Preaching in uncertain terms: the place of hedging language in contemporary sermonic discourse
Journal article, 2015
This study investigates hedging (standardly assumed to express uncertainty, plausible reasoning and the like) in contemporary sermonic discourse as represented by sermon manuscripts and transcriptions of preacher interviews from three Christian denominations in the UK. The article addresses three research questions: (i) To what extent is preaching employed as a discursive resource during preaching; (ii) What form does hedging take in sermonic discourse; and (iii) What are preachers’ rationale for hedging? The results suggest that hedging is indeed of central concern in sermonic discourse with some kind of hedging device being called upon once every 32 seconds. When preachers hedge they rely on standard and transparent linguistic expressions that typically perform this discourse function, and the repertoire includes both ‘conversational’ hedges and hedges that recall practices characteristic of written academic discourse. When preachers self-report on their rationale for hedging a multitude of different discourse functions become apparent. However, it seems that hedging is rarely used to convey lack of epistemic confidence; rather, hedging is seen as a productive interpersonal means to address one of the main objectives of contemporary, turn-to-the-listener, preaching – namely acknowledging sermon listeners as active partners in a sermonic experience.