4.3.4 Epistemic Modality and Hedging

Epistemic modality and hedging are not recognised explicitly by the GRC, although a teacher / assessor might acknowledge them under 'allowing / encouraging others to have their say' or 'using language suited to the listener(s)' .

These forms appeared to varying degrees in the data, and again are used by speakers of both genders. B1, a tentative speaker, hedges to a considerable extent when he speaks. The two boys in Group II use hedges, apparently to signal lack of commitment to their propositions. In groups I and VII, the girls use hedges and epistemic modal forms where there is doubt or potential conflict, and not otherwise. In Group IV, the use of hedging appears to be linked to relative status of the speaker within the hierarchy: G7, the most subordinate speaker, uses the greatest number in proportion to how much she speaks, while G5, the most dominant speaker, uses very few hedges. Very few hedges and epistemic modals appear in Group VI, and those which do appear not to be triggered by the need to negotiate potential conflict, but more as purely epistemic forms, to indicate degrees of doubt. Almost no hedges appear in Group III's discussion, where conflict is explicit, and assertions are frequently aggravated. The same is true to a lesser degree of Group V, where G10 uses hedges to mitigate her propositions and her dissent from G9's suggestions, but G9 makes a number of aggravated assertions.

The use of epistemic modality and hedging appears to be consistent with other aspects of the groups' behaviour regarding co-operative and competitive talk.


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