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  1. 1. Inexplicitness: What Is It and Should We Be Teaching It? WINNIE CHENG and MARTIN WARREN The Hong Kong Polytechnic University An invaluable resource to a speaker is the context in which he/she is speaking and failure to utilize it fully will result in the conversation displaying an unnecessary and inappropriate level of explicitness, or failing to reach an adequate level of intelligibility. Using a corpus of native speaker and non-native speaker conversations, it is shown that a characteristic of non-native speakers' spoken language is the inappropriate level of inexplicitness used and the ways in which inexplicitness is manifested in the discourse. Additional factors such as repetition, linguistic competence, cultural schemata, and L1 transfer also contribute to the different levels of inexplicitness in non-native conversational utterances. Suggestions are made as to how we might help our students to acquire and practise the skills and techniques required to achieve a more appropriate level of inexplicitness in their spoken English. INTRODUCTION This paper is concerned with the use of inexplicitness by native speakers (NSs) and non-native speakers (NNSs) engaged in English conversations (i.e. impromptu, uninstitutionalized discourses). Inexplicitness in conversations is achieved through the employment of any one of a number of linguistic forms which requires the hearer to interpret the specific meaning from the particular context in which it is uttered. As English language teachers in Hong Kong, we have found that a characteristic of our students' spoken language is the inappropriate level of inexplicitness, or the inappropriate form of inexplicitness, or both. These perceived shortcomings in the communicative competence of Hong Kong Chinese speaking conversational English are the focus of this study. The objective of the study reported in this paper is to describe and compare the respective levels and forms of inexplicitness employed by NNSs (Hong Kong Chinese) and NSs conversing in English.1 However, being inappropriately inexplicit is not unique to NNSs of English in Hong Kong, and therefore it is hoped that the findings of the study will help to inform English language teaching and learning both in Hong Kong and beyond. Before presenting our research questions, we first of all define `context' and `inexplicitness' and illustrate these notions with examples drawn from our corpus of naturally-occurring conversational English between NNSs (Hong Kong Chinese) and NSs. Applied Linguistics 20/3: 293±315 # Oxford University Press 1999
  2. 2. DEFINING CONTEXT While there are still studies which attempt to list all the elements which comprise the physical context of conversation (see, for example, Wardhaugh 1985: 101), it is generally accepted that fully describing, let alone clearly delineating, context is not feasible and that context is ultimately `indetermi- nate' (Silverstein 1992). There is increasing recognition that the knowledge and understanding of a particular context held in common by the participants in the discourse (i.e. the participants' `shared knowledge') is negotiated throughout a discourse. External or situational context is not fixed and shared knowledge is not identical for all the participants in the conversation. The participants in a conversation do not have full and equal access to a body of shared knowledge. For individual participants, this knowledge can be represented differently, or remembered to different degrees, or simply certain knowledge is not accessible under certain circumstances. Shared knowledge is constantly being negotiated between the participants and, in reality, there is sharing of knowledge rather than shared knowledge between conversational participants. The debate over what exactly constitutes `context' continues, but a very good overview of the contributions made by a variety of disciplines to this debate is provided by Brown and Yule (1983: 37±46), and summarized below. The importance of context in interpreting language was emphasized in linguistic studies by Firth (1957: 226) who pointed out that words and propositions have no meaning until they are used by participants in `contexts of situation'. Firth (1957: 182) offered a list of categories that together constitute the context of situation: the verbal and non-verbal action of the participants, relevant features of the participants themselves, relevant objects, and the effect of the verbal action. Ethnographers (see, for example, Hymes 1964) and philosophers (see, for example, Lewis 1972) have also worked to compile comprehensive lists of contextual features and contextual co- ordinates respectively, both of which in essence are very similar to that proposed by Firth (1957). An important contribution to the discussion of context has also been made by Halliday and Hasan (1976: 31±33) who distinguish between `context' and `context of situation'. The accompanying text (i.e. the context of a word, utterance, or text) constitutes the context and the field, tenor, and mode of a particular discourse comprise the context of situation. For our purposes, we have set aside the distinction between the textual (context) and situational (context of situation) made by Halliday and Hasan because we wish to emphasize the interplay that exists between the two. In this study, `context' subsumes both the textual and the situational contexts. Concerning the relationship between language and context, Schiffrin (1987: 5) suggests that language always takes place in a context and is sensitive to it and that, in fact, `language reflects those contexts because it helps to constitute them.' We would argue that in reality language makes 294 INEXPLICITNESS
  3. 3. rather than simply reflects the context. Language does not simply depend on context for its meaning; it also influences the context. This relationship between language and context is underlined by Auer (1992: 21) who describes the relationship between context and text as `reflexive'. In other words, context does not determine language, rather language makes an important contribution to the context. The interplay between context and language can be illustrated with an example from our data. (Speakers are identified by upper case letters for NSs and lower case letters for NNSs.) Extract 1 A: NS male b: NNS male 1 A: going to use the washroom 2 b: turn around and then go straight in the middle In extract 1, the participants are friends eating together in a restaurant and the extract begins when A says on line 1 that he is going to the washroom whereupon b gives A directions as to how to find it. This seemingly simple pair of utterances provides a number of examples of the interplay between language and context and demonstrates how language can influence and shape the context. On line 1, for example, A does not say I'm going but uses situational ellipsis and drops the subject pronoun and auxiliary verb, which is a common form of inexplicitness in spoken discourse, especially conversation (Carter and McCarthy 1995, 1997). In this discourse context, b clearly is able to understand that it is A who intends to use the washroom and not b himself and further that it is the restaurant's washroom which is being referred to. The notion of deictic centre explains the context forming nature of b's utterance on line 2 when he uses place deixis to provide directions to the washroom, explicit mention of which is not required in this discourse context. These deictic expressions in turn gain their specificity from the context which they help to create. DEFINING INEXPLICITNESS We use `inexplicitness' to describe the extent to which linguistic behavior is reliant on context to convey meaning. Inexplicitness can only be interpreted by the hearer accessing the context in which it is spoken in order to assign specificity to it. Inexplicitness may be in the form of ellipsis, substitution, deixis, or reference. All of the forms of inexplicitness share a common property: they are all non-specific when context independent, but they become specific when interpreted in the particular context in which they are used. Gumperz (1989, 1992) claims that conversational participants' interpretations of discourse are aided by non-lexical contextualization cues, such as rate of speech, eye gaze, gestures, and so on. Manifestations of inexplicitness by means of a variety of linguistic forms, as defined in this study, function in a similar fashion to Gumperz's (1989, 1992) contextual- ization cues as they signal to the hearer that interpretation of their meaning is WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 295
  4. 4. reliant on the context. Inexplicitness requires the speaker to choose to invoke the context through one or more of a variety of linguistic forms, and for the hearer to then assign specificity from her or his understanding of the context. Our notion of inexplicitness is supported by Grice's (1975: 45±6) conversational maxims of Quantity and Manner. Grice's maxim of Quantity states that a speaker's contributions should be as informative as is required but should not be more informative than is required for the current purposes of the exchange. His maxim of Manner requires contributions to be brief and orderly and to avoid obscurity of expression and ambiguity. Adopting a similar approach to Grice is Silverstein (1992: 55±7) who argues for a view of discoursal context within which the participants are able to solve problems caused by indexicals through a process of reduction and by the participants achieving an `enoughness' of text. Silverstein's (1992) notion of `enoughness' complements Grice's maxim of Quantity. We argue that inexplicitness is a means by which conversational participants realize `enoughness'. Participants in a conversation who ignore the context in which they are operating can be expected to produce a discourse that exceeds the amount of information required for the purposes of the exchange. Also such a conversation will not be as brief as one that utilizes all the inexplicit resources available to the participants. Equally a conversation in which the level of explicitness required is underestimated by one or more speakers will promote ambiguity and obscurity. An invaluable resource to a speaker is the context in which she or he is speaking and failure to utilize it fully will result in the conversation displaying an inappropriate level of explicitness, or failing to reach an adequate level of intelligibility. In her work on vague language, Channell (1994) provides convincing evidence that efficient and successful communication is not impaired by speakers using vague words and expressions and we argue that the same is true of speakers who are appropriately inexplicit. FORMS OF INEXPLICITNESS Inexplicitness in a discourse is realized by the speaker or writer choosing to employ one or more of its four forms, which we briefly describe and exemplify below. Ellipsis and substitution Ellipsis and substitution are two forms of explicitness which require the hearer or reader to recover a part of the discourse from the context which the speaker or writer has either chosen to omit or to replace by a substituted element. Quirk et al. (1985: 859±60) note that language users usually exhibit `strong preferences' for using ellipsis to reduce their utterances as much as possible, while avoiding possibilities of ambiguity. Quirk et al. (1985: 861±2) describe three main types of ellipsis: textual, situational and structural, based 296 INEXPLICITNESS
  5. 5. on the means by which the hearer/reader recovers the reduction.2 The substitution works by inserting a `placeholding element' (Halliday 1994: 370) to replace a lexical item. Examples of the use of ellipsis and substitution are given below: Extract 2 A: NS female b: NNS female 1 A: OK what we're going to do (is) we're going to wear bikinis 2 b: (laughs) (you're going to wear) bikinis (.) (but) that's (going) 3 topless (laughs) 4 A: yea (it is) but (we) might not go the whole hog (laughs) In the above extract we have put back (in brackets) our understanding of what the speakers have chosen to omit. It can be seen that the items left unsaid are typically personal subjects and/or main and auxiliary verbs. This type of ellipsis is situational in that it requires the hearer(s) to recover the missing items from the immediate situation and these examples support the claim made by Carter and McCarthy (1995: 145; 1997: 14±15) that ellipsis in spoken discourse is typically situational. Extract 3 A: NS female b: NNS female 1 A: say it's your it's your birthday coming right 2 b: he buy me the ring already right the black one the black pearl 3 A: oh the blue one black oh okay 4 b: black the black pearl did you see that before 5 A: no I don't think so I saw you wearing the blue one yesterday like a blue ring In extract 3 a number of examples of substitution are underlined. We can see that there are a number of instances of speakers using one or so as substitutes rather than repeating what has gone before, or that which follows. These examples also clearly illustrate that the hearer is entirely reliant on the context to assign a specific meaning to these substitute items. The frequency with which ellipsis and substitution occur in our data confirms Swan's (1995: 183) observation that words are often omitted or substituted in `informal spoken English' when a speaker assumes the meaning will be clear to the hearer(s) without them. The role of ellipsis and substitution in promoting clarity in a discourse is emphasized by Quirk et al. (1985: 860±4) who state that it is one of the two main reasons for their use, the other being economy. Before moving on from this discussion of ellipsis and substitution, we should make the point that the notion that examples of ellipsis are simply a result of speakers electing to omit chunks of language is potentially misleading when describing the grammar of spoken language. We may have been guilty of this in our attempt to exemplify two of the criteria we employ to measure and compare the levels of inexplicitness of the two sets of speakers in our data. The work of Wittgenstein (1953) and later interpretations of his ideas WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 297
  6. 6. (see, for example, Ring 1991) are important and relevant in this regard. Wittgenstein (1953: 8±10) questions the assumption that, for example, when a builder says `Slab!', he is simply uttering a shortened form of `Bring me a slab'. In other words, is it necessary for the hearer of an ellipted utterance to put back what is `missing' in order to correctly interpret it? We would want to follow Wittgenstein and argue that it is not. The prevalence of ellipsis, especially situational ellipsis, in spoken language is further evidence of a difference in the grammars of spoken and written English and illustrates one of the means by which spoken language actively shapes context. When speakers converse they are engaged in what Wittgenstein would term a different `language game' in which what we would term a higher level of inexplicitness is normally appropriate. Deixis and reference The other two forms of inexplicitness are deixis and reference. A common feature of conversations is the use of deictic expressions by the speakers. These expressions are typically of time (e.g. now, yesterday, then), place (e.g. here, there, this, that) and person (e.g. I, you, she) and achieve a specific meaning in relation to the speaker at the time of speaking. In other words, the hearer understands deixis in terms of the temporal, spatial, and personal position of the speaker at any particular time in the discourse. Carter and McCarthy (1997: 13) describe deixis as either pointing backwards and forwards in a text or to a wider `extra-textual' context and they claim that the latter is especially prevalent in conversations. In extract 4 the examples of deictic expressions are underlined. The use of person deixis, I and she, together with the place deictic here serve to locate and identify the persons and places being talked about within this particular spatiotemporal context. Extract 4 A: NS female b: NNS female 1 A: ((laughs)) I think she's born here right 2 b: yes she's born here Reference (see, for example, Halliday and Hasan 1976: 31±87) is a form of cohesion in texts and includes pronouns, articles and demonstratives which are used by writers and speakers to refer to specific referents in the context. Readers and hearers recover the specific meaning for reference items either textually (i.e. anaphoric and cataphoric reference) or situationally (i.e. exophoric reference). In extract 5, there are three instances of reference underlined, all of which use the reference item it to refer anaphorically to referents in the discourse. 298 INEXPLICITNESS
  7. 7. Extract 5 A: NS female b: NNS female 1 A: the fish we watched its head being chopped off and the blood 2 just [gushing everywhere 3 b: just [gushing 4 (pause) 5 A: it's really disgusting 6 b: yea but at least it's fresh It should be noted that there is considerable discussion (see, for example, Brown and Yule 1983: 190±222; Levinson 1983: 54±61; Lyons 1977a: 174± 229) concerning the borderlines between substitution, deixis, and reference, which we will not engage in here. For our purposes, the distinctions between the forms of inexplicitness are less important than the way in which they all function by a speaker using an inherently non-specific item, or no item at all, for the hearer to then interpret a specific meaning in a particular contextÐ which we subsume under the term inexplicitness. LEVELS OF INEXPLICITNESS We are not claiming like Chafe (1982), for example, that `context-free' and `context dependent' language use are only characteristic of written and spoken discourse modes respectively. Inexplicitness is not confined to conversations. It is possible to find examples of inexplicitness in all types of discourse, both spoken and written, because no discourse is context-free. However, the occurrence of inexplicitness is not uniform across all discourse types. For example, Warren (1993: 49) maintains that different levels of inexplicitness are associated with different discourse types. Similarly, McCarthy (1991: 149) contrasts discourses which are `heavily context- dependent' with those which are more `freestanding' in terms of the language used. Generally speaking, the language of an academic lecture has a lower level of inexplicitness and is thus less context-dependent whereas the language of a naturally-occurring conversation is more context-dependent and hence has a higher level of inexplicitness. Others in the field have described similar differences across genres. Biber (1988: 143) uses the terms `explicit' and `situation-dependent' to describe one aspect of the two-dimensional plot he employed to compare 22 genres, `explicit' being references that can be understood without access to the situation in which they occur. Elsewhere, Biber and Finegan (1989: 487±8) discuss genres in terms of their use of elaborated (i.e. explicit) versus situation-dependent (i.e. inexplicit) language, with the more formal planned genres typically exhibiting more elaborated language and informal unplanned genres more situation-dependent language. We will now look at one of the ways in which the levels of inexplicitness used by speakers both within and across discourses can be measured and compared. WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 299
  8. 8. INEXPLICITNESS AND LEXICAL DENSITY All forms of inexplicitness make a significant contribution to the `lexical density' of a discourse (Ure 1971). Lexical density is a measure of the proportion of lexical words, as opposed to purely grammatical items, in a text. The distinction between lexical words and grammatical words is not always clear cut but as long as the researcher is consistent this need not detract from the usefulness of this measurement (Halliday 1989: 63). Typically, conversa- tions have a lower lexical density (approximately 30 per cent according to Ure 1971: 446) than other spoken discourse types largely because of the greater exploitation of the context by the participants. Stubbs (1996: 71±6) also describes conversations as having a lower lexical density than other spoken discourses, although the one conversation he examines has a higher lexical density (36 per cent) than those analysed by Ure (1971). A good example of an utterance with a low lexical density can be found in extract 6 which takes place in a restaurant. When being asked what he would like to have for lunch, B responds as follows (see line 4): Extract 6 a: NNS male B: NS male 1 a: okay you want something er crispy you like spring roll fried 2 spring roll (.) some maybe we can go out and pick some of the 3 [things on the bench 4 B: [yea see what they have got there This is a good example of an utterance that is unintelligible from the transcript alone as a result of its low lexical density, but it is clearly not at all problematic to the participants in the conversation. Such an utterance is typical of conversations and is simply a speaker indicating what he wishes to eat by pointing to a dish on an adjoining table. A more explicit and lexically dense version of this utterance might be as follows: what I would like to order for lunch is a plate of those aubergines stuffed with fish meat which the people at the next table are eating All the ways in which inexplicitness is realized in a discourse involve the employment of grammatical items, or no items at all in the case of ellipsis, which in turn lower the lexical density of the text. Inexplicitness, of course, is not the only source of grammatical items in a discourse, but we claim that there is a direct relationship between the lexical density of a discourse and the level of inexplicitness employed by the speaker(s)/writer(s). This relationship is inverse, the higher the level of inexplicitness the lower the lexical density of the discourse. The existence of this relationship allows us to use the lexical density of the utterances in a discourse as an initial measurement to describe the levels of inexplicitness employed by the speakers. 300 INEXPLICITNESS
  9. 9. THE STUDY In this study we set out to examine and compare the level of inexplicitness manifested in the utterances of NSs and NNSs engaged in English conversations. The questions which guided our research are given below: 1 Are NSs' conversational contributions more inexplicit than NNSs'? 2 What is the explanation for differences in the level of inexplicitness manifested in the conversational contributions of NNSs and NSs of English? 3 What can be done to facilitate the practice and use of inexplicitness by language learners? THE DATA Ten hours (84,000 words) of conversational recordings taken from the Hong Kong Corpus of Conversational English (HKCCE) were analysed for this study. The HKCCE is a sub-corpus of the Hong Kong Corpus of Spoken English housed in the English Department of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It consists of fifty hours of spontaneous, naturally-occurring conversations in electronic and digital formats. The sample database consisted of 29 conversations involving 76 participants (42 NNSs and 34 NSs). In our data 41,000 words (48.8 per cent) are spoken by NSs and 43,000 (51.2 per cent) by NNSs, enabling us to make direct comparisons between the two sets of speakers. The data were analysed by the researchers both qualitatively and quantitatively to examine the ways in which inexplicitness was manifested in real-life contexts. LEVELS OF INEXPLICITNESS IN NS/NNS CONVERSATIONS In this study, we were interested to compare the levels of inexplicitness used by the two sets of speakers and we began by using the lexical density of the utterances spoken by NSs and NNSs to initially gauge the level of inexplicitness. Our interest was based on the premise that if inexplicitness is a sign of a competent native discourser, then the lower the lexical density, the more competent the speaker. Such a view is not without support in the literature. In her work on vague language, Channell (1994) provides convincing evidence that efficient and successful communication is enhanced by speakers using vague words and expressions and we argue that the same is true of speakers who are appropriately inexplicit. Lyons (1977b: 589), for example, argues that an important component in the language competence of a speaker is the ability to produce `grammatically incomplete, but contextually appropriate and interpretable, sentence fragments'. Warren (1993: 37) also suggests that being appropriately inexplicit is a sign of a competent conversationalist and a prominent feature of NS English conversations. We were interested therefore to find out if native speakers' utterances tend to WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 301
  10. 10. have a lower lexical density than those of NNSs because NNSs may on occasion be overly explicit as a result of a lower level of communicative competence. Our findings suggest that this is in fact the case. In the conversations analysed, the NNSs had a lexical density which was approxi- mately 25±30 per cent higher than that of the NSs (i.e. 28±30 per cent for NSs versus 36±40 per cent for NNSs). Possible explanations for the higher lexical density of NNSs will be examined in the following sections. Table 1 below shows the frequency counts for each of the forms of inexplicitness, namely ellipsis (subdivided into textual, situational and structural), substitution, deixis, and reference found in the conversational contributions of the two sets of interlocutors. Given that the lexical density of the NSs' utterances was on average 25±30 per cent lower than that of the NNSs, it is not surprising to find that instances of inexplicitness are fewer in NNSs' utterances than those of the NSs'. What is surprising, however, is the consistency of the different levels of inexplicitness found in our data. For all forms of inexplicitness, the NSs make use of inexplicitness more often than NNSs, ranging from 27 per cent more in the case of situational ellipsis to 44 per cent more for deixis. The uniformity of our findings suggests that NNSs converse at a lower level of inexplicitness than their NS interlocutors. We will now look at examples of this happening in our data and offer possible explanations for this phenomenon. We need to point out that while Table 1 provides evidence that NNSs generally use lower levels of inexplicitness than NSs in our data, finding instances of NNSs being inappropriate in their use of inexplicitness is problematic because both NSs and NNSs on occasion choose not to be inexplicit. This makes it difficult for a researcher to determine with absolute certainty whether the level of inexplicitness employed is appropriate or not. However, in the examples which follow we believe we have found instances of NNSs being inappropriate in terms of the level of inexplicitness they employ. 302 INEXPLICITNESS Table 1: Linguistic realizations of inexplicitness: NS versus NNS Ellipsis: Substitution Deixis Reference Textual Situational Structural NS 829 3548 503 988 5453 2472 % (62.5%) (57.7%) (60.2%) (59.8%) (64.1%) (63.4%) NNS 497 2605 332 664 3056 1430 % (37.5%) (42.3%) (39.8%) (40.2%) (35.9%) (36.6%) Total 1326 6153 835 1652 8509 3902
  11. 11. In our study, there are examples of NNSs whose utterances often have a higher level of redundancy than those produced by NSs largely as a result of not using ellipsis or substitution to the same extent. In extract 7 the NNS is more explicit than required on line 1 where he consistently says maid instead of using ellipsis or a substitute item such as one, unlike the NS who employs ellipsis on line 3. Extract 7 a: NNS male B: NS male 1 a: what maid [Filipino maid or Chinese maid 2 B: what maid [mm 3 B: Filipino In extracts 8, 9 and 10 one would expect the speaker to choose a deictic expression or a reference item. Extract 8 A: NS female b: NNS female 1 A: have you been this year (.) to Ocean Park 2 b: long time that I have not been to the Ocean Park already (.) I 3 asked my boyfriend to accompany me and he always sometime 4 had an excuse very hot outside then I said okay I mean probably 5 in winter or something we can go over there (.) 6 A: right 7 b: how about you 8 A: well I am going (.) maybe at the end this (.) at the end of September On line 2 of extract 8, b, instead of using a deictic expression, says the Ocean Park, although this is not the case later on line 5 when she says there. It is interesting to contrast b's utterance with A's on line 8 which contains an example of ellipsis requiring the hearer to recover Ocean Park from the context. Extract 9 A: NS female b: NNS female 1 A: um I like that soya sauce 2 b: really 3 A: it makes the rice more tasty 4 b: that's right that's good functions of the soya sauce 5 A: um um In extract 9, A uses a reference item it (line 3) for the referent soya sauce but b uses a lower level of inexplicitness by saying the soya sauce (line 4) rather than using a reference item such as it or a deictic expression such as this. Extract 10 a: NNS female B: NS female 1 a: this summer will you stay in Hong Kong in this summer 2 B: most of it cos I got quite a lot of work to do but um (.) then about WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 303
  12. 12. 3 August I'll go to England 4 a: go back to visit your family 5 B: mmm 6 a: did you do you usually go back to England around August to 7 meet your family In extract 10, a asks B two questions on lines 1 and 4 and then employs a low level of inexplicitness on line 6 by recycling her first two questions within a third question. a could have used a reference item and said, for example, do you usually do that and have been more inexplicit as a result. FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO LOWER LEVELS OF INEXPLICITNESS BY NNSs So far our analysis has focused on the forms that inexplicitness takes in our data and the similarities and differences in the use of those forms between the NSs and NNSs. We have found that there are a number of factors contributing to the lower degree of inexplicitness in the NNS conversational contributions, which may go some way to explaining the phenomenon. Repetition A major factor which contributes to the inappropriate level of inexplicitness used by NNSs in our data is their tendency to repeat all or part of the previous speaker's utterance far more frequently than the NSs. Repetition is not a form of inexplicitness; however, we argue that on occasion it can affect the level of explicitness that is used. All speakers, whether native or non-native, repeat what they themselves have just said or what others have just said. The role of repetition in spoken discourse has been studied (see, for example, Tannen 1989) and certainly should not be automatically viewed as a lack of communicative competence. It has been well documented in the literature that the use of repetition for functions such as checking, exclaiming, expressing involvement or interest is entirely appropriate (Tannen 1989: 59±71). However, as a possible point of difference, instances of what we term `other-repetition', as opposed to self-repetition, were monitored in the sample corpus. We use the term other-repetition when a speaker repeats all or part of a previous speaker's utterance (see Table 2). We are not concerned here with the functions performed by repetition; neither have we distinguished between partial and full repetition of a previous speaker's utterance. We have simply counted all instances of other-repetition in our data on the assumption that the frequency of NS other-repetition is appropriate for English conversations. We have found that NNSs are approximately 2.5 times more likely to repeat all or part of the previous utterance. It may be that repetition by NNSs contributes to the over-explicitness as 304 INEXPLICITNESS
  13. 13. well as to the higher lexical density of their utterances mentioned earlier in this paper. In the following, we discuss examples of NNSs repeating parts of previous utterances, which leads to overly explicit utterances. This results in higher lexical density than is normally expected, and utterances which are longer than required for the purposes of the exchange. In extract 11 below, instead of simply saying clerical staff, b tries hard to provide a fuller answer, which involves repeating part of A's question. Blum- Kulka and Olshtain (1986) suggest that the temptation to insist on `complete sentences' in the language classroom may encourage this form of repetition in which part of the question is unnecessarily repeated in the response. Extract 11 A: NS male b: NNS male 1 A: what do you mean the Confidential Assistant 2 b: Confidential Assistant meaning is clerical is clerical staff Extract 12 is another example of a NNS repeating a lot of the NS interlocutor's utterances. The two speakers are discussing the percentage deducted from the salary to pay for a flat. Each of b's utterances includes repetition of the previous speaker's utterance. Extract 12 A: NS male b: NNS male 1 A: she pays seven point [five percent 2 b: she pays seven point [she only pay seven point five percent 3 A: fifteen ( ) that's how much do they get a month fifty thousand 4 b: fifty thousand a month 5 A: Hong Kong 6 b: Hong Kong dollars fifty thousand dollars Hong Kong dollars a 7 month will be paid seven point five percent for a flat which is 8 about two thousand five hundred square feet 9 A: which on the private market would be 10 b: would be sixty thousand I think sixty to seventy thousand WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 305 Table 2: Frequency of other-repetition: NS versus NNS Repetition NS 307 (%) (28.4%) NNS 773 (%) (71.6%) Total 1080
  14. 14. There are a number of repetitions in extract 12 but the most interesting one is the utterance by b on lines 6±8. The only new information in this utterance is for a flat which is about two thousand five hundred square feet; the rest has already been said by A and repeated by b on lines 1±5. Blum-Kulka and Olshtain (1986) suggest that, apart from `complete sentences', another explanation for NNSs repeating excessively is that advanced learners of a language concentrate on effective communication, compared to beginners whose knowledge of the target language is limited. Ironically, this results in beginners of a foreign language producing short, NS-like utterances, and advanced speakers being overly explicit. Blum-Kulka and Olshtain's (1986) studies of immigrants in Israel show that after a few years this tendency to repeat in order to ensure the message is successful disappears and immigrants become NS-like in terms of the amount of repetition and the length of their utterances. The extract below shows one more example of repetition by a NNS. Extract 13 A: male NS b: male NNS 1 A: yeah twelve storeys 2 b: oh twelve storeys 3 A: and four apartments forty apartments 4 b: oh forty apartment is it in is that um is that block in green colour 5 A: next block will be the green one 6 b: oh next block is the green one because the green apartment is 7 very prominent On line 2, the NNS shows involvement or interest in a NS-like manner. What is more interesting is his tactic of repeating a chunk of A's utterance on lines 4 and 6 as a preface to what he actually wants to say. A plausible explanation for this is that in the rapid fire turn-taking that can characterize conversations, it may be a strategy for NNSs to use repetition as a turn- holding device while they work out what they want to say and how they want to say it. There is also the cultural dimension which may influence what a speaker considers appropriate in terms of other-repetition. Studies of repetition in different cultures (see, for example, Erickson 1984; Johnstone 1987; Murata 1995; Tannen 1989: 78±80) suggest that repetition in spoken discourse may be a cultural variable and this may well contribute to the high incidence of other repetition by the NNSs in this study. Cultural schemata In addition to the issue of whether particular languages and/or cultures demand higher or lower levels of inexplicitness, there is also the fact that speakers may make assumptions about the comprehensibility of their utterances based on different cultural schemata. In the following extract, b is trying to describe to his Australian friend the size of a room. 306 INEXPLICITNESS
  15. 15. Extract 14 A: NS male b: NNS male 1 A: how big would it be 2 b: well the room I think is about er (pause) sixty to seventy square 3 feet I think 4 A: so how big would that be ( ) 5 b: about this size I suppose no no it's I think er (.) I think about this 6 um (.) this size (pause) maybe 7 A: this big 8 b: yea (.) from here maybe 9 A: yea that's good On line 2, b employs a level of explicitness which might be suitable for fellow Hong Kongers who are used to conceptualizing areas in square feet, but for the Australian hearer it is an unfamiliar way to describe the area of a room. The two speakers just do not share the same cultural schemata. b then actually has to resort to less explicit language (this size, this um (.) this size on lines 5±6; from here on line 8) in order to communicate the size of the room. This example illustrates how cultures can differ in the explicitness with which they represent certain types of information. This is an interesting example because typically one might expect the movement to be away from the use of inexplicit language rather than towards it when there is a communication problem. It also illustrates the role of language in contributing to the context in which meaning is created. Linguistic competence There are instances where the language of the NNS is inappropriately inexplicit due to a lower linguistic competence on the part of the speaker. This is exemplified in extract 15. Extract 15 a: NNS female b: NS male 1 a: so when did you come here 2 B: you mean what time today 3 a: going to the City [no no no sorry you er City U = 4 B: going to the City [when did I (.) 5 B: = [join City U 6 a: = [when did you join City U 7 B: oh er 19 er 91 Extract 15 takes place in a restaurant at the university where the two speakers are working. The two speakers joined the university at different times but they had known each other before that. a's utterance on line 1 so when did you come here has proved to be too inexplicit for B to comprehend. On line 2, B asks for clarification before answering to establish the context-specific interpretation of the referent here. It is then discovered on lines 3±6 that here uttered by a was intended to mean CityU where the restaurant is situated WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 307
  16. 16. rather than the restaurant itself. a's question (line 1) is too inexplicit in this context because she has not provided the required amount of information in her utterance. On line 3, a is still having problems formulating an appropriate question and eventually B does it for her on lines 4±5. This then seems to be a case of a lack of linguistic competence hampering the speaker's ability to ask a question such as so when did you start here or so when did you first start here, which would have achieved a successful outcome and have been appro- priately inexplicit. In the following extract the participants are discussing what food to take to a party and the topic turns to moon cakes, a traditional Chinese cake. We join the conversation when A asks b if she has bought one (i.e. a moon cake) on line 1. Extract 16 A: NS male b: NNS female 1 A: so you bought one 2 b: yea I bought two (.) so I give one to my my er my sister but you 3 know mooncake is not a very (.) not most not many people are 4 very keen on the mooncakes 5 A: alright 6 b: so I better not bring mine mooncake On lines 3, 4 and 6, b says mooncake or mooncakes rather than using a reference item which lowers the level of inexplicitness of her utterance. The use of mooncake on line 6 after mine is an example of the speaker confusing the possessive pronouns of my and mine. The speaker's lack of linguistic competence in this case results in her producing an utterance which is grammatically as well as informationally too explicit. The extracts examined so far have looked at NNSs experiencing problems in being inappropriately inexplicit when they speak. In the next two examples, taken from the same conversation, we look at problems of comprehension which then leads to a low level of inexplicitness in the discourse. In extract 17, B uses the term shelf company which is not known to a and results in a lengthy explanation. Extract 17 a: NNS female B: NS male 1 a: what kind of office 2 B: shelf company 3 a: what 4 B: shelf company you know shelf company like where you can put 5 your property for a while 6 and put tax through 7 a: oh I see 8 B: so use one of those companies but . . . 308 INEXPLICITNESS
  17. 17. Extract 18 A: NS male b: NNS female 1 A: or another idea a business it's er like a barter business 2 b: what 3 A: a barter like barter I don't know what Chinese word you know if 4 I have a computer and you have a er an office desk 5 b: yea 6 A: you swap so you swap your desk for my computer I give you my 7 computer and you give me your desk 8 b: that means the exchange 9 A: yes exchange or barter barter was the original word er 10 b: mm how to spell it 11 A: b-a-r-t-e-r 12 b: b-a-r-t-e-r 13 A: in America it is a very big big business it's like 14 b: oh yea last time you mentioned about that The NNS in extract 18 does not understand the term barter used by A on line 1 which then takes ten lines to explain in a very explicit way. Transfer from L1 The last factor we describe is transfer from L1 (Cantonese) to L2 which can give rise to language which is too explicit. In extracts 19 and 20, the NNS says more than is required. Extract 19 a: NNS female 1a: Chinese people (.) we (.) always have . . . Extract 20 a: NNS female B: male NS 1a: = and Chinese people are now getting [very much into 2B: = and Chinese people are now getting [people are getting into mother's day In both of these examples the speakers say Chinese people, which is a direct translation from Cantonese where both Chinese and people are required. In English, Chinese would be sufficient. A similar phenomenon occurs in the following extract. Extract 21 a: NNS female B: NS male 1 a: yes we have a nice view before you G_ and then some type yea 2 some erm other off- er the clerical officer is sitting in the room 3 and then at that time I found the wall is I think two years ago it's 4 more serious the wall is grey in colour 5 B: this wall 6 a: yes 7 B: well when I first came here when I came here J__ showed me WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 309
  18. 18. 8 my room 9 a: yes 10 B: it was all mouldy and [grey the whole[thing 11 a: it was all mouldy and [yes the [whole thing grey in colour 12 B: and I told J__ I can't live in the office the way it is Twice on lines 4 and 11, the NNS uses grey in colour, which is a direct translation from Cantonese. It is interesting to contrast this expression with the less explicit grey used by the NS on line 10. IMPLICATIONS FOR LANGUAGE LEARNING AND TEACHING Although inexplicitness is so prevalent a phenomenon in native English speakers' conversations, it is rarely, if ever, formally taught to learners of English. Very few textbooks incorporate the teaching and practice of inexplicitness in order to meet the real life demands of communication. One of the exceptions to this general observation is McCarthy (1991: 149±52) who describes activities that vary the `context-dependability' of the language produced by the language learners such as the occurrence of deixis. We suggest that there are a few principles relating to the teaching and learning of inexplicit language use which need to be borne in mind. The teacher needs to be aware that the verbal exchange of information in any classroom situation does not automatically equal natural language use. The representativeness of the discourse setting, the discourse techniques and strategies employed, and the actual language produced must be considered. The teacher should avoid asking students to speak at inappropriate levels of explicitness. To do so is unrealistic, unreasonable, and ultimately unhelpful if students are to become competent conversationalists in English. Learners should know that in communication, how far to be (in)explicit depend heavily on factors such as the audience, sensitivity of information being shared, or topic being discussed. Learners should be discouraged from acquiring the habit of repeating large chunks of the previous speaker's utterance, or maximizing talk for its own sake, which inevitably makes them say more than is required in the context. Language activities should give learners access to the full context of communication and encourage sharing of knowledge among learners. The activities suggested below are by no means exhaustive but point the way for language teachers to adapt, develop, and invent materials for familiarizing their students with the notion of inexplicitness as well as enhancing their students' competence in the use of inexplicitness, depending on the specific student needs. Awareness raising activities would include analysing the levels of inexplicitness employed by writers and speakers in a variety of written and spoken texts. Students need to be aware of the widespread use of deixis, ellipsis, reference, and substitution in native speaker discourse and the many possible realizations such linguistic forms can take. Students then can discuss and compare examples of real-life discourses with 310 INEXPLICITNESS
  19. 19. examples of their own writing and speaking in terms of their own use, or underuse, of inexplicitness. Apart from awareness raising, two examples for practice activities are suggested below. Communicative-type activities such as `Spot the Difference' (used here to illustrate a point and not necessarily as a suitable activity for university students), with the students being denied access to both pictures in order to maximize the talk, can encourage explicitness by providing practice in operating at a very low level of inexplicitness. Conversely, use of inexplicitness can be promoted by allowing the students to see both pictures and to find the differences together. The researchers recorded pairs of students performing this activity and noted marked differences in the levels of inexplicitness employed, as the following extracts show. Extract 22 a: NNS female b: NNS female Participants with access to both pictures: 1 a: and er the picture in A er the little boy in picture A has a teddy 2 bear 3 b: yea 4 (pause) 5 b: er 6 a: and er in B she has a cake 7 b: yea she has something and put on her legs but on picture A there 8 isn't Extract 23 a: NNS male b: NNS male Participants denied access to both pictures: 1 a: what can you see then 2 b: um a a boy 3 a: a boy 4 b: outside the door 5 a: a boy outside the doorÐwhat what's he holding is it a doll is it a 6 doll 7 b: [is he 8 a: [he's holding something right 9 b: no 10 a: he's he's not holding anything 11 b: yea 12 a: OK that's the difference mine's holding something In extract 22, the language exhibits a high level of inexplicitness with a very low lexical density, whereas extract 23 places the participants in a situation in which a lower level of inexplicitness is required to spot the differences between the two pictures resulting in lexically dense language. WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 311
  20. 20. In extract 22 line 1, a simple statement regarding the content of one picture is enough for a to say that she has spotted a difference. This is repeated for two more differences on lines 6 and 7 using a high level of inexplicitness. For the speakers in extract 23, it takes twelve lines and a lower level of inexplicitness to determine that a difference exists between the two pictures. In the second activity the participants were asked to assemble a toy wagon under very different circumstances which then very clearly impacted on the resulting discourses in terms of the levels of inexplicitness. In extract 24, the participants were jointly assembling a toy wagon. In extract 25, the participants were sat back to back. In front of a was a picture of the assembled wagon and in front of b were wooden pieces required to assemble the toy. a gave instructions to b as to how to assemble the wooden pieces as shown on the picture. Extract 24 a: NNS female b: NNS female Participants completing task together: 1 a: I think these two things should be put [on the side 2 b: I think these two things should be put [[yea 3 (laughs) 4 a: which colour do you want to [er 5 b: which colour do you want to [I think the red the red one 6 a: how to I can'tÐcould it be 7 b: no no no change Extract 25 a and b: NNS male Participants denied access to each other's information of task: 1 a: there's four long pieces two is without you know two tw[o have got what what 2 b: [yes 3 a: some empty [(.) you just put these two on the two sides on the two sides on the 4 b: some empty [empty space 5 a: two sides of the = 6 b: = of the truck 7 a: yes of the truck 8 b: two sides what do you mean by two sides 9 a: the long sides [I mean the out outside most side of the truck 10 b: the long sides [oh 11 (pause) 12 a: can you do it 13 b: yes Extract 24 has a lower lexical density and a greater use of inexplicitness, including ellipsis, substitution and reference. In fact extract 24 is not an extract; it is all of the talk produced by the two participants to complete this task. What is achieved in the first two lines of extract 24 takes the participants 312 INEXPLICITNESS
  21. 21. in extract 25 twelve lines to complete. The discourse is further characterized by higher lexical density, the use of self- and other-repetition and a much lower level of inexplicitness. In fact, most communicative `Information Gap' and task completion type of activities can easily be converted from producing highly explicit language to replicating highly inexplicit language if the participants are encouraged to share information rather than withhold it, that is, if the participants are allowed to integrate the physical context with language rather than being denied access to the context. In addition, the video recordings and transcripts resulting from these kinds of activities can be a useful resource for the kinds of language awareness discussed earlier. Of course this paper is not suggesting that all classroom talk should be evaluated solely in terms of replicating levels of inexplicitness found in native speaker conversations. Highly structured input of lexis and grammar, and the controlled practice available through many communicative activities, are invaluable in language teaching and are generally recognized as such by both learners and teachers. The place of communicative language learning activities in the classroom is secure, as they would appear to provide a bridge between tightly prescribed activities such as drilling and the kinds of activities suggested in this paper in which the teacher relinquishes control and facilitates situations in which students can practise conversing in English more appropriately and hence more inexplicitly. CONCLUSIONS Our findings provide evidence to suggest that while NNSs of English can operate at appropriate levels of inexplicitness, there are also instances when the conversational contributions of the NNSs are inappropriately inexplicitÐ either overly explicit or overly inexplicitÐfor successful understanding and communication. NNSs' inappropriate levels of inexplicitness have been shown to be manifested in a generally lower incidence of the use of the linguistic forms of inexplicitness, namely deixis, ellipsis, reference, and substitution. Additional factors affecting the levels of inexplicitness found in NNSs' utterances are a higher frequency of other-repetition, cultural schemata, linguistic competence, and L1 transfer. The overall difference in the level of inexplicitness employed by NNS has resulted in a relatively higher lexical density in their utterances. As for the reasons for differences in the levels of inexplicitness in the conversational contributions between NSs and NNSs, a few tentative explanations have been put forward. These are the lower level of communicative and linguistic competence of the NNSs, L1 (Cantonese) transfer, an overriding concern on the part of the NNSs with successfully communicating meaning rather than with the appropriacy of the language being used, and differences in cultural schemata. WINNIE CHENG AND MARTIN WARREN 313
  22. 22. We suggest that the findings described have implications for English language teaching and learning. Classroom activities both for raising learners' awareness towards the use of inexplicitness and practising inexplicitness have been suggested. The findings of the study raise the question of what are the effects, if any, on discourse meaning if a speaker is persistently producing utterances in a conversation which are inappropriately inexplicit. Sinclair (1991: 497) suggests that in language use, when something is obvious, it is optional and `the more obvious it is, the less likely it is to occur, and the more marked for meaning its occurrence'. If Sinclair's assertion is correct, then the NNSs are in our study persistently using a marked level of inexplicitness in contexts where an unmarked level is appropriate. Further research is needed to establish the impact of this marked conversational behaviour by the NNSs on the interpretation of their utterances by the hearer(s). (Revised version received September 1998) ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The work described in this paper was substantially supported by a grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Project No. G-S357). We are grateful to our colleague Neil Drave for his input as a member of the overall project team. We are also grateful for the comments of three anonymous reviewers on an earlier version of this paper. 314 INEXPLICITNESS NOTES 1. Since this paper is concerned with the ability to be inexplicit instead of thinking of degrees of explicitness, it discusses the issue in terms of levels of inexplicitness. 2. Quirk et al. (1985: 861) classify ellipsis in terms of whether the full form is recover- able from a part of the text (textual), the extra linguistic situation (situational), or through knowledge of grammatical struc- ture (structural). REFERENCES Auer, P. 1992. `Introduction: John Gumperz' approach to contextualization' in P. Auer and A. di Luzio (eds.): The Contextualization of Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Biber, D. 1988. Variation across Speech and Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Biber, D. and E. Finegan. 1989. `Drift and the evolution of English style: A history of three genres.' Language 65/3: 487±517. Blum-Kulka, S. and E. Olshtain. 1986. `Too many words: Length of utterance and prag- matic failure.' SSLA 8: 165±80. Brown, G. and G, Yule. 1983. Discourse Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chafe, W. 1982. `Integration and involvement in speaking, writing, and oral literature' in D. Tannen (ed.): Spoken and Written Language: Exploring Orality and Literacy. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Channell, J. 1994. Vague Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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