Epistemic modality and hedging

This aspect of the discussion also suggests that there is a hierarchical relationship between G5, G6, and G7. G6 uses more than half of all the hedges and markers of epistemic modality which appear in this discussion, 26 forms out of a total for the whole discussion of 47 forms, more than twice as many as G5, who only uses 9 forms. Although G6 uses also nearly three times as many epistemic modal forms and hedges in an absolute sense as G7, who uses 12 epistemic modal forms and hedges, G7 uses the greatest number of these forms in proportion to how much she speaks. The distribution of these features also suggests the three girls are in a hierarchial structure with G5 at its head, mitigating her utterances least, followed by G6 and by G7, who mitigates her utterances most. G5 often does not mark her proposals with epistemic modality even when it would not be unusual to do so, as in the following examples:

26-7 G5: then she'll either go into mourning for / seven years

28. G5: she'll never manage to stick it out

In another instance, G6 joins in with G5 to develop an idea, but while G5 has been using "can", which has no epistemic modal function, G6 uses "could", which does:

60. G5: then she can just say well she can't be because I'm a

61. G5: woman (I mean) (.) the Duke loves (.) Viola now

G6: yeah Olivia could say (.) the king the

62. G6: king the Duke could get jealous

G5 is the speaker to whom the other three group members defer; possibly the certainty with which she expresses herself is connected to their deference, either as a cause or a result.

G8 uses no hedges or epistemic modals at all, but makes unmitigated statements. The one cited below appears intended to shock the other group members; ie, she is challenging the group in the form and the content of her contribution:

35. G8: if the Duke falls in love with

36. G8: Viola (.) right (.) and somebody hears about it (.)

37. G8: they're going to think he's queer

With regard to the forms of modality and hedging, modality is not often marked in the verb, but more frequently with the use of "I think" or "I don't think". Two thirds of the hedges and epistemic modal forms used in the entire discussion are "I think" or "I don't think" (30 out of 47). This is quite a limited selection of forms, but it does give speakers an additional degree of flexibility as to where the modality marker is placed; the modality is almost separate from the proposal in the following instance:

21. G6: Olivia won't marry Saint

22. G6: Andrew s.s. sir Andrew (i) I don't think so

Another interesting marker of modality in this discussion is G6's use of "say that" and "just say that" to introduce a hypothetical situation:

38. G6: well just say that (1)

39. G6: ehmm (1) say that (1) eh Viola (.) Viola tells Olivia that

40. G6: she is a woman rightoh (.) and Olivia tells the Duke (.)

Having marked her turn initially with "say that", G6 uses no further markers of epistemic modality.

The use of epistemic modality and hedging in this discussion appears to relate to the position of the speaker within the group. The degree to which G5, G6 and G7 use these forms increases the lower their relative position in the group's hierarchy is. G8, on the other hand, who uses no epistemic modals or hedging forms, appears to reject the activity of group discussion, and places herself outside the group. The group's behaviour is not uniformly co-operative or competitive in this respect. G6 and G7 are more co- operative, while G8 and G5 are non-co-operative.

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