Indirectness, inexplicitness and vagueness made clearer

Winnie Cheng and Martin Warren

Abstract

The ability to do indirectness, inexplicitness and vagueness is a key component in the repertoire of all competent discoursers and these are commonplace phenomena in written and spoken discourses, particularly in conversations. The study reported in the paper seeks to delineate and exemplify these three terms which are used frequently in the literature, but which are potentially confusing as they are not always unambiguously defined and consistently applied. The purpose of the study is to describe the differences between the three terms in terms of their pragmatic usage and functions, drawing upon a corpus of naturally-occurring conversational data between Hong Kong Chinese and native speakers of English. In so doing, this study underlines the widespread occurrence of these forms of language use and the ways in which participants in spoken discourse employ them to jointly construct both context and meaning.

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