Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Functions of Hedging: The Case of Academic Persian Prose in One of Iranian Universities

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Functions of Hedging: The Case of Academic Persian Prose in One of Iranian Universities

Article excerpt


As a feature of academic writing, hedging deals with toning down of scientific claims. There is a clear pedagogical justification for clarification of the concept, especially since it is usually a source of failure in the writing of many foreign/ second language writers of the English language. This problem prompted us to explore it in-depth and see what the underlying assumptions of our academic authors are regarding the issue of hedging. Several studies have aimed at defining and identifying it based upon formal and functional categories (Myers, 1989; Salager Meyers, 1994; Crompton, 1997; Hyland, 1994, 1997, 2005; Lewin 2005, etc.). In the present study, we have tried to investigate the notion in Persian academic prose in two departments of an Iranian university. In order to bring theory into practice, through the text analysis of 32 RAs and some interviews with the writers of the texts under analysis, the question of the function of hedging is studied. It seems that the authors in this study use hedging mainly in its threat-minimizing and politeness functions, which are the social aspects of the issue. Epistemic modality as a cognitive motivation for hedging appears to be less of a concern to the authors under the study.

Key words: Hedging; Epistemic modality; Tone down; Knowledge claim


In this section, we will introduce the concept of hedging; provide a brief history of the issue, followed by our rationale for conducting the research. Hedging as an important feature of academic writing has recently received a good focus in applied linguistics. It constitutes the expression of possibility and cautiousness in scientific claims. Academic writing is the domain where claims, unproven and non-fact statements, are presented, and since they do not have the status of facts, they should be expressed tentatively. It is more academic to say 'it seems that X' rather than 'it is X,' where X is a proposition.

Hedging was first introduced by G. Lakoff (1972) as "words whose job is to make things fuzzy..." (P. 195). From that time on, a good body of conceptual and empirical research has been undertaken on the subject. Researchers have aimed at studying different issues relating to the concept, mainly the issues of its definition, form and function, both in conversational (e.g. Holmes, 1984, 1995; Coats 1989) and in written corpora (Myers 1992; Fahnestock 1992; Round 1982; Salager- Meyer 1994; Hyland 2005; Lewin 2005). Besides having theoretical attribution, studying hedging is important in this regard that we think the reason why many of researches done in our country are not reflected in English countries may be the issue of hedging. Hedging is a contested issue. The divergencies are greater regarding the question of its form, because forms that perform the task of hedging have other functions too (Crompton 1997, Hyland 1996).

There also has been a good deal of debate on the problem of the function of hedging. For Skelton (1988a), hedging means commentative language, a function through which propositions are modulated. Myers (1989) regards it as a politeness strategy and Hyland (1994) identifies it with epistemic modality as defined by Lyons (1977): "Any utterance in which the speaker explicitly qualifies his commitment to the truth of the proposition expressed by the sentence he utters... is an epistemically modal or moralized sentence" (p. 797).

Then Hyland explains that "the epistemic system is therefore concerned with the display of confidence, or more usually lack of confidence, in the truth of propositional information. Typically, hedging is expressed through use of modal auxiliary verbs such as may..." (p. 240). Crompton (1997) defines it as "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/she utters" (p. 282). While regarding Myers' sociological account of hedging as 'only a partial account', Hyland (1996) believes that there is 'a complex overlap of motivations for hedging' (p. …

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