It’s Small Words that Make a Big Difference
Even a cursory look at any tapescript of a native speaker’s spontaneous conversation clearly shows that spoken discourse is abundant with hedges. Traditionally, conversational hedges have been, if not omitted, little emphasized in grammar reference books or ELT textbooks. However, these small words (Hasselgreen 2002) play a key role in spoken interaction. They add texture to the spoken language and make the learner sound not only more polite but also more fluent and native-like. The purpose of this study is to investigate EFL students’ attitude to the use of hedging expressions in spoken discourse as well as their awareness of the meanings and functions of these mitigating devices. The hedging devices under study are items most frequently found in native-speaker speech (‘I mean’, ‘sort of/kind of’, ‘just’,‘like’, ‘I think’, ‘I guess’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘you know’, ‘or something/or something like that’), according to Michigan Corpus of American Spoken English (MICASE) and Cambridge and Nottingham Corpus of Discourse in English (CANCODE) corpora findings. The subjects were 19 advanced students of English. A questionnaire, which consisted of three sections, was administered to elicit the students’ responses. The results indicate that foreign language students, despite their high level of language proficiency, are not conscious of the interpersonal functions that hedging devices fulfill, which might be due to the fact that this aspect of pragmatic competence is neglected both by language teachers and textbook writers. The paper, therefore, discusses some possible pedagogical implications involved in preparing learners to become more interactionally competent speakers.
KeywordsForeign Language Native Speaker Direct Speech Pragmatic Function Small Word
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