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Hedging Research in Pragmatics: A Bibliographical Research Guide to Hedging


I Introduction
Hedging: A Challange for Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis

II Hegding Strategies in Academic Discourse
Abstract 1
Abstract 2
Abstract 3

III Interactive Aspects of Hedging
Abstract 1
Abstract 2
Abstract 3

IV Cross-cultural Aspects of Hedging
Abstract 1
Abstract 2
Abstract 3
Abstract 4

V Hedging: The Concept, its Origins and a Bibliographical Guide
Abstract 1
Abstract 2

Hartmut Schröder and Dagmar Zimmer


1. Introductory remarks


By the term 'hedging research', we mean a complex research area within the fields of pragmatics, linguistics, semantics, logics and philosophy. In each of these research areas, the term 'hedge'/'hedging' is referred to in a different way. In the present research guide, we mainly view 'hedges'/'hedging' as a concept of pragmatics. In pragmatics, the concept of 'hedge'/'hedging' is linked to politeness phenomena, mitigation, vagueness and modality. A hedge is either defined as one or more lexico-syntactical elements that are used to modify a proposition, or else, as a strategy that modifies a proposition. The term 'hedging' is used to refer to the textual strategies of using linguistic means as hedges in a certain context for specific communicative purposes, such as politeness, vagueness, mitigation, etc.


The aim of this bibliographical research guide is to facilitate access to bibliographical information about 'hedging'/'hedges'. We do not only intend to present theoretical studies, but also those that explore possible applications of 'hedging' research (translation, intercultural communication, language learning, etc.).


The structure of this research guide is as follows. Firstly, we deal with the development of the concepts 'hedges' and 'hedging' (chapter 2). In the main section of this guide (chapter 3), we give bibliographical information on discourse-oriented hedging research in pragmatics (chapter 3.1.), on concepts that are related to the concept of hedging (chapter 3.2.) and, furthermore, we present research of 'hedging'/'hedges' in areas other than in pragmatics (chapter 3.3). Finally, we present studies that focus on possible applications of results from hedging research (chapter 4). Our overview ends with the bibliography itself.


The limits of this bibliographical research guide are the following. Our intention is not a critical evaluation of the research literature. Moreover, we wish to limit ourselves to a mere presentation of bibliographical data and hope, thus, to present a helpful reference work. We did not only choose literature that explicitly deals with 'hedges'/'hedging', but also literature that refers to concepts linked to 'hedges'/'hedging', such as politeness, mitigation, vagueness and modality. We considered monographies, dissertations, articles published in journals and joint publications and entries in dictionaries. Of course, we do not presume to give a comprehensive account of all publications in hedging research. However, we decided to limit ourselves mainly to English and German research literature.


This bibliographical research guide was compiled with an electronic database that was created with the program File MakerPro. The database contains 270 sets (including the articles of the present volume). The database allows the retrieval of research literature in various ways. The ranking can be implemented according to the alphabetical order of the authors' names, to the search terms, and to the year of publication. Thus, the database permitted us retrieval of information from different angles.


Despite our original intention to make this database available to a larger audience, we decided to refrain from doing so. We realized during the process of creating the database that an electronic presentation of the data would not supply the user with more information and retrieval options than are possible in a traditional print medium. One of the most important advantages of an electronic database would be the elaboration of a citation index that allows exploration of a large number of research works as a cohesive network. The creation of such an index is among our goals for future research.


2. The development of the concepts hedge and hedging


There are only a few entries in linguistic dictionaries dealing with the concepts 'hedge' and 'hedging'. We found entries with 'Hecken' and 'Heckenbildung' (the German equivalents for hedge and hedging) only in two recent German linguistic dictionaries (Bußmann 1990 and Gippert 1993) and, furthermore, in one English dictionary of stylistics (Wales 1989). The German dictionary entries present a semantic definition of the concepts on the basis of the early contribution of Lakoff. However, the Dictionary of Stylistics gives a twofold definition of hedging from the point of view of semantics and pragmatics (including discourse analysis and speech act theory). The following contributions seem fundamental to the early development of the concept of hedging (in chronological order).


First, we have to mention Zadeh (1965) and Weinreich (1966) as the most important predecessors of hedging research. Both, Zadeh and Weinreich, dealt with the concept without using the term 'hedge' and 'hedging'. Zadeh (1965) deals in his article "Fuzzy Sets" with aspects of the so-called fuzzy set theory. He notes that classes, such as "animals", which have been conceived as having fixed membership criteria, have a "continuum of classification grades". According to fuzzy-set theory, an item always only fits to a certain extent into a class (continuum of classification grades). Weinreich (1966) deals in his article "On the Semantic Structure of English" with the phenomenon of hedging, labelling it "metalinguistic operators". He argues that "for every language 'metalinguistic operators' such as (in) English true, real, so-called, strictly speaking, and (in) German eigentlich, and the most powerful extrapolator of all - like - function as instructions for the loose or strict interpretation of designata" (1966, 163).


The designation 'hedge'/'hedging' itself was introduced first by G. Lakoff (1972) in his article "Hedges: A Study in Meaning Criteria and the Logic of Fuzzy Concepts". In his synchronic, non-contrastive study of the oral and written standard English, Lakoff defines 'hedges' (from the point of view of language philosophy) as words whose function is to make meanings fuzzier (eg. sort of) or less fuzzy. Lakoff argues that the logic of hedges requires serious semantic analysis for all predicates. He (1972, 195) defines hedges as follows: "For me, some of the most interesting questions are raised by the study of words whose meaning implicitly involves fuzziness - words whose job it is to make things fuzzier or less fuzzy. I will refer to such words as 'hedges'".


In his article "Fuzzy-Set - Theoretic Interpretation of Linguistic Hedges", Zadeh (1972) followed Lakoff in using the new designation 'hedge' and analyzed English hedges (such as simple ones like very, much, more or less, essentially, and slightly and more complex ones like technically and practically) from the point of view of semantics and logics. The author assumes that hedges are operators that act on the fuzzy set representing the meaning of their operands. Hedges vary in their dependency on context. In a later publication, Zadeh (1975) studied the written standard English from the point of view of psycholinguistics.


Furthermore, fundamental contributions were made again by G. Lakoff (1973) with the focus on lexicography, and by Rosch (1973) from the point of view of cognitive psychology. Rosch (1978, 39) deals with semantic prototypes from the point of view of cognition and argues "that natural languages themselves possess linguistic mechanisms for coding and coping its gradients of category membership". In Rosch's opinion hedges belong to those mechanisms. In his article "Hedged Performatives", Fraser (1975) analyzed modal verbs from the point of view of pragmatics. In more recent publications, Fraser deals with the hedging phenomenon from the point of view of mitigation and politeness research (Fraser 1980) and from the point of view of discourse markers (Fraser 1990).


Brown/Levinson (1978, 1987), dealing with politeness in verbal interaction from the point of view of pragmatics, viewed hedges as a device to avoid disagreement. They describe hedges as a strategy or an expression of negative politeness (see chapters 5.3.1. and 5.4. in Brown/Levinson 1978). Prince/Bosk/Frader (1982) conducted an empirical study of hedging in discourse among physicians working in an intensive care unit. The authors distinguish between two types of hedges, those that affect the truth-conditions of propositions ('approximators') and those not affecting the truth conditions but showing the speaker's commitment to the truth-value of the whole proposition ('shields'). Rounds (1982) introduced the notion of 'diffusers' meaning that "they tend to disperse or cut off a source of disagreement or argument".


The first monograph about hedges was published by Hübler (1983). In his book "Understatements and Hedges in English", Hübler makes a distinction between understatements and hedges, although he also uses understatement as a covering term for both. Understatement proper means for him that "the emotional negatability (of sentences) is restricted through the indertermination of the phrastic", i.e. concerns the propositional content of the sentence (...), whereas hedging means that it "is restricted through the indertermination of the neuistic", i.e. concerns the speaker's attitude to the hearer regarding the proposition. Other important publications on the very concept hedge and hedging are Markkanen/Schröder (1988, 1992), Darian 1995, Salager-Meyer (1995) and, furthermore, the articles by Holmes (1982a, 1982b, 1984), who deals with hedges from the point of view of teaching and learning English as a second language. Holmes defines hedges as devices for attenuating the strength of utterance (1982a) and as a part of epistemic modality (1982b, 1984).


The research in the field of 'hedges'/'hedging' has mainly been undertaken by scholars from English-speaking countries, and 79 % of the publications in our bibliography are written in English. Considering the growing importance of English as an international language of research, it is interesting to note that, nevertheless, more than 19 % of the publications we gathered were written in German. Only 2 % of the works in our bibliography were written in other languages than English and German, namely in French, Finnish, Spanish, and Italian.


Not surprisingly, the vast majority of our publications treat 'hedges'/'hedging' as phenomenons of the English and the German language. However, especially since the second half of the 1980's, a growing number of researchers expanded their interest beyond these two languages. The following languages/dialects (in alphabetical order) have been subjects of research:

Amele: Roberts (1990)

Chinese: Chen (1993), Gu (1990)

Daco-Romanian: Ionescu-Ruxandoiu (1989)

Danish: Abraham (1990)

Dutch: Abraham (1990)

English: Aijmer (1984, 1987), Ayto/Walford (1986), Blum-Kulka (1985), Brainbridge (1994), Brown/Levinson(1978, 1987), Busch-Lauer (1994), Butler (1990), Clemen (1990), Clyne (1991), Crismore/Markkanen/Steffensen (1993), Crismore/Vande Kopple (1988, 1990), Damerau (1977), Dubois (1987), Edwards (1984), Flowerdew (1991), Fraser (1975), Grabe/Kaplan (in the present volume), Grundy (1989), Heinämäki (1972), Henkel (1983), Herrmann (1975), Holmes (1986, 1988, 1990), Hosman/Wright (1987), House/Kasper (1981), Hübler (1983), James (1983), Johnson/Vinson 1990), Lachowicz (1981), Lakoff, G. (1972, 1987), Lehrer (1989), Loewenberg (1982), Luukka/Markkanen (in the present volume), Markkanen/Schröder (1988, 1992), Meyer (in the present volume), Nikula (in the present volume), O'Connor (1993), Östman (1981), Pindi/Bloor (1987), Powell (1985), Preisler (1986), Rasmussen/Moely (1986), Salager-Meyer (1990), Salager-Meyer/Salas (1991), Semiloff (1977), Underhill (1988), Vinson/Johnson (1989), (1966), Wickboldt (1985), Wierzbicka (1986, 1991), Wilss (in the present volume), Zadeh (1972, 1975)

Frisian: Abraham (1990)

French: Haarmann (1992), Prince (1976), Rastier (1983), Vicher/Sankoff (1989), Wiggli (1982)

German: Abraham (1990, 1991), Busch-Lauer (1994), Buscha/Heinrich/Zoch (1985), Clyne (1991), Clyne/Hoeks/Kreutz (1988), Dittmar/Terborg (1990), Erben (1994), Günther (1992), Haarmann (1992), von Hahn (1983), Hinrichs (1984), House/Kasper (1981), House/Vollmer (1988), Koch (1985), Köhler (1981), Kretzenbacher (1991), Kreutz (in the present volume), Liebert (1994), Lovik (1990), Markkanen/Schröder (1988, 1992), Marui/Reinelt (1985), Öhlschläger (1989), Sanders (1992), Schröder (1989), Weinreich (1966), Weinrich (1993), Werlen (1983), Weydt/Harden/Hentschel/Rösler (1983), Wimmer (1987), Zierer (1987).

Hebrew: Blum-Kulka (1982, 1985), Maschler (1994)

Icelandic: Abraham (1990)

Italian: Kinder (1985, 1987, 1988), Venier (1986)

Japanese: Inoue (1983), Ohta (1991), Matsumoto (1989), Marui/Reinelt (1985)

Polish: Duszak (1994), Wierzbicka (1991)

Rumanian: Popescu, Radu (1985)

Russian: Namsaraev (1991, in the present volume)

Spanish: Berk-Seligson (1987).

Research in the field of 'hedging'/'hedges' has increased rapidly after its inauguration by Zadeh (1965). Less than 1 % of the works in our database were published in the 1960's. The number of publications from the 1970's is about 10 %. A little more than 53 % of all collected publications were published in the 1980's. Publications of the 1990's already make up 35 % of our entries. This research area thus seems to be a flourishing field.

1965-1966 2 0,7 %

1972-1979 30 11,1 %

1980-1989 142 52,6 %

1990-1995 96 35,6 %

total: 270 100 %

The immense increase in research activities since the 1980's may be attributed to a broadening of the concept of hedges. In the 1970's, hedges were almost exclusively viewed from the semantic point of view. In the 1980's however, the concept of hedges was broadened because of the growing influence of pragmatic research. In pragmatics, hedges are seen as realizations of interactional/communicative strategies in contexts of mitigation, politeness, indirectness, etc.


3. Hedging research in pragmatics and other areas


3.1. Discourse-oriented hedging research


Biber (1988, 240) gives a discourse-oriented definition of hedges:


Hedges are informal, less specific markers of probability or uncertainty. Downtoners give some indication of the degree of uncertainty; hedges simply mark a proposition as uncertain. (...) Biber (1986a) finds hedges co-occurring with interactive features (e.g., first and second person pronouns and questions) and with other features marking reduced or generalized lexical content (e.g., general emphatics, pronoun it, contractions).


For more information on discourse-oriented hedging research, see also Markkanen/Schröder (1988, 1992, in the present volume), Salager-Meyer/Salas (1991), Salager-Meyer (1995).


From the point of view of discourse analysis Prince et al. (1982) distinguish between two types of hedges, those that affect the truth conditions of propositions (approximators) and those that do not affect the truth conditions, but show the speaker's commitment to the truth value of the whole proposition (shields). The authors discovered hedges mainly in the discourse that was related to the physicians' uncertainty in the medical-technical domain. For more information on discourse-oriented hedging research, see also Markkanen/ Schröder (in the present volume), Nyyssönen (1988), Rounds (1982).


Biber (1988), Choul (1982), Fraser (1990), Maschler (1994), Ohta (1991), Redeker (1990), Schiffrin (1991), Stubbs (1986), Vicher/Sankoff 1989 described hedges as discourse markers. House/Kasper (1981) viewed hedges as downgraders among modality markers; Abraham (1991), James (1983), Keseling (1989), Östman (1981), Rudolph (1986), Weydt et al. (1983) dealt with the hedging phenomenon under the concept of discourse particles. Weinreich (1966) dealt with the hedging phenomenon under the term metalinguistic operators. Following this Crismore/Markkanen (1993), Hinrichs (1984), Markkanen (1991) and Markkanen/Steffensen/Crismore (1993) viewed hedges as a part of metadiscourse.


Blum-Kulka (1982, 1985), Blum-Kulka/Olshtain (1984), Chen (1993), Falkenberg (1981), Flowerdew (1991), Givon (1983), Gu (1990), Holmes (1984), House/Vollmer (1988), Koch (1985), Lavandera (1988), Lüger (1992), Markkanen (1985), Meyer (in the present volume), Nicoloff (1989), Panther (1981), Rolf (1984), Sökeland (1981), Werlen (1983) dealt with hedges from the point of view of speech act theory. For example, Panther (1981) distinguished in his article about indirect speech acts in scientific communication between three kinds of indirect speech acts, abstraction of the writer and reader, the use of hedged performatives and the formulation of requests. According to the author, these indirect speech acts are not necessarily an expression of politeness towards the reader. Moreover, they are used to construct the image of the author as an 'objective scientist'. Flowerdew (1991) validates in his empirical study the claim that a representative speech act, namely the act of defining, can be subject to modification, just as a directive, a commissive, or an expressive can. The author's examples show that when the speech act of defining is performed, a lot more is going on the interpersonal dimension than the conveyance of truth or falsehood. The author separates indirectness and politeness from hedges. He defines hedges as a sub-category of mitigation.


Last, but not least, Channell (1985), Henkel (1983), Lee (1987), Matsumoto (1989), Nikula (in the present volume), and Nyyssönen (1988) analyzed hedges from the point of view of conversation analysis.


3.2. Theoretical foundations of hedging research in pragmatics and related concepts


Mitigation: Erben (1994), Flowerdew (1991), Fraser (1980), Henkel (1983), Labov (1973), Lüger (1992), Pomerantz (1984).


Politeness: Blum-Kulka (1982), Blum-Kulka/Olshtain (1984), Bradac/Street (1989/90), Brown/Levinson (1978, 1987), Carrell/Konnecker (1981), Chen (1993), Flowerdew (1991), Fraser (1980), Giles/Bradac (1994), Gu (1990), Haarmann (1992), Hagge/Kostelnick (1989), Herbert (1990), Holmes (1993), House/Kasper (1981), Ionescu-Ruxandoiu (1989), Janney/Arndt (1993), Johnson (1992), Kreutz (in the present volume), Labov (1973), Lakoff, R.T. (1974), Lavandera (1988), Leech (1983), Lüger (1992), Maier (1992), Matsumoto (1989), Morley (1987), Mulkay (1985), Myers (1989), Namsaraev (in the present volume), Ohta (1991), Östman (1981), Panther (1981), Weinrich (1993), Werlen (1983), Weydt/Harden/Hentschel/Rösler (1983).


Vagueness: Blum-Kulka (1982), Busch-Lauer (1994), Caffi/Janney (1994), Channell (1980), Channell (1985), Channell (1990), Channell (1994), Erben (1994), Gruber (1993), Günther (1992), von Hahn (1983), Henkel (1983), Jahr (1992), Lakoff, G. (1992), Lüger (1992), Morley (1987), Müller (1980), Pinkal (1980/81, 1985a, 1985b), Powell (1985), Rieger (1989), Rudolph (1986), Schneider (1988), Scriven (1976), Sörensen (1990), Spies (1993), Werlich (1983),Wierzbicka (1986), Wolski (1980), Zuck/Zuck (1987).


3.3. Hedging research in areas other than pragmatics


Hedging research from the point of view of logics: Drösser (1994), Gippert (1993), Kiefer (1994), Kusunose (1976), Lakoff, G. (1972, 1973), McCawley (1981), McNeill/Freiberger (1994), Spieß (1993), Wolski (1980), Zadeh (1965, 1972, 1975).


Hedging research from the point of view of semantics: Abraham (1984), Bußmann (1990), Channell (1980), Coates (1983), Damerau (1977), Gippert (1993), Glass/Holyak (1974), Günther (1992), Hinrichs (1984), Kay (1987), Kayser (1978), Kusunose (1976), Lakoff, G. (1982, 1986, 1987), Lee (1987), Müller (1980), Neubert (1985), Öhlschläger (1989), Perkins (1982), Pinkal (1985a, 1985b), Popescu (1985), Prince (1976), Rieger (1989), Taylor (1994), Wachtel (1980), Weinreich (1966), Werlich (1983), Wierzbicka (1986), Zadeh (1972).


Hedging research from the point of view of rhetorics and stylistics: Busch-Lauer (1994), Crismore/Markkanen/Steffensen (1993), Crismore/Vande Kopple (1990) Crismore/Vande Kopple (1990b), Danet (1976), Duszak (1994), Fiedler (1985), Kretzenbacher (1991), Lachowicz (1981), Lakoff, R. T. (1977), Lauer (1985), Lindeberg (1994), Loewenberg (1982), McLain (1977), Meyer (in the present volume), Perttunen (1990), von Polenz (1981), Sanders (1992), Staley (1982), Stubbs (1986), Wimmer (1987).


4. Possible applications of hedging research


The most important possible applications of hedging research are in the field of applied linguistics. Holmes (1982b) conducted a study of the difficulties ESL-learners (ESL = English as a Special Language) have as far as expressions of epistemic modality are concerned. She pointed out "three sources of potential difficulty, the problem of establishing the precise degree of certainty expressed by particular linguistic forms; the range of linguistic forms available for signalling this aspect of meaning; and the interaction of different types of meaning in different contexts." Holmes made some suggestions which may assist second language learners wishing to develop competence in expressing and interpreting degrees of certainty and convictions in English. For more information on questions concerning ESL, see also James/Garrett (1991), R.T. Lakoff (1975), Pindi/Bloor (1987), Simpson (1990) and Holmes (1988).


Adams (1986), Bamberg/Damrad-Frye (1991), Bateman (1988), Dittmar/ Terborg (1990), Green (1984) conducted research from the point of view of language acquisition studies. Markkanen (1991), Markkanen/Schröder (1988), Neubert (1985), Perttunen (1990) and Schröder (1989) viewed hedging as a translation problem and Kolde (1989) dealt with hedges and hedging from the point of view of lexicography.


Communication research: Aijmer (1987), Bradac/Hemphill/Tardy (1981), Brooke/Ng (1986), Cameron (1992), Coates (1989), Crismore/Vande Kopple (1988), Di Pietro (1982), Erickson/Lind/ Johnson/O'Barr (1978), Hagge/Kostelnick (1989), Herbert (1990), Holmes (1986), Holmes (1990), Hosman (1989), Hosman/Wright (1987), Kramarae (1992), R.T. Lakoff (1977), Loewenberg (1982), McMullen/Pasloski (1992), Preisler (1986), Rasmussen/Moely (1986), Rieger (1989), Semiloff (1977), Vinson/Johnson (1989), Wright/Hosman (1983).


Academic communication research: Bell/Zahn/Hopper (1984), Busch-Lauer (1994), Butler (1990), Channel (1990), Clyne (1991), Dubois (1987), Duszak (1994), Fiedler (1985), Gilbert/Mulkay (1984), Grabe/Kaplan (in the present volume), von Hahn (1983), Hyland (1994), Janney/Arndt (1993), Köhler (1981), Kretzenbacher (1991), Lachowicz (1981), Liebert (1994), Lindeberg (1994), Luukka/Markkanen (in the present volume), Markkanen/Schröder (1992), Master (1991), Mauranen (in the present volume), Meyer (1989), Meyer (1990), Meyer (in the present volume), Myers (1989), Namsaraev (in the present volume), Panther (1981), Perttunen (1990), von Polenz (1981), Rounds (1982), Salager-Meyer (1992), Salager-Meyer/Salas (1991), Sanders (1992), Schröder (1988), Simpson (1990), Skelton (in the present volume), Sökeland (1981), Ventola (1992), Wilss (in the present volume), Wimmer (1987).


Intercultural communication studies: Blum-Kulka (1984), Brown/Levinson (1978), Clyne (1991), Crismore/Markkanen/Steffensen (1993), Duszak (1994), Haarmann (1992), Holmes (1982a, 1982b, 1988), House/Kasper (1981), Janney/Arndt (1993), Kinder (1988), Labov 1973), Lüger (1992), Markkanen (1991), Markkanen/Schröder (1988, 1992), Marui/Reinelt (1985), Nyyssönen (1988), Schröder (1989),Ventola (1992), Wierzbicka (1991).