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Translating Politeness Across Englishes

The Princess and the Pea


Rehana Mubarak-Aberer

Due to the increasing lingua-cultural heterogeneity of today’s users of English, it has become necessary to examine politeness, translation and transcultural communication from a different perspective. This book proposes a concept for a transdisciplinary methodology to shed some light onto the opaque relationship between the lingua-cultural biographies of users of English and their patterns of perceiving and realizing politeness in speech acts. The methodology incorporates aspects of CAT tools and business intelligence systems, and is designed for long-term research that can serve as a foundation for theoretical studies or practical contexts, such as customer relationship management and marketing.

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2. Is politeness translatable?


2. Is politeness translatable?

In the discussion about “translatability”, two extreme perspectives can be observed in the literature: the universalist and relativist view. From a universalist perspective, everything can be translated, including politeness. This view is shaped by Noam Chomsky who claims that language consists of a surface and deep structure and that the deep structure elements can be expressed in any language and culture19. From a relativist perspective as occupied by Sapir and Whorf20 who claim that language determines culture, nothing is translatable, including politeness, as thinking and speaking are strongly bound to each other. Both universalist and relativist perspectives presuppose that the concept of translatability is constituted by the capacity “for some kind of meaning to be transferred from one language to another without undergoing radical change”21. This can be also observed in many concepts of “translation”. In addition, universalist and relativist perspectives on translatability and translation neglect the differentiation and complexity within cultures in societies and in individuals, but also the interconnection, “hybridization” and permeating processes across cultures22. Considering the problem of finding criteria for distinguishing languages and cultures which constantly intermix and change, in how far can the view on translatability and translation be adapted to the transculturality of today’s societies, covering and linking “global and local, universalistic and particularistic aspects”23?

The synthesis of Constructive Realism and Cooke’s evolutionary translation theory provide a framework that enables us to contextualize translation and translators into a transcultural world and establish two main...

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