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Vague language as a means of avoiding controversy

Vague language describes the use of linguistic items including grammar and particularly lexis to modify and make the meaning of a communication less precise and less clear. While scientific and much academic language prides itself on rigour, precision and clarity, vague language, or VL, as it is known, is a linguistic device used in politics, reporting and everyday conversation to avoid over-declaratory statements and assertions and to build or protect relationships. This paper analyses the various definitions and theories of vague language and examines its use in the English language in discourse management and politeness in gender relations, politics, culture and news reporting. It examines the ways in which vague language is used to convey subtle meanings and identifies it as a huge area of ongoing linguistic research.

KEYWORDS: vague language, pragmatics, corpus-based language, politeness, inexplicit language, discourse genre, discourse analysis

Peter McGee. Applied linguist. Has been involved in language teaching and learning for over 40 years, in Italy, Japan, Spain, France, Norway, Russia and the UK. Has conducted many teacher training workshops, especially in Spain and England and has taught for British Council overseas teaching centres. Research interests cover Forensic Linguistics, Sociolinguistics and Cross-cultural Pragmatics. Has taught EFL, ESP and EAP for many years. Was responsible for English for Architecture courses at the University of East London. Taught on English for Diplomacy programmes at the University of Westminster. Received his postgraduate qualifications in Applied Linguistics and Communication from the University of London. Was awarded the Genghis Khan Gold Medal by the government of Mongolia for educational services to the Ministry of Education. Currently researches the field of Vague Language and preparing two books, one on Communication Skills for Architects and the other an English Course for Wine Professionals.


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