Hedging Strategies in Written Academic Discourse
Strengthening the Argument by Weakening the Claim - abstract
Starting from some extreme examples of hedging found in academic texts, the paper describes some typical strategies:
- volitional modality (would like to...),
- inherently weak illocutionary forces (suspect, suggest),
- pretending that the facts actually speak for themselves, or compel the author to claim what s/he is claiming
(This explains..., it must be concluded...),
- invoking the fact-finding process itself (it is found that...),
- shifting responsibility to method: 'techniques enable us' to perform some desirable speech act,
Modal expressions of ability also occur as true hedges:
- to hedge a speech act verb, (What can be said is..),
- as tokens of politeness to the authors of other texts (We can agree that...)
- in connection with coming-to-know verbs, to further weaken the strength of an assertion (...can be found ...),
- to question the completeness of the knowledge reported (As far as can be ascertained...).
Hedging in academic texts cannot be reduced to mere politeness, face saving, or discourse conventions. It reflects the uncertainty of scientific knowledge and the strict validity of the second Gricean maxim of quality.