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In pragmatics (a sub-field of linguistics), a hedge is a mitigating word, sound or construction used to lessen the impact of an utterance due to constraints on the interaction between the speaker and addressee, such as politeness, softening the blow, avoiding the appearance of bragging and others. Typically, they are adjectives or adverbs, but can also consist of clauses such as one use of tag questions. It could be regarded as a form of euphemism.
- There might just be a few insignificant problems we need to address. (adjective)
- The party was somewhat spoiled by the return of the parents. (adverb)
- I'm not an expert but you might want to try restarting your computer. (clause)
- That's false, isn't it. (tag question clause)
Hedges may intentionally or unintentionally be employed in both spoken and written language since they are crucially important in communication. Hedges help speakers and writers indicate more precisely how the cooperative principle (expectations of quantity, quality, manner, and relevance) is observed in assessments. For example,
- All I know is smoking is harmful to your health.
- In (1), it can be observed that information conveyed by the speaker is limited by adding all I know. By so saying, the speaker wants to inform that she is not only making an assertion but observing the maxim of quantity as well.
- They told me that they are married.
- If the speaker only says that "they are married" and they do not know for sure if they are married, they may violate the maxim of quality since they say something that they do not know to be true or false. Nevertheless, by adding they told me that, the speaker wants to confirm that they are observing the conversational maxim of quality.
- I am not sure if all of these are clear to you, but this is what I know.
- The above example (3) shows that hedges are good indications the speakers are not only conscious of the maxim of manner, but they are also trying to observe them.
- By the way, you like this car?
- By using by the way, what has been said by the speakers is not relevant to the moment in which the conversation takes place. Such a hedge can be found in the middle of speakers' conversation as the speaker wants to switch to another topic that is different from the previous one. Therefore, by the way functions as a hedge indicating that the speaker wants to drift into another topic or to stop the previous topic.
- Ariel, Mira (2008), Pragmatics and Grammar, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Ariel, Mira (2010), Defining Pragmatics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Grundy, Peter (2000), Doing Pragmatics, London: Arnold.
- Hurford, J.R. and B. Heasley (1997), Semantics: A Course Book, Ho Chi Minh City: Youth Press.
- Levinson, Stephen C. (1983), Pragmatics, Cambridge University Press.
- Thomas, Jenny (1995), Meaning in Interaction, Longman Group Limited.