Saturday, May 10, 2008

"Love Means Never Having to Say ..."

There is a talented Cuban blogger named Yoani Sánchez at Generation Y. She's a wonderful writer and thoughtful blogger. The fact that she's managed to maintain her blogging life while explicitly repressed by her government (they've taken away her passport, amongst other things) is inspiring. (HT Daily Dish)

But I'm a linguist, so let's get down to business. As far as I can tell, she blogs in THREE languages!! Spanish, German, and English. Her most up-to-date posts appear to be in Spanish, so I presume this is her blog language of choice. However, as the weeks and months go by, some of her older posts appear in either English or German translations. I'm curious to know if she is translating these herself, or getting someone to translate for her? Some of the English is quite good and enjoyable (with occasional stutters, of course).

The current English post (from March 5) is on apologies. Linguist have long been interested in the apology as a speech act, of course. There are whole subfields of Sociolinguistics and discourse pragmatics devoted it.

I've long felt that my use of the casual apology has little to do with any attempt on my part to ask for forgiveness. The most common situation in which I use "I'm sorry" or "excuse me" is one where someone else has made a mistake of some sort. Imagine I'm walking in to a store and someone has mistaken used the entrance as the exit and he bumps into me. I would most likely mumble lightly, "oops, sorry". Clearly, I am not at fault, yet I issue the apology. Why?

Here is my I-haven't-read-Grice-in-years analysis: by taking blame, so to speak, I am able to quickly signal to the offender that I am not issuing blame to them. Since they know they are to blame and not me (and they know that I know, blah blah blah), they can infer via the Maxim of Quality that I must be saying something else, like an indirect speech act. Using some chain of Gricean inference, they can probably construct the interpretation that I'm really saying "no apology is necessary".

It is an easy way for me to diffuse their trepidation about MY reaction. At around 6 foot 4 inches and 260lbs, I know I'm an intimidating presence. I don't want the other person to feel that their small mistake will be turned into a big one by the overreaction of some lumbering giant (actually, I'm quite quick on my feet, I was a helluva wrestler once, ya know).

So, here's 11 ways to say you're sorry (HT SenseList)

Catalan: Ho sento
Croatian: Žao mi je
Czech: Promiňte
Danish: Undskyld
Finnish: Anteeksi
Flemish: Het spijt me
Hungarian: Sajnos
Luxembourgish: Et deet mer leed
Maltese: Ma nitkellimx bil-Malti
Norwegian: Beklager
Polish: Przepraszam


1 comment:

Chris said...

As a follow-up, I have since noticed "translator's notes" on her pages, so it seems she does in fact employ some sort of professional translators. Good for her.

Putting the Linguistics into Kaggle Competitions

In the spirit of Dr. Emily Bender’s NAACL blog post Putting the Linguistics in Computational Linguistics , I want to apply some of her thou...