Click here to fill out our survey for the 2024/25 essay competition!

"Looks like we've got a problem": A Corpus-based Analysis of Discourse Markers

First suggested by Lakoff (1973) and often known as “vague language”, hedges refer to words and phrases that signal cautiousness or politeness by intentionally creating ambiguity and weakening the argument. In the case of the phrasal verb “look like,” dictionaries describe its meaning of showing resemblance (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d., Merriam-Webster, n.d.), but disregard its growing role as a hedging device, especially in informal discourse. In this regard, this study aims to discuss the semantic and syntactic properties of the phrase “look like” when used to add uncertainty to the given statement. The hedge is distinguished from its normal usage by appearing in the sentence-initial position either with the impersonal pronoun “it” (i.e., “It looks like”) or without a subject (i.e., “Looks like”). In addition, unlike its usual function as a verb, it is not required for the completion of a sentence, as it can be substituted with adverbs.
A comparison of subsets of the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) revealed that the number of “looks like” entries was 2.24 times bigger in blog posts than in the newspaper, and a follow-up comparison in the British National Corpus (BNC) yielded similar results, as the form was 2.68 times more frequent in spoken corpora. Because blog posts are considered as a form of social media, such stark contrast in numbers highlights the importance of its role as a hedge in informal conversational settings. By focusing on blog corpora, this study intends to shed light on the characteristics of “look like” that differentiate it from other uses and help convey the speaker’s intentions. In doing so, it will be also possible to address the importance and prevalence of a previously overlooked pragmatic tool.

References: 
Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Look like someone/something. In Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/look-like-someone-something 
Lakoff, G. (1973). Hedges: A Study in Meaning Criteria and the Logic of Fuzzy Concepts. UC Berkeley. Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/0x0010nv 
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Look like. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/look%20like