This summary is inspired by the webinar given by Ros Wright on fuzziness and teaching grammar. Ros recommended a paper by John Skelton, whose definition of “fuzziness” and “hedges” has become central to the research of many other linguists. Hyland, Kibui and Demir researched the use of hedges in the academic and scientific medical writing of both native and non-native English users. Their papers include pedagogical implications and lists of the most frequently used hedges. All of them believe that teaching hedges to EFL learners deserves more attention and continuous training aimed at overcoming a communication gap in interactions with English-native speakers.
In brief, the Cambridge English Dictionary defines fuzziness as “the quality of being not detailed or exact enough” and hedging as “a way of avoiding giving a direct answer or opinion”.
In his paper, Skelton describes the term of fuzziness by referring to Lakoff (1972) who uses the notion of hedging. In contrast to Lakoff, Skelton considers hedges to be “a resource, not a problem” in communication. Regarding teaching EFL, he presents ideas on sensitization exercises, rewriting exercises or making comments using hedging devices.
Hyland points out that scientific writing is more than a series of impersonal statements and enumeration of facts because the writers interpret research data, assess information, express propositions, and present their knowledge from their perspective, which is determined by sources available at the time of writing. He presents teaching strategies such as comparative genre analysis, corpora-based data analysis, the identification of hedges in a short passage, comparative discourse analysis of longer texts, writing and rewriting one’s own pieces followed by providing students with feedback.
Kibui aims to determine the types of hedges used in the discussion sections of medical research discourse, establish their frequency and their pragmatic functions. The analysis revealed that the most frequently used hedges include modal verbs, verbs (e. g. assume, believe, indicate, reveal, seem), adjectives (e. g. likely, possible, slight, suggested, uncertain), and adverbs (e. g. approximately, generally, mainly, rather, usually). The author concludes that the “frequent use of hedges in discussions sections of medical journals implies that they are used with a purpose to communicate a message rather than just being vague”.
Demir compares the use of certain types of hedges and the strategies of their use in academic writing. The author provides a list of pedagogical implications and a list of hedges that can support non-native English users when writing their pieces. Demir supports the use of hedges in the abstract and introduction of a scientific paper in order to attract the audience and raise their curiosity to read the whole text. In contrast, hedges should be avoided in the discussion and conclusion of a paper.
Skelton, J. (1988). The care and maintenance of hedges.
Hyland, K. (1996). Nurturing hedges in the ESP curriculum. System, 24(4), 477-490.
Kibui, A. W. (2016). Pedagogical implications of hedging in the discussions of medical research discourse. International Journal of Humanities, Arts, Medicines and Sciences, 4(2), 75-82.
Demir, C. (2018), Hedging and academic writing: an analysis of lexical hedges. Journal of Language Studies, 14(4), 74-92.