This paper investigates the use of “vague language” (Channell, 1994) in English L1 and L2 speaker discourse. In particular, the item “thing”, which is used about 2.5 times more often by the L1 than the L2 speakers, is analysed in job interviews in Australia. Since “thing” has been termed “vague language” this paper will first provide a theoretical discussion of the notion of vagueness with a special focus on “thing”. The discussion of vagueness is mainly based on the “underdeterminacy thesis” (Carston, 1988, 2002; Atlas, 2005) and is, thus, closely linked to explicature construction and the notion of saturation. The theoretical discussion will lead to a definition of vagueness as a pragmatic hearer based phenomenon (vaguenessP) which will be applied to an analysis of “thing” in the L1 and L2 employment interview data collected. The analysis will show that “thing” is used differently by the two populations with regards to the notion of vaguenessP but also with respect to the saturation requirement of this item. While the analysis shows that “thing” is not inherently vagueP, some instances of “thing” in the L2 data do seem to introduce the phenomenon of vaguenessP. Furthermore, the preference of L1 and L2 speakers for different saturation processes has an influence on the effect achieved by “thing”.
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See also Levinson (2000) and his concept of the “bottleneck of communication” in relation to his discussion of implicatures which reminds of Carston’s Underdeterminacy thesis.
See Jucker et al. (2003) for a contrary view as they suggest that uses of vague language are loose uses of language while I suggest that uses of vague language are semantically highly loose and can only be tightened in context but do not show instances of loose talk.
Chen (2009) refers to Fodor and Sag (1982) Partee (1970) and Lyons (1977) when making this claim.