Dingsbums und so: Beliefs about German vague language

Joan Cutting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Research has shown that vague language, which includes vague items (general nouns, general verbs, general extenders, vague clauses, clause final ellipsis and conversational implicature) and vague modifiers (vague quantifiers and other epistemic stance markers), is a feature of many languages, signalling a friendly attitude and modifying face threats. In order for language teachers to teach about vague language, they need to understand the preconceptions of their learners. This paper describes the beliefs of 178 German English language teachers and students. This study has shown that all the participants were aware of German equivalents to the English general nouns, verbs and extenders. Describing German vague language, they mentioned vague non-verbal indicators, vague responses to health enquiries, and vague epistemic stance indicators that indexed explicitly a lack of knowledge. They emphasised that these forms are reserved for family and close friends, and expressing closeness. They believed that they were not appropriate in formal settings, being associated them with a low level of education and youth talk. They also pointed to negative connotations of indifference, and impressions of laziness and incompetence that vague language can create. The paper suggests applications of findings for language educators.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108–121
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue numberAugust 2015
Early online date18 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • general nouns
  • general extenders
  • vague modifiers
  • beliefs
  • social functions
  • German


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