Dissertation
Dissertation > Language, writing > FOREIGN > English > Semantics,vocabulary,semantic

A Pragmatic Study of Vague Language in English Political Discourse from the Perspective of Adaptation Theory

Author ZhaoAi
Tutor YuXiaoYan
School Dongbei University of Finance
Course Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords adaptation theory political discourse vague language
CLC H313
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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It is generally accepted that the distinct characteristics of language are precision and clearness. However, vagueness is an intrinsic feature of natural language and an indispensable part of human languages. It is an extremely pervasive phenomenon in language communication. Many scholars both at home and abroad have studied the vagueness application to various styles from a variety of perspectives and made great achievements. However, the pragmatic studies of vague language are mainly conducted with the help of Grice’s Cooperative Principle, Leech’s Politeness Principle or Wilson’s Relative Principle. The research on vague language from the perspective of Verschueren’s Adaptation Theory is quite limited so far, even more limited on vague language in English political discourse. Being one of the oldest language forms, political language is a special way of expressing subtle political needs, which plays an important role not only in diplomacy, but also in social culture and ideology. And the employment of vagueness makes the political language more flexible and easier to achieve the politicians’political purposes. Therefore, vagueness is considered as a communicative strategy employed in political discourse, which is expected to achieve communicative needs.This thesis attempts to make a tentative analysis of motives as well as the functions of the employment of vague language with Linguistic Adaptation Theory as the theoretical framework with the aims to explore how pragmatic vagueness in political discourse is realized through linguistic context and through structural objects of adaptation as well as how the adaptation to pragmatic vagueness affect political discourse.The thesis consists of five chapters, including introduction and conclusion. The Introduction presents a general picture of the current study, including the need for and the objective of the study as well as the organization of the thesis. Chapter Two reviews the related literature. Firstly, a general view of vague language is given. The author states the reasons why vague language exists. There are objective and subjective reasons. And then some well-known definitions of vague language at home and abroad are introduced from semantic, cognitive and pragmatic aspects. As for the classification of vague language, Prince et al’s taxonomy of hedges is adopted in the study. Secondly, some related confusing terms such as fuzziness, generality and ambiguity are distinguished because they are similar in conveying imprecise information. The author then points out the treatment of the term "vagueness" in this thesis, namely vagueness and hedges will be employed interchangeably, which encompass all kinds of imprecise meanings and uncertainty. Thirdly, vague language in political discourse, the focus of the study, is discussed. Finally, the previous researches on vague language abroad and at home are examined.Chapter Three proposes the theoretical framework of the present study: Verschueren’s Linguistic Adaptation Theory, which is introduced systematically in this thesis. In Verschueren’s Linguistic Adaptation Theory, language use is continuous making of linguistic choices, i.e. the choices of communicative strategies and linguistic forms. The choice is feasible because natural language has three properties:variability, negotiability and adaptability. As one language phenomenon, the choice of pragmatic vagueness is also based on these three properties. As one language phenomenon, the choice of pragmatic vagueness is also on these three properties. Variability refers to the range of possibilities from which choices can be made. Negotiability indicates the dynamic process of choosing flexible principles and strategies, and embodying them in linguistic forms, thus meets the communicative need. Adaptability enables human beings to make negotiable linguistic choices from a variable range of possibilities so that communicative needs can be satisfied. So adaptability is the core of language use. And the adaptation is between language choices and circumstances. Adaptation Theory can be explained from four angles:contextual correlates of adaptability, structural objects of adaptability, dynamics of adaptability and the salience of the adaptation processes.Chapter Four is the body part of the study, which devotes to the pragmatic vagueness in English political discourse. Based on Channell’s classification as well as characteristics of political discourse, the paper analyses the pragmatic functions of vague language in English political discourse, which includes creating harmonious atmosphere & achieving politeness, shedding off responsibilities, self-protecting and being flexible and tactful. Under the guidance of Adaptation Theory, the author elaborates that linguistic realization of vagueness in English political discourse can be achieved at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. Finally, by a detailed analysis of abundant examples, the present research concludes that the employment of vague language in English political discourse is the result of choice-making, which is adaptable to the mental world of both utterers and interpreters, to the social world in which social constraints play an important part, and to the physical world mainly of time and space.The conclusion chapter summarizes this thesis, pointing out the major findings and implications of the present study. Besides, this chapter gives limitations and some suggestions for further researches.This thesis aims at helping people have a right view on vagueness in English political discourse, and apply vague language to communication so as to achieve a better communicative effect. Theoretically, the present research hopes to better reveal the explanatory power of adaptation theory in various styles.

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