Telling by omission

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This corpus-based study explores some of the linguistic and discursive aspects of framing positive and negative information – mainly modals, evaluative adjectives, and mitigation strategies – in recommendation letters. The corpus is comprised of 114 letters of recommendation spanning three years of applications to an English Ph.D. program, approximately 46,000 words. The results reveal consistent patterns in the way different types of modals and their associated collocates are used to hedge predictions, and the analysis identifies the discursive frames of the most common mitigation strategies in presenting potentially negative information about applicants. The study illustrates the need to combine both corpus-based quantitative and qualitative methods for a more robust and fine-grained analysis of evaluative language in this occluded genre. Keywords: Recommendation letters; evaluative language; modals; negative presentation; mitigation strategies; occluded genres


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