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Language of respect in English
Thread poster: Phil Hand

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:51
Chinese to English
Feb 21, 2014

I wonder if you could give me some help brainstorming an issue. In many languages/cultures there seem to be more overt markers of status and respect than we like to use in English. The obvious examples are the French tu/vous; Japanese honorifics; and relevantly to me, the Chinese habit of attaching family relations to everyone, so a close older friend is called "older brother/sister", and a close younger friend would be "younger brother/sister".

All of these present different translation challenges, but I wonder if we could just generally talk about how we express respect relations in English. It's certainly not the case that we don't express them. If I see two people talking, I can tell pretty quickly what the relationship between them is like, from their language forms and little ceremonies. But perhaps these forms of expression don't attach directly to names or forms of address as they do in other languages - the standard in English now for many people is for everyone to be on first name terms.

So how do we do it? For example, if talking to a colleague who is older or more senior (but not our boss), what do we say? Is it in the turn taking - we wait for them to speak first? Is it tone of voice? Are we more indirect to people we respect? Do we use their names more or less?

Any ideas you have would be very welcome!


 

urbom
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
German to English
+ ...
ideas from empirical studies Feb 21, 2014

Here's an article that might generate some ideas (also has a v.good list of references at the end): http://www.mpi-sws.org/~cristian/Echoes_of_power_files/echoes_of_power.pdf

I recall reading (but cannot now locate -- might have been on Language Log) a corpus-based study that found high-status people tend to use "I" less than low-status people, because when high-status people express their own opinions, they tend to express them as if they were the uncontrovertible truth, whereas low-status people are more likely to signal that their opinions are subjective. Consider the difference between saying "This is how it is" and "I think this is how it is".

Edited to add: Also check out accommodation theory for some more ideas.

[Edited at 2014-02-21 10:37 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-02-21 10:52 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 12:51
German to Serbian
+ ...
Lots of factors Feb 21, 2014

Some ideas....

Sir/Madam but that was old English and is outdated now, unless in some contexts, such as aristocracy etc...

In English I think the polite forms are compensated by the overuse of please and thank you-s, but then again it's used a lot between family members - not just in formal contexts.

And body languages, aside from the tone of voice, can tell a lot I guess...

I personally wish all languages were like English in this regard, because not only do we express respect with vous/Sie/lei etc, we also express that that person is old(er), mature, etc ....

In Canada, apparently there's a policy now where everyone is to be called "Miss" regardless of their age, and "Missus" is to be pushed out of the use, for everyone to feel equally young : )

In translation, your choice must support the storyline and relationship between characters or the overall context. If in doubt, ask the client.




[Edited at 2014-02-21 10:44 GMT]


 

Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:51
Spanish to English
+ ...
Presence/absence of idiomatic expresions and slang Feb 21, 2014

In a North American context, if I, personally, were talking to a higher-status person, I would use fewer idiomatic expressions, and less slang. The same would be true in a formal (requesting bank loan) versus informal (meeting the same bank officer at a party).

.


 

Jessie LN  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
Spanish to English
+ ...
'polite' constructions Feb 21, 2014



So how do we do it? For example, if talking to a colleague who is older or more senior (but not our boss), what do we say? Is it in the turn taking - we wait for them to speak first? Is it tone of voice? Are we more indirect to people we respect? Do we use their names more or less?



I agree with what Jessica has suggested and I'd also say that I am inclined to use polite constructions for making requests or asking questions, such as using "could" instead of "can".

In contrast to what Lingua 5B says, I sometimes use "Sir" and "Madam" to get the attention of strangers who are markedly older than I am, e.g. "Excuse me, Sir".


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:51
Chinese to English
TOPIC STARTER
Great ideas Feb 21, 2014

Thanks, everyone. Please keep them coming!

Following a link that urbom gave, I came to a paper which included the following list of politeness strategies. Politeness is not exactly the same as showing respect, but it's related.


1. Use indirect questions such as enquiries into the hearer's ability or willingness to comply 'Can you tell me what time it is?'
2. Use hedges: words or phrases which diminish the force of a speech act `Can I perhaps trouble you?'
3. Use the subjunctive to express pessimism about hearer's ability or willingness to comply `Could I ask you a question?'
4. Use words or phrases which minimize the imposition `I need just a little of your time'
5. Give deference by using honourifcs such as Sir or Mr `Can I help you, Sir'
6. Use formal word choices to indicate seriousness and to establish social distance `Could you tolerate a slight imposition on mypart?'
7. Apologize: admit the impingement, express reluctance `In am sorry to bother you, but . . .'
8. Impersonalize the speaker and hearer by avoiding the pronouns `I' and `you' `Is it possible to request a favour?'
9. Use the past tense to create distance in time `I had been wondering if I could ask a favour'
10. State the face-threatening-act as a general rule `Regulations require that I ask you to leave'

http://www.sfs.uni-tuebingen.de/~Roland/Literature/Morand(00)_language_and_power.pdf


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 12:51
German to Serbian
+ ...
Yes, we also use plurals for older people... Feb 21, 2014

Jessie Linardi wrote:

In contrast to what Lingua 5B says, I sometimes use "Sir" and "Madam" to get the attention of strangers who are markedly older than I am, e.g. "Excuse me, Sir".


Exactly, the plurals (vous, Sie) are used to address markedly older person, not only for respect, hence the comparison. It's hard for native English speakers to grasp this since the concept doesn't exist in English. When teenagers start addressing you with the plural form you know you are not so young/youth anymore.. on the other hand, it would probably not be typical for a child in elementary school to address the child in high school with plural form, it's for addressing the "older" people ...


 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:51
Italian to English
A case of cases Feb 21, 2014

Lingua 5B wrote:

Jessie Linardi wrote:

In contrast to what Lingua 5B says, I sometimes use "Sir" and "Madam" to get the attention of strangers who are markedly older than I am, e.g. "Excuse me, Sir".


Exactly, the plurals (vous, Sie) are used to address markedly older person, not only for respect, hence the comparison. It's hard for native English speakers to grasp this since the concept doesn't exist in English.



Respect in English is of course marked, as it is in other languages, but it's flagged up by vocatives instead of nominatives. To take a very simple example, there are differing degrees of familiarity implied in Jimmy Hendrix's "Hey, Joe" and Bob Dylan's "Hey, Mr Tambourine Man".

Nowadays, English doesn't need a verb like the Spanish "tutear", or phrases like the Italian "diamoci del tu" and Greek "ας μιλάμε στο ενικό". Instead, we ask: "can I call you (insert interlocutor's first name or nickname)?"

In the past, respect or relative status was indicated in English by use of the singular and plural second-person pronouns. In Hamlet, the prince's lower-ranking friend Horatio addresses him using the respectful form:

Here, sweet lord, at your service.

and Hamlet replies with the familiar pronoun:

Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man
As e'er my conversation coped withal.


But that was then and this is now.


 

Vanda Nissen  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 20:51
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
:) Feb 21, 2014

I was doing a research on the Russian forms of address comparing them with American and Polish ones. Yes, if we compare forms of address, Russian and especially Polish seem to be the "winners" (Polish even has three pronouns, like using he/she as a polite form of address, it also has pan/pani (Sir/Ma'am) and semi-formal (pan/pani + first name).

But although addressing people by their first names is very popular in all English speaking countries, there are other ways to stress the distance or show politeness including overuse of the word "please". I am planning to make a presentation at the next AUSIT conference about politeness in the medical settings. What I have noticed is that medical practitioners in Australia use the word "please" much more often then it is required in Russian in similar settings. Another thing is modal verbs, i.e. "Could you....?" "Would you mind...?", again, these ones are the markers of more formal relationship.

Also, "Hey you " as a way of getting someone's attention vs. "Excuse me" is a marker, too.

In the UK and here, in Australia, shop assistants, owners of the small businesses can address me as "love", it never happens at the banks, police or hospitals - their staff always address customers as "Sir/Ma'am".

I would rather say that English requires more social skills and cultural knowledge when it comes to addressing people. It is a whole science how to use first names and show respect at the same time.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 12:51
English to Polish
+ ...
... Feb 22, 2014

Perhaps one thing to add: those vocatives which do the heavy lifting in conveying respect in English are sometimes inserted into the text specifically for this purpose and no other. Their role is simply to generate an opportunity to recognise someone's title or put his name in the spotlight. They might repeat quite often, rather than yielding their place to a more convenient but less solemn pronoun. Also the third-person address is still alive, although only really in formal contexts: 'may it please the court,' 'for your excellency's review,' 'for your lordship's reading pleasure,' etc. Finally, direct second-person address is sometimes avoided in favour of third-person narration.

Curiously, I translated a diplomatic letter from Polish into English last week, and – contrary to what one would typically expect – the target ended up being much more densely packed with deferential devices than the source. Notably, a three-word sign-off turned into a full sentence still followed by a standard 'Yours Faithfully'.

[Edited at 2014-02-22 01:36 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:51
Russian to English
+ ...
Some inaccuracies. Feb 23, 2014

Lingua 5B wrote:

Some ideas....

Sir/Madam but that was old English and is outdated now, unless in some contexts, such as aristocracy etc...

In English I think the polite forms are compensated by the overuse of please and thank you-s, but then again it's used a lot between family members - not just in formal contexts.

And body languages, aside from the tone of voice, can tell a lot I guess...

I personally wish all languages were like English in this regard, because not only do we express respect with vous/Sie/lei etc, we also express that that person is old(er), mature, etc ....

In Canada, apparently there's a policy now where everyone is to be called "Miss" regardless of their age, and "Missus" is to be pushed out of the use, for everyone to feel equally young : )

In translation, your choice must support the storyline and relationship between characters or the overall context. If in doubt, ask the client.





[Edited at 2014-02-21 10:44 GMT]


Old English? 12th-14th c? I also think you might have meant French in your fourth paragraph, or something else completely, which is not clear. As to Miss--are you serious?

[Edited at 2014-02-23 10:47 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:51
Russian to English
+ ...
Polite forms Feb 23, 2014

Vanda Nissen wrote:

I was doing a research on the Russian forms of address comparing them with American and Polish ones. Yes, if we compare forms of address, Russian and especially Polish seem to be the "winners" (Polish even has three pronouns, like using he/she as a polite form of address, it also has pan/pani (Sir/Ma'am) and semi-formal (pan/pani + first name).


I would rather say that English requires more social skills and cultural knowledge when it comes to addressing people. It is a whole science how to use first names and show respect at the same time.

Hi. What do you mean by Polish using the third form (he/she) in addressing people politely? Can you explain, because I don't think it is true about contemporary Polish. You only use Pan/Pani in contemporary Polish, when addressing anyone whom you don't know well, if the person looks over eighteen. (Sometimes they may be even fifteen, if they look older, or more mature).

With Pan/Pani you use the third person verb form--if this is what you meant. It is extremely rude not to use the Pan/Pani form when addressing someone you don't know.

As to forms of respect in English--you use "Your Honor" when addressing a judge, for example.

As to "Hey, you"--in American English, I would advise against it--it may really be viewed as very offensive, depending on the circumstances.

We have: Honey (that some people in small stores may use addressing female customers) Sugar (from Sugar Momma--I think, so you may want to be careful with this one), Sweetie. Madam--very popular form of address in courts, used more often to address interpreters (Madam Interpreter--the official form of address) and lawyers than litigants. Sir--the masculine variety.

[Edited at 2014-02-23 11:26 GMT]


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 12:51
German to Serbian
+ ...
Your Honor? Feb 23, 2014

How does "Your Honor" in a very specific court context compare to plural forms in common daily use that this topic is dealing with? I really don't see how it proves any point. That's the norm to address the judge in any language and in any culture.

[Edited at 2014-02-23 11:25 GMT]


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:51
Russian to English
+ ...
We've been discussing various polite forms Feb 23, 2014

and forms of respect--from what I have seen--even if the very subject is slightly more limited.

I am really interested in and puzzled by the "Miss" form in Canada. Could you provide more information about that, instead.


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 12:51
German to Serbian
+ ...
Yes I can Feb 23, 2014

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

and forms of respect--from what I have seen--even if the very subject is slightly more limited.

I am really interested in and puzzled by the "Miss" form in Canada. Could you provide more information about that, instead.


I had a client from Canada (a direct client) who is eng-fr bilingual. We discussed language issues once when they told me the cultural norm was about to be enforced by which all females are to be address by "Miss" or Mademoiselle" because "Mrs" or "Madame" may make them feel aged. This is of course in informal communication, not in contexts where "Mrs" may be relevant indicating marital status, etc.


 
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