How to Signal Lexical Concept Adjustment: A Relevance-Theoretic Perspective on Hedging

In: International Review of Pragmatics

The goal of the paper is to show that relevance theory provides a theoretically sound framework for describing properties of expressions traditionally known as hedges in a consistent manner. In relevance-theoretic terms, hedges may be regarded as special linguistic expressions developed to guide hearers in the interpretation process, indicating the need for adjusting lexically encoded concepts. A closer look at several representative hedges: sort of, like, typical, regular and real, reveals that hedges may be re-classified according to how they interact with ad hoc concepts. Whether they are conceptual or procedural, hedges may signal: broadening (sort of, regular, real), narrowing (typical) or either of these processes (like). With regard to broadening, it turns out that at least two different types of this process may be distinguished, illustrated by the hedges sort of and regular/real, which introduce approximations and metaphors, respectively. It is also proposed that the classification should be expanded to accommodate Lasersohn’s “slack regulators” such as exactly (and possibly very) as expressions encoding a procedure to restrict the extent of broadening. Finally, properties and behaviour of different types of hedges may shed some light on the nature of procedural meaning.

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    Aijmer (2002) mentions two more functions of evidential sort of: a meta-level indicator showing that the following word or construction belongs to a different level of talk (it is technical rare foreign formal vulgar or idiomatic) and a self-repair signal indicating a reformulation repetition or an addition of something new.

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