Interpreting impoliteness and over-politeness: An investigation into interpreters' cognitive effort, coping strategies and their effects

Xia Xiang, Binghan Zheng, Dezheng Feng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This paper investigates how politeness is treated in interpreter-mediated events and how the treatment is related to interpreters' pragmatic competence. An empirical study was conducted for this purpose, in which twenty-two professional and student interpreters were asked to work in a liaison interpreting mode. An analysis of the interpreters' cognitive effort involved (i.e. the interpreting process) and the coping strategies employed (i.e. the interpreting product) in dealing with impolite and over-polite utterances, together with their retrospections, produced three findings: 1) Impolite and over-polite utterances slowed down the processing speed of interpreting, indicating that more cognitive effort was involved. Professionals were particularly affected when interpreting from English to Chinese, students the opposite direction. 2) Various coping strategies beyond literal interpreting were adopted by both groups. Professionals used coping strategies more liberally and intentionally than students, especially syntactic ones and omission. 3) The overriding majority of the strategies succeeded in mitigating the face-threatening force implied in the utterances. The differences between the two groups are explained by their different levels of intercultural pragmatic competence. This study contributes to the interlingual and cross-cultural study of politeness, and the exploration of the complexity of the interpreter's role.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-244
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Cognitive effort
  • Coping strategies and effects
  • Impoliteness
  • Intercultural pragmatic competence
  • Liaison interpreting
  • Over-politeness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence

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