Vague expressions in the European Parliament: a marker of cultural identity?

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Abstract

This study aims to verify whether a correlation exists between the use of a specific type of vague items – i.e. general extenders like ‘and so on’, ‘or something’, ‘etcetera’ – in native English and native Italian, on the one hand and the ‘Englishness’ and ‘Italianness’ of the speakers on the other, with specific reference to two of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, namely uncertainty avoidance and power distance (Hofstede 2003). This hypothesis is based on the fact that general extenders have been associated with vagueness and imprecision (Crystal/Davy 1975: 111-114); Channell 1994: 119-156; Jucker/Smith/Lüdge 2003) on the one hand and with social distance on the other (Overstreet/Yule 1997; Overstreet 1999, 2005). The methodology used is based on a contrastive approach, consisting in “comparing native discourse across cultures” (Clyne 1994: 3). In contrast with the procedures used in the past, which relied mainly on elicited data (Clyne 1994: 18), the present study utilizes data which are assumed to represent closely authentic speech occurring in a specialized domain – the European Parliament – whose official transcribed multilingual versions of the debates held in 2006 are examined. Since MEPs are under the same constraints, the corpora are fully comparable across languages. In keeping with the initial hypothesis, findings confirm that general extenders are more frequent in the English corpus compared to the Italian corpus, thus showing that English EU parliamentary discourse favours a more concise and familiar communicative style. This reflects the lower score of Britain on uncertainty avoidance and power distance as compared to Italy.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteDiscourse, Identities and Roles in Specialized Communication
Pagine85-107
Numero di pagine23
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2010

Keywords

  • EU parliamentary discourse
  • General extenders
  • Hofstede's cultural dimensions
  • Vague language

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