Politeness in Translation between English and Spanish


If we accept Brown and Levinson’s distinction between positive and negative politeness, it would seem justifiable to accept also that Britain tends to be a negative-politeness society whereas Spain tends towards positive politeness. The paper asks how positive-politeness readers (Spaniards) react to examples of negative (or English) politeness when translated literally. It reports on a smallscale experiment carried out to see how such readers reacted to translations from English of samples of negative politeness and poses the question whether translators (continue to) translate the locutionary dimension (the words) of such texts rather than attempt to convey the illocutionary force (the acts of politeness being performed).

Table of contents

For institutional reasons as well as, or rather than, linguistic or textual reasons, there seem to be text genres which survive translation more intact than others, in the sense that samples of some genres, if translated, emerge through the translation looking glass still exemplifying the source genre while others do not, or do so only to a limited extent or only if certain conditions are met. For [ p. 230 ]instance, if a novel or a love letter is translated from English into Spanish, what comes out will be a novel or a love letter; if a sonnet is translated from English into Spanish, the outcome will be a sonnet if but only if a particular kind of verse translation is done; if a power of attorney is translated from English to Spanish, what we will have at the end is not a power of attorney at all (that is to say, a document that could be used for the purposes for which a Spanish “poder” is used) but (merely) a Spanish translation of an English power of attorney.

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