German, Spanish and Mandarin speakers metapragmatic awareness of vague language compared

Joan Cutting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

English vague language (VL), as in general noun phrases, general extenders and general verbs, is central to casual conversation. It can have discourse functions and create an informality and solidarity. The rationale for the study described here was a gap in the literature vis-à-vis language learner metapragmatic awareness of VL in their L1. It was hypothesised that attitudes towards VL vary from language to language.
This paper describes a comparative questionnaire study of Mandarin, German and Spanish speakers’ attitudes to VL in their languages. Subjects were invited to translate English VL to their languages and to think of other vague forms: German speakers volunteered ‘Dingsbums’ and ‘und so’; Spanish speakers suggested ‘cómo se llame’ and ‘o algo así; Mandarin speakers noted ‘na ge dong xi’.
Subjects were also asked to describe social variables, domains and functions associated with their VL: German speakers saw VL as creating closeness but many felt that it made addressors sound unreliable and mildly impolite; Spanish speakers mostly saw VL as a way of showing a relaxed, close, comfortable, friendly, but a few saw it as an sign of laziness and impoliteness; Mandarin speakers responded that VL was a marker of friendly informality and solidarity but they mostly associated it with indifference, laziness, impatience, irritation, anger, disappointment, contempt and dishonesty.
The paper concludes with suggestions of ways to incorporate tasks on VL into English language teaching classrooms, and to raise language teachers’ awareness of English L2 users’ beliefs and intercultural differences in terms of VL.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberPRAGMA_2018_698
Pages (from-to)128-140
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date11 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • vague language forms
  • sociopragmatic functions
  • social variation
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Mandarin


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