Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

"Accept That You Should Change Your School's Policy": Pragmatic Strategies in EFL Written Communication

Academic journal article International Journal of Linguistics

"Accept That You Should Change Your School's Policy": Pragmatic Strategies in EFL Written Communication

Article excerpt


The present study seeks to focus on the pragmatic strategies used in EFL learners' written discourse. To this end, two groups of EFL learners were asked to write on two face-threatening topics. The analysis revealed that EFL learners used epistemic modal markers as an attempt to fulfill a range of certain pragmatic functions. Nevertheless, lack of attention to pragmatic functions of epistemic modals caused pragmatic infelicities, in particular for the lower proficient group. Besides, the study shed some light on the forms and functions of hedging devices and the strategies EFL learners use to fulfill certain pragmatic goals. Overall, the findings highlight the importance of pragmatic knowledge and the sequential and developmental stages involved in the acquisition of L2 pragmatic norms.

Keywords: Epistemic modality, EFL, Pragmatics, Hedging, Pragmatic failure

1. Introduction

Writing to an authoritative figure or a person with high social status requires pragmatic knowledge which includes, among others, awareness of politeness strategies. Should this letter be written in a second language, the pragmatic competence will include ""the critical language awareness of how discourse shapes and is shaped by power relations, identity, and ideologies in the target culture" (Chen, 2006, p.36).

Acquiring an effective knowledge of pragmatic aspects of the second language is now considered as a significant facet of the second language learning process (Haugh, 2007). In this regard, the importance of pragmatic knowledge in avoiding pragmatic failure in second language writing has long been highlighted by researchers working in the field (see, for example, Chen, 2010; Hinkel, 2009; Hyland, 1994; Hyland & Milton, 1997; Parvaresh et al., 2012). One important way to achieve pragmatic success in writing is the right manipulation and use of epistemic devices.

Modals are important features of second language writing because inappropriate use of modal markers can cause pragmatic infelicities that lead to failure in conveying the intended illocutionary force or politeness value (Blum-Kulka et al., 1989). In this respect, the present study is a small step in this direction trying to analyze the pragmatic success and failure of EFL learners in using epistemic modal markers. In fact, the study seeks to answer the following research questions:

1) What are the pragmatic functions of the epistemic modal markers that EFL learners use in their formal and informal writing?

2) What are the pragmatic strategies that EFL learners use to achieve certain illocutionary goals?

3) What are the most common pragmatic errors in EFL learners' writing?

2. Epistemic Modality and Hedging

Very few studies have addressed the use of modal markers in L1 or L2 writing, "with a likely exception of their uses as hedges, qualifiers, or markers of (un)certainty" (Hinkel, 2009, p. 672). Epistemic modals have a range of textual and pragmatic functions and are often employed to "mark evidentiality, possibility and likelihood, strategic vagueness, and politeness in discourse" (Hinkel, 2009, p. 672). However, the pragmatics of epistemic modality is often equated with what is frequently referred to in the literature as "hedging' (Chen, 2010; Holmes, 1990; Milton & Hyland, 1999; Vázquez & Giner, 2008; Vold, 2006).

Hyland (1998a, p. 2) has emphasized the link between hedging and epistemic modality by stating that "the writer or speaker's judgments about statements and their possible effects on interlocutors is the essence of hedging, and this clearly places epistemic modality at the center of our interest." Furthermore, Hyland (1998b, p. 5) believes that "items are only hedges in their epistemic sense, and only when they express uncertainty."

Linguistically speaking, hedges can take many forms of manifestation common among which are epistemic modal auxiliaries. Hinkel (2009) notes that the uses of possibility and ability modals, such as can, may, might, could, and to be able to in written discourse, contribute to the broad range of syntactic and lexical means of hedging. …

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