He said, she said: Controlling illocutionary force in the translation of literary dialogue

Julian Bourne

In this article it is suggested that the translation of speech-act report verbs may provide scope for achieving stylistic and pragmatic aims. Analysis of the translation of fictional dialogues from a contemporary English novel reveals considerable diversity in the choice of Spanish verbs used to render ‘said’ in the context of impositive directive speech acts. While the choice of a speech act with similar illocutionary force to “said” may fulfil only stylistic objectives, a pragmatic dimension is introduced by the selection of a speech-act verb with a different force. In the context of impositive directive speech acts such a choice may be viewed as an aspect of “pragmastylistics”, defined in Hickey et al. (1993) as “the area where pragmatic and stylistic considerations converge.”

Table of contents

In this paper I am concerned with translations of the directive class of speech acts, described by Searle (1979: 13) as “attempts ... by the speaker to get the hearer to do something”. Haverkate (1994: 149) distinguishes between im- positive and non-impositive directives: in the former, the propositional content describes an action which, if carried out by the hearer, would be to the speaker’s advantage, while the action described in the second category is supposedly of benefit to the hearer. As Leech observes (1983: 107), drawing such a distinction inevitably involves a degree of subjectivity. However, fuzzy though it is, the classification enables me to focus on the translation from English into Spanish [ p. 242 ]of a class of speech act (sometimes glossed as “commands and requests”) which has been identified as problematic for translators (Hervey et al. 1994: 192), and to distinguish this class from other directives such as “advise” and “invite” which are no doubt also problematic but in different ways.

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