The Persuasive Power of Hedges: Insights from TED Talks

Marina Jovic, Iranda Kurtishi, Mohammad Awad AlAfnan


The corpus-based study focuses on the use of hedges in persuasive TED Talk speeches, which are powerful, premeditated speeches delivered in a distinctive communicative environment that combines elements of both spoken and written discourse. The authors employ both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze the hedging devices used to bolster the three rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos. The results show that only 2% of the words in the corpus serve as hedging devices, which is lower compared to previous studies on written and spoken discourse. The incidence of hedges is highest in the logos parts, followed by pathos, with the lowest incidence in ethos. Strong credibility is generally established by avoiding hedging devices. To evoke emotions in the audience, the speakers mainly rely on adverbs and verbs. The use of approximators and shields to strengthen logos resembles the use of hedges in written academic discourse. The qualitative analysis focuses on the four most commonly used hedges: ‘actually’, ‘just’, ‘could’, and ‘think’. ‘Actually’ has a mitigating effect when it promotes intimacy, indicates the speaker's commentary, or introduces a challenging, even reinforcing effect. ‘Just’ is often used to convey a mildly positive or reassuring tone in communication. Both the parenthetical phrase ‘I think’, used in a variety of meanings, and the modal verb ‘could’, used as a hypothetical possibility, most often enhance the logical strength of an argument. The paper suggests incorporating these findings into ESL teaching materials and conducting further studies on the topic, as most existing studies focus on developing a scientific argument in writing. Developing an argument in speech is distinct and deserves attention.

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World Journal of English Language
ISSN 1925-0703(Print)  ISSN 1925-0711(Online)

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