Rachel Mapson (UK)

Sunday September 14th 2014

9:30 – 10:10         Rachel Mapson (UK)

“Oil on troubled waters”: a metaphorical perspective on politeness and interpreting

This presentation draws on metaphor to explore politeness in relation to interpreting.  Politeness features in every interpreter-mediated encounter, within the complex process of language transfer, ‘dialogue management’ (Sandrelli 2001) and our own communication as professionals.  However, politeness can be an awkward subject to discuss, as knowledge of politeness is generally acquired implicitly and used intuitively (Blum-Kulka 1997).  For sign language interpreters these issues may be further problematized by the lack of research on politeness in signed languages and within translation and interpreting literature, with much of the latter focussing on product rather than process.  In contrast this presentation explores linguistic politeness as it relates to the entire process of interpreting.


Data were generated through a series of semi-structured group discussions centred on politeness issues, involving eight highly experienced professional British Sign Language/English interpreters.  Discussion around the recognition of politeness in BSL and its interpretation was stimulated by video clips of Deaf signers making polite requests and apologies.

These data suggest that participants were challenged by describing politeness in signed language and also when considering politeness more broadly within their professional practice; they used metaphor as a means of articulating the complexities involved.  These metaphors fell into two broad categories.  Firstly, the visual nature of signed language lends itself to description, in English, with the use of visually-motivated metaphors; participants created metaphors to facilitate their metalinguistic discussion of politeness in BSL.  Secondly, participants generated a number of conceptual metaphors (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) when discussing interpreting politeness and the considerations made when working from sign into speech. These data provide insights into our understanding around the negotiation of politeness that occurs within the interpreting process, and highlight the value of politeness to professional interpreters.