers, 8, 183-228. Roget's Thesaurus. Retrieved October 8, 2012, from http://www.answers.com/topic/tentativeness.