Critical Review: “Hedging in the Results and Discussion Section of English Applied Linguistics Research Articles by Vietnamese and Foreign Writers” (Tran & Tang, 2022)

Academic writing is a genre that requires the impersonal presentation of facts, showing evidence and constructing knowledge objectively and effectively (Hyland, 1994). This notion has positioned hedging as a vital part of academic discourse. The starting point of hedges as a linguistic term is normally attributed to the work of Lakoff (1973), associating hedges with “fuzziness” or ambiguity. Similarly, Hyland (1998) views hedges as a communicative strategy closely related to the degree of certainty in communicating. Hedges are also viewed in line with politeness and face, particularly by Brown and Levinson (1987) and Myers (1989), regarding hedges as a negative politeness strategy by giving readers/hearers more freedom and not forcing them to interpret what writers/speakers present in a rigid way. Although deciding a universal definition for hedges is challenging, the above scholars agree on the importance of hedges in academic written discourse, either to lower personal commitment to an utterance or to preserve face during interactions. Contrastive studies on hedges, within pragmatics and discourse studies, have greatly considered the varied influence of cultures, disciplines, genres and communities (Hyland, 2005).

Among studies on hedging in academic writing in Vietnam is the paper by Tran and Tang (2022) entitled “Hedging in the Results and Discussion Section of English Applied Linguistics Research Articles by Vietnamese and Foreign Writers”. The authors aim to examine the use and functions of hedges in the Results and Discussion section of research articles in Applied Linguistics. They compare the writings in English of two groups of authors, Vietnamese and foreign writers. Notably, the foreign writers are also non-native English speakers. This topic is relevant to the field of pragmatics, the final part that has been discussed in class. It is also interesting to see how contrastive studies are done between cultural backgrounds of writers, using the same language and to move beyond the micro-linguistic studies, looking at a bigger picture. Building on the view of Lakoff and Hyland for the definition of hedges, the authors continue the investigation of hedges concerning certainty and impersonal style as reviewed previously. Analysing two corpora, with each containing 30 Results and Discussion sections in Applied Linguistics research articles, this paper has made a considerable contribution to cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary investigations of hedging in academic genres. Looking at another paper employing corpora-based research method helps me brighten my understanding of corpus linguistics, which has been introduced lightly during the Contrastive Analysis course – partly due to time constraint.

The authors successfully outline the significance of their work in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary pragmatics. The authors dedicate a paragraph in the Literature Review section to positioning this paper among other relevant works. Reviewing six relevant studies in the field (three from foreign and three from Vietnamese authors), the authors point out what other studies have achieved. The disciplines, the method and the cultures each study deals with are explicitly presented in addition to what they have found. For example, in referring to the works of Nguyen Thi Thuy (2018), the authors describe, “analysed Vietnamese writers and native English writers’ use of hedges in RAs. Two corpora from 50 RAs in AL written by Vietnamese writers and 50 RAs written by native English writers were designed” (Tran & Tang, 2022, p. 120). These details help readers to better conceptualise the paper’s significance. The authors also reckon that despite the available cross-cultural studies on Vietnamese and native English-speaking authors, studies on Vietnamese and other non-native English-speaking are not common. Their recognition of the research gap helps readers know what they should expect in the paper and why the authors choose such samples. However, the relatedness of the study by Nguyen and Nguyen (2015) on celebrity’s hedges during interviews may be questioned when mentioning this paper may confuse readers as the focus of the Literature review section and the whole paper is on hedges in academic writing.

In the Results and Discussion section, the authors clarify their findings in comparison with other studies in the field, clearly showing how their paper can add to this area of pragmatics. Table 1 below positions this paper with other works referred to in the section. It demonstrates that the authors bring into discussion a variety of studies, across many disciplines and cultures, ranging from hard to soft sciences, from native to non-native authors.

WorkDisciplinesCultures
Tran & Tang (2022) *Applied LinguisticsVietnamese and Other Non-native English-speaking authors
Farrokhi and Emami (2008)Electrical Engineering & Applied LinguisticsNative and Non-native English-speaking authors
Nasiri (2012)Civil EngineeringAmerican and Iranian authors
Tran and Duong (2013)Applied Linguistics & Chemical Engineering**
Musa (2014)English and Chemistry**
Nguyen (2018)**Vietnamese and Native English-speaking authors
Works discussed in Results and Discussion section by Tran & Tang (2022) Compiled by the writer of this analysis based on the Results and Discussion section of the paper. Note: * This is the paper being reviewed.
** These works does not consider the disparity across cultures or disciplines.

In this section, the authors also recognise the alignment and the dissonance, with a possible account. To illustrate, in detailing the corroboration of the present study for two previous studies, by Nguyen (2018) and Musa (2014), on the most and least frequently used functions of hedges, the authors also outline two possible justifications:

First, although the AL belongs to the soft science, writers in this study may attempt to use Reliability hedges to increase the degree of their confidence which could result in the validity of their claims. Second, the use of Reader-oriented hedges is to facilitate the effective communication between writers and readers (Hyland, 1996a), but the RA and Master’s thesis are two [different] genres of the academic writing. (p. 123)

This exhibits the authors’ efforts in recognising their contributions to the field and conceptualising and explaining why such phenomena are observed in their study. The authors can therefore better justify their points and foster their findings.

Also about its future contributions, the transparency of the Methodology section may also be reconsidered. Readers cannot view the list of hedges and their functions that the authors claim to adapt from other works and use in this study. Therefore, the clarity of the method is lessened, arousing the question on their construct validity. Since this paper is potentially well-positioned in cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary pragmatics studies, a clear adapted list of hedges and their functions should be attached so that future studies can have a decent source when stepping into the area.

In conclusion, this paper has achieved its goals in investigating how Vietnamese and other non-native English-speaking authors use hedges in academic writing. The authors also illustrate their own stance among multiple studies in the related field coherently throughout the piece. At the same time, some inconsistencies in describing the employed methods and referring to other studies should also be addressed to hone the persuasiveness and value of the paper.

References

Brown, P., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language usage. Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (1994). Hedging in academic writing and EAF textbooks. English for Specific Purposes, 13(3), 239-256. https://doi.org/10.1016/0889-4906(94)90004-3

Hyland, K. (1998). Hedging in scientific research articles. John Benjamins Publishing.

Hyland, K. (2005). Metadiscourse: Exploring intereraction in writing. Continuum.

Lakoff, G. (1973). Hedges: A study in meaning criteria and the logic of fuzzy concepts. Journal of Philosophical Logic, 2(4), 458-508. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00262952

Myers, G. (1989). The pragmatics of politeness in scientific articles. Applied Linguistics, 10(1), 1-35. https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/10.1.1

Tran, T. Q., & Tang, T. B. (2022). Hedging in the Results and Discussion section of English Applied Linguistics research articles by Vietnamese and foreign writers. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 13(1), 119-124. https://doi.org/10.17507/jltr.1301.14

Note: This critical review was submitted as a part of assessment for the course Contrastive Linguistics (English – Vietnamese) in 2022, at Ho Chi Minh City University of Education. By the time this blog was published, all the assessment activities related to the course had been finished.

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