Volume 9, No. 2 
April 2005

Agnieszka Szarkowska

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Index 1997-2005

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  Translator Profiles
A Lifetime of Learning and Teaching
by Betty Howell

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Why are most translators underpaid? A descriptive explanation using asymmetric information and a suggested solution from signaling theory
by Andy Lung Jan Chan

  In Memoriam
Thomas Snow: 1930 - 2005
by Alex Gross
Lessons Learned
by Wilfried Preinfalk
  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages: Character is Destiny
by Ted Crump

Software Localization
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by Kenneth A. (Sandy) McKethan, Jr. and Graciela White

  Translators Around the World
Translation and Interpretation Work for the LNG Tangguh Project in Papua, Indonesia
by Izak Morin

  Translation Theory
żQué traducción? Los métodos de traducción en el análisis contemporáneo
Armando Francesconi, Ph.D.
Foreignization/Domestication and Yihua/Guihua: A Contrastive Study
He Xianbin

  Arts and Entertainment
The Power of Film Translation
by Agnieszka Szarkowska

  Translating Social Change
Translation Problems in Modern Russian Society
by Irina Khutyz

  Book Review
A Conversation with Ilan Stavans
by Verónica Albin
Tolkien’s Use of the Word “Garn!” to Typify a Motley Crew of Reprobates
by Mark T. Hooker

  Literary Translation
Ideological Manipulation in Translation in a Chinese Context: Su Manshu's Translation of Les Misérables
by Li Li

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
On Idioms, Intertextuality, Puddings, and Quantum Physics (all of them in simultaneous, please)
by Carlo Marzocchi

  Translator Education
Knowing Before Learning: Ten Concepts Students Should Understand Prior to Enrolling in a University Translation or Interpretation Class
by Brian G. Rubrecht, Ph.D.
Language Learning in the Translation Classroom
by Carol Ann Goff-Kfouri, Ph.D.

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  Translation Journal

Translator Education


On Teaching Forms of Address in Translation

by Agnieszka Szarkowska


Forms of address constitute an important part of everyday communication in every culture, and they therefore should not be disregarded in translation and translator training. The article offers a few practical tips on how to incorporate forms of address into translation classes at university level.

A revised version of this article was presented by the author at the PASE1 Conference held by the University of Łódź, Poland, on 5 April 2005.



he goal of this paper is to present a few translation tasks that could be used by translation teachers in their classes at university level. Some of these exercises have been tested in practice, while others still need to be tried out. It is important to bear in mind that teaching the translation of address forms should not always be done in an explicit manner under the heading "translating forms of address." On the contrary, it is useful to point to the right forms of address in any type of text—for instance, when discussing issues such as the role of context and style both in translation of written and spoken texts.

The paper adopts a perspective directed at English-Polish translation classes; however, the author is convinced that these tasks can be successfully employed in any translation classes.

The problem with teaching forms of address in translation does not usually concern the knowledge of linguistic repertoires of the source and target languages—students at English departments in Poland usually have a very good command of English, and most of them are native speakers of Polish, which makes them proficient in both languages. The problem lies in the students' cultural awareness. In other words, students frequently do not display what Dell Hymes called "cultural competence" (1972), i.e. the knowledge of when and how certain address forms are used in each culture. Therefore, one of the goals of translation classes is seen as consciousness-raising so that students can gain full native-like competence and acquire naturalness of expression.

It comes near to stating the obvious that translation difficulties regarding address forms stem from the differences between the two languages and cultures. For example, in English there is only one 2nd-person pronoun used as an address form—you; while in Polish the situation is more complex: there are two informal 2nd person pronouns ty (singular) and wy (plural) as well as words that are often classified as pronouns and which on the surface seem to represent 3rd person, used in the case of formal address, namely pan (singular, male), pani (singular, female), panowie (plural, male), panie (plural, female), państwo (plural, male+female). However, differences in English and Polish systems of address forms lie beyond the scope of this article.

What follows are examples of activities that could be used to practise translating forms of address at university level.

Activity 1

For a start, a good way to test your students' competence in this respect is to give them the following simple introductory task:

1. Imagine various situations in which the following sentence could be uttered. Then translate it in as many different versions as you can. Please note that were here is not an auxiliary verb, but a form of the 'full' verb to be.

You were.

Students usually do not have any problems in finding four versions once they realise you can stand for both men and women here. However, the author has tried out this exercise with four different groups and none of them came up with all the ten versions they were asked to produce in Polish:

  1. (Ty) byłeś.
  2. (Ty) byłaś.
  3. (Wy) byliście.
  4. (Wy) byłyście.
  5. Pan był./ Był pan.
  6. Pani była. / Była pani.
  7. Panowie byli. /Byli panowie.
  8. Panie były. / Były panie.
  9. Państwo byli. / Byli państwo.
  10. Państwo byliście. / Byliście państwo.

The obvious conclusion is that students—as do many other Polish speakers—mistakenly assume that you always means ty or wy regardless of the context, instead of pan/pani. This exercise can be adapted to be used in many different languages, for example French or German (see suggestions in the table below), the difference being in the number of possible outcomes.



  1. Tu étais.
  2. Vous étiez.
  3. Tu as été.
  4. Vous avez été.
  1. Du warst.
  2. Sie waren.
  3. Ihr wart.
  4. Du bist gewesen.
  5. Sie sind gewesen.
  6. Ihr seid gewesen.

Activity 2

The same problem, i.e. formal and informal address forms, can be analysed in an authentic context, provided by a dialogue from the feature film Notting Hill. The scene takes place in a travel bookshop in London, when the shop assistant notices a shoplifter. The students are introduced to the context and then they are shown the scene. After watching it for the first time, they are asked to imagine what such a dialogue would sound like in their native context; they can even act it out. In the Polish context, the conversation would probably be more 'stormy' and emotional, quite possibly with some accusations and shouting. In the context exemplified here, however, there is an instance of the typical British 'phlegm'—an extremely polite dialogue with reserve and distance. Furthermore, it would need to be elicited from the students that quite probably the shop assistant would be addressing the customer as pan (Vous in French / Sie in the case of German, etc.), and not as ty (tu / du respectively). Then, the fragment is shown again and students are provided with the script, which they are asked to translate. Alternatively, at this stage, students could be divided into pairs; in each pair one person would translate the words of the shop assistant, and the other those of the customer. The students would then be asked to read out their translations in pairs. This exercise could additionally turn their attention to issues like interpretation of participants' utterances, style and its appropriateness to the situation, politeness, naturalness of expression, consistency of the entire dialogue, etc.

2. Imagine what this dialogue would look like in a Polish bookshop and act it out. Then translate it into Polish (in the form of subtitles, dubbing, and voice-over).

"Excuse me?"


"Bad news."


"We've got a security camera in this bit of a shop."


"So I saw you put that book down your trousers."

"What book?"

"The one down your trousers."

"I don't have a book down my trousers."

"Right, I'll tell you what. I'll call the police (...)"

The students are asked to render this dialogue into the target language, bearing in mind the characteristics of each of the three modes of film translation. The class could be divided into three groups, one of which translates the above dialogue in the form of dubbing, the second—subtitling, and the third one—voiceover. This activity seems quite appealing to students as they are usually frequent cinema-goers and have a host of opinions regarding the official translation of certain films2. Thus, this activity would be aimed not only at developing their awareness of audiovisual translation modes and their restrictions, but it would also provide useful natural context for appropriate use of address forms in both the source and the target language.

Activity 3

In translation classes we also need to make students sensitive as to the crucial role of the context and circumstances. This point can be rightly illustrated by the following dialogue, adapted from Bridget Jones's Diary, in which the main protagonist, Bridget, informs her boss that she is quitting her job. The dialogue takes place a few days after the two split up. Having been provided with essential facts regarding the film, the students are asked to watch the chosen fragment. This is followed by a discussion on the formality of the dialogue and the role of the context. Students watch the scene for the second time and they are asked to focus on how characters address each other.

3. Watch the scene and discuss how the characters address each other. Translate the dialogue.

[Daniel Cleaver] "Bridge, c'mon, I know it's been awkward as ass, but there's no need to leave."

[Bridget Jones] "No, actually there is. I've been offered a job in television."

[DC] "Television?"

[BJ] "Mmm. And they want me to start straight away. So I've got to leave in about ooh 3 minutes. So ...am.. [leaving his room and coming to an open space office where other people are working]"

[DC] "Would you just hold it right there, Ms Jones. I am sorry to inform you that I think you'll find that by contract you are expected to give at least 6 weeks' notice."

[BJ] "Ah, yes, well... I thought with the company being in so much trouble and all, you wouldn't really miss the person who waltzes in a see-through top and funnies about with the press releases."

[DC] "Bridget!"

At first the boss, Daniel, addresses Bridget in an intimate way using the diminutive form Bridge, but on hearing the news he immediately switches to a more formal style, calling her Ms Jones and adopting a very formal and official style. In this dialogue we can observe the phenomenon known as code-switching, which is a regular and natural element of everyday encounters. This is something that needs to be pointed out in translation, and rendered accordingly. Such a translation activity would undoubtedly help open students' eyes to this very common phenomenon.

Activity 4

One problem that always crops up in translation classes is that of proper names, of which first names constitute a significant share. The currently prevailing tendency in translation studies is that proper names should be retained in their original form since they carry crucial sociolinguistic information on family, ethnic, or national affiliation. A change of the names, which are very much culture-bound phenomena, into the target language could suggest a change of nationality (Newmark 1981: 71). In order to introduce the following task, the students could be asked about their visits to English-speaking countries and how they were addressed there—was their real (Polish) name used, or perhaps some anglicised version of it? The teacher can recount his/her own personal story: for instance, in Polish Agnieszka is a very popular modern name, whereas Agnes in English is pretty old-fashioned, and it could be compared to Genowefa or Pelagia3 in Polish when it comes to the frequency of its use or the associations it triggers.

The significance of proper names can be very well illustrated by the following excerpt from Lost in Translation. A Life in a New Language by Eva Hoffman, a Polish-born Jew who emigrated to Canada as a teenager. Hoffman (1989: 105) depicts life in the new culture and the fragment below describes her and her sister's first day at the new school.

4. Talk to your partner about the way you were addressed in an English-speaking country. How did you feel about it? Read the fragment below and discuss the feelings of the two main characters. Then translate the following excerpt:

We've been brought to this school by Mr. Rosenberg, who, two days after our arrival, tells us he'll take us to classes that are provided by the government to teach English to newcomers. This morning, in the rinky-dink wooden barracks where the classes are held, we've acquired new names. All it takes is a brief conference between Mr. Rosenberg and the teacher, a kindly looking woman who tries to give us reassuring glances, but who has seen too many people come and go to get sentimental about a name. Mine—"Ewa"—is easy to change into its near equivalent in English, "Eva". My sister's name—"Alina"—poses more of a problem, but after a moment's thought, Mr. Rosenberg and the teacher decide that "Elaine" is close enough. My sister and I hang our heads wordlessly under this careless baptism. The teacher then introduces us to the class, mispronouncing our last name—"Wydra"—in a way we've never heard before. We make our way to a bench at the back of the room; nothing much has happened, except a small, seismic mental shift. The twist in our names takes them a tiny distance from us—but it's a gap into which the infinite hobgoblin of abstraction enters. Our Polish names didn't refer to us; they were as surely us as our eyes or hands. These new appellations, which we ourselves can't yet pronounce, are not us. They are identification tags, disembodied signs pointing to objects that happen to be my sister and myself. We walk to our seats, into a roomful of unknown faces, with names that make us strangers to ourselves.

After an introductory discussion, the students are ready to read and translate the assigned fragment. As a follow-up activity, it could be a good idea to analyse the published Polish translation of this fragment:

Zostałyśmy przyprowadzone do tej szkoły przez pana Rosenberga, który w dwa dni po naszym przyjeździe oświadczył nam, ze zapisuje nas na organizowane przez władze kanadyjskie kursy języka dla nowo przybyłych cudzoziemców. Tego ranka, w tandetnych drewnianych barakach, w których odbywają się lekcje, otrzymałyśmy nowe imiona. Następuje to po krótkiej naradzie pana Rosenberga z nauczycielką, sympatyczną kobietą, która spogląda na nas życzliwie, chcąc nam dodać otuchy, ale która widziała za dużo uczniów przechodzących przez te drzwi, aby rozczulać się nad czyimś imieniem. Moje imię „Ewa", ławo przerobić na jego angielski ekwiwalent—„Eva". Imię mojej siostry—„Alina"- nastręcza nieco więcej trudności, ale pan Rosenberg i nauczycielka decydują po chwili zastanowienia, że należy zmienić je na podobnie brzmiące imię „Elaine". Podczas tego pośpiesznego chrztu obie bez słowa pochylamy głowy. Potem nauczycielka przedstawia nas klasie, błędnie wymawiając nasze nazwisko „Wydra", a raczej nadając mu brzmienie, jakiego nigdy dotąd nie słyszałyśmy. Docieramy do ławki, która stoi w głębi klasy; nic się w zasadzie nie stało, tylko w naszej mentalności zaszła jakaś drobna sejsmiczna zmiana. Przeróbka naszych imion odsuwa je od nas na pewien dystans, ale w zaistniałą szparę wciska się nieokreślony chochlik abstrakcji. Nasze polskie imiona nie odnosiły się do nas—były po prostu częścią nas samych, podobnie jak nasze oczy czy dłonie. Te nowe określenia, których same nie potrafimy jeszcze wymówić, nie są nami. Są tabliczkami identyfikacyjnymi, pozbawionymi cielesności znakami, wskazującymi na przedmioty, którymi przypadkiem jesteśmy my—ja i moja siostra. Idziemy na swoje miejsca przez klasę pełną nieznanych nam twarzy, obdarzone imionami, które czynią nas obcymi we własnych oczach.

(translated by Michał Ronikier)

Activity 5

Another task is related to translating letters, of which address forms are an intrinsic part. To this end, the following fragment from the novel A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch can be used. To introduce the task, students are asked whether they have read the book and—if any of them have—to briefly summarise the plot. The story is set in and around London, among middle-class people, and it is useful to present the plot outline. The main character is Martin Lynch-Gibbon, a wine merchant, married to Antonia—a marriage out of convenience rather than love. While Martin is having a secret affair with a young academic Georgie, he is shocked when his wife tells him she is leaving him for Palmer Anderson, their friend and psychoanalyst. Shortly after, Martin falls for Anderson's step-sister, Honor Klein, who is a lecturer in anthropology at Cambridge. One evening Martin gets drunk, and a series of more or less fortunate events follow, after which he writes the letters (presented below) to Antonia, Georgie, and Honor Klein in order to apologise for his unacceptable behaviour.

At the beginning of the task, the students are provided with fragments of these letters and they are asked to find stylistic clues that will help them decide what style they are dealing with in each letter. It may also prove beneficial to discuss the differences in letter writing conventions in English and Polish. Having done this, the students should be ready to translate the letters.

5. Read the fragments of letters below and find stylistic clues. Using these clues, translate the letters into Polish. Please note the differences in English and Polish letter-writing standards.

[letter to Antonia]

"Darling, I'm sorry I was so drunk yesterdayand I do hope I didn't make a beastly stain on the carpet. You and Palmer were sweet about it. (...)

Forgive me and bear with me.



[letter to Georgie]

"My dearest child, I'm sorry I was so drunk yesterday. I hope I didn't tire you out. I should have gone sooner. (...)

So selfish, inconsiderate, and sorry for myself, I ask just that.

Your M"


[three versions of a letter to Honor Klein]

"Dear Dr Klein,

I literally do not know how to apologise for what happened last night. What form of words can I use to say how very deeply I regret my extraordinary conduct. You will have concluded, indeed you did, if I remember, conclude that I was drunk. (...)

I am yours sincerely

Martin Lynch-Gibbon"


"Dear Honor Klein,

I am afraid there is little point in trying to explain my conduct of last night, and scarcely any point even in apologising. I was, as you observed, very drunk, and I behaved like a wild beast. (...)

I am very sorry indeed for my shocking behaviour.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Lynch-Gibbon"


"Dear Honor,

I am sorry that I behaved to you like a beast and a madman. I cannot offer any explanation nor is this indeed in the ordinary sense an apology. (...)

I hope we shall meet again and that this incident may serve as a stepping stone to an understanding of each other which has so far been, on both sides, conspicuously lacking.

With my good wishes,


(Murdoch 1961: 113-116)

In this excerpt there are several aspects worth analysing. First, students need to discover stylistic clues in each fragment that will later guide them in translation. For example, in the first two texts, an intimate form of address opens the letters and there are contractions denoting informal style. In the letter to Honor Klein, however, there are no contractions, the vocabulary used is quite formal, and the first two versions begin with an address by surname. The exercise also proves very useful in teaching students the differences between English and Polish address, such as the use of Szanowna in formal style, and not Droga, which seems to be the preferred version of the majority of students. What is more, in this exercise students will most probably translate formal forms of address as Droga Dr Klein / Droga Pani Klein, which is a mistake as in Polish we do not use surnames in this situation, but we rather write Szanowna Pani / Szanowna Pani Doktor.

Alternatively, students can be divided into five groups, and each group is given one excerpt to translate. They then exchange their translations and carry out peer correction. They are asked to comment on their friends' translations, and make their own suggestions. Then they can be confronted with the group who actually translated the letter, and an interesting discussing can ensue with regard to translation decisions taken.

Activity 6

The problem of addressing others by their surnames is also touched upon in the following dialogue adapted from the feature film Before Sunset. The scene takes place in a Parisian bookshop, where Mr Wallace, a young promising American writer, is having a meeting with French journalists. Students watch the entire scene and they are then asked to translate the following utterance:

6. Watch the scene and translate the utterance below.

    "Mr Wallace, the book ends on an ambiguous note. We don't know. Do you think they get back to each other in six months like they promised each other?"

Again, students need to be reminded that in Polish we would rather say Proszę pana instead of Panie Wallace.

Activity 7

It worth to point out not only the differences in English and Polish forms of address, but also certain similarities, such as the rule that our friends' friends are our friends too, which means we are on first name terms from the very beginning. This can be illustrated by a scene from Bridget Jones's Diary, which takes place at a party.

7. Translate the dialogue below. Are there any similarities and differences between English and Polish introductions?

[Perpetua to Bridget and Mark talking] "Anyone going to introduce me?"

[Bridget to Perpetua] "Perpetua, this is Mark Darcy. Mark's a top barrister (...). [To Mark] Perpetua is one of my work colleagues."

[Perpetua to Mark] "Hi Mark, I know you by reputation of course."

[Natasha comes in]

[Mark] "Aaa, Natasha. [To Natasha] This is Bridget Jones. [To Bridget] Bridget, this is Natasha."

Activity 8

When talking about translation of English address forms, it is worth mentioning typical British expressions such as love, dear, mate, lad or governor. They should be elicited from the students, together with the information that they are used in British English only. The following dialogue comes from an Oscar-winning film Million Dollar Baby, a film presenting a trainer, Frankie, who works with a woman, Maggie, determined to establish herself as a boxer. The scene takes place during their trip to London, just before a fight, when a local assistant comes in to tell Maggie and Frankie how much time they have left.

8. Read the dialogue below and discuss possible translation difficulties. Then translate the dialogue.

[British assistant entering the room] "10 minutes, love."

[Maggie] "Thank you. [The assistant leaves] (...) says he loves me."

[Frankie] "Oh he's probably not the first one to say that."

[Maggie] "First since my daddy. If I win you think he'll propose?"

[Frankie] "You win, I'll propose."

Among the difficulties faced by the translator, the students can enumerate the culture-specific expression love, and the fact that it is typically British and even Americans do not feel very familiar with it. Another thing is the word game that arises from this form of address and how it is continued in the dialogue that follows. It should also be elicited from the students that in Polish it is not customary to use such expressions as often as in British English. After the discussion, the students are asked to translate the dialogue: probably the best Polish word for love here would be kochana/kochanie, as it allows to continue the conversation: wi, że mnie kocha, which is consistent with the source dialogue.

Activity 9

As was mentioned earlier, forms of address do not need to be taught explicitly all the time. They can be emphasised when discussing, for instance, translation of idioms. For this purpose, Monty Python's sketch entitled Dead Parrot can be used. The dialogue takes place in a shop between a shop assistant and a customer who is lodging a complaint with regard to the parrot he bought, which turns out to be dead. In the dialogue, attention is paid to how idioms should be translated, but at the same time, the students can be reminded of how strangers address each other in a shop.

9. Below you will find an excerpt from Monty Python's sketch Dead Parrot, which takes place in a shop between a shop assistant and a dissatisfied customer who had just bought what turned out to be a dead parrot. Translate the italicised fragment into Polish.

[Customer]: "Look, my lad, I've had just about enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased. And when I bought it not half an hour ago, you assured me that its lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out after a long squawk."

[Shop assistant]: "It's probably pining for the fiords. (...)"

[Customer]: "It's not pining, it's passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot."


When teaching translation, the role of forms of address tends to be neglected and underestimated, as a result of which students are not fully aware of both linguistic and cultural differences between the source and target languages in this respect. In response to this problem, the article has offered some practical ideas how the translation of address forms can be incorporated into translation classes from English into another language.


Hoffman, E. (1989) Lost in Translation. A Life in a New Language. London: Vintage.

Hoffman, E. (1995) Zagubione w przekładzie, transl. Michał Ronikier. London: Aneks.

Hymes, D. (1972) "On Communicative Competence." In: J. B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds) Sociolinguistics, Harmondsworth.

Murdoch, I. (1961) A Severed Head. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd.

Newmark, P. (1981) Approaches to Translation. Oxford: Pergamon Press.


Before Sunset (2004), dir. Richard Linklater, USA.

Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), dir. Sharon Maguire, UK/France.

Notting Hill (1999), dir. Roger Michell, UK/USA.