Formulae across languages: English greetings, leave-takings and good wishes in dubbed Italian


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Formulae across languages: English greetings,leave-takings and good wishes in dubbed Italian


  • Formulae across languages: English greetings,leave-takings and good wishes in dubbed Italian


    University of Pisa, Italy

    1. Introduction

    The aim of this paper is to investigate the use of greetings, leave-takingsand good wishes in English film dialogue and in Italian dubbed language.We first intend to ascertain how much space such speech acts are grantedin film language and dubbing. Although these conversational routines (inthe sense of Firth 1972 and Coulmas 1981) are scarcely informative, theyplay in fact a paramount role in establishing a relational function withininterpersonal interactions. Also, we expect possible discrepancies to emergein the cross-linguistic mapping (cf., for instance, Verschueren 1981), dueto asymmetry in the respective repertoires of formulae (e. g. the Englishleave-taking formula cheers or the Italian greeting salve) and to asymmetryin the identification of relevant time spans (cf. good forms in English andtheir Italian counterparts).

    Our analysis focuses on a small corpus of nine recent American andBritish films dubbed into Italian and fully transcribed orthographically(see Section 4 of this chapter). In these films, language varies on differentdimensions: diatopically (British, American, Australian and Irish accents,as well as London accents), diachronically (contemporary films, romanticcomedies, dramatic films and costume dramas) and diastratically (fromupper to lower social classes). We also make reference to three Italian films,in order to compare original Italian film language with dubbed Italian.

    1 The research was carried out by all authors together. Paragraphs 1 and 6 were writtenjointly; Veronica Bonsignori wrote paragraphs 3, 4, 5.3, 5.4; Silvia Bruti wrote para-graphs 2, 5.2; Silvia Masi wrote paragraphs 2.1, 5, 5.1.



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    This chapter is organized as follows: we first introduce greetings, leave-takings and good wishes as conversational routines and discuss them inrelation to relevant literature on their forms and functions; this is also wherewe outline the main tenets of the classification we have used in our analysis.We then briefly present the role of conversational routines in film language,along with a more specific research question we ask in our paper. The nextsection introduces in some detail the corpus of films under investigation,and is followed by the discussion of the data and concluding remarks.

    2. Greetings, leave-takings and good wishesas conversational routines

    Conversational routines (cf. Firth 1972, Coulmas 1981 and Aijmer 1996)are defined as pre-fabricated linguistic units used in a well-known andgenerally accepted manner (Coulmas 1981: 1). Thus, in specific situa-tions, speakers make use of similar and sometimes identical expressions,which have proved to be functionally appropriate (Ferguson 1981, e. g.good morning, *good birthday vs. happy birthday, *good Christmas vs. merryChristmas). However, as Coulmas points out, competent language use isalways characterized by an equilibrium between the novel and the famil-iar (Coulmas 1981: 12). In other words, these routines are central inlinguistic action for different reasons: they perform an important socialfunction as they allow individuals to relate to others in an accepted man-ner, conforming to established rituals or ceremonial behaviour, but theyoften also enact a balance between convention and creativity (cf. Coulmas1981 for a comparison between conversational routines and idioms). Theuniversal nature of conversational routines has been acknowledged, al-though linguistic form is subject to cross-linguistic and cross-culturalchanges (Verschueren 1981: 134).

    Greetings, leave-takings and good wishes have been granted signifi-cant attention in the sociolinguistic literature (see Coulmas 1981; Laver1981; Eisenstein-Ebsworth et al. 1996; Hudson 1996 and Gramley andPtzold 2004). A recent review of relevant literature in Masi (2008) sug-gests that appropriate criteria to describe them could be the following:






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  • 25Formulae across languages

    1. their marginal vs. salient position within conversation (e. g. whetherthey appear in initial, central, or final position);

    2. their interactional reciprocity (i. e. symmetrical usage which may alsobe subverted);

    3. their fixedness of form (i. e. their more or less marked conformity toconvention, which helps conversational participants to identify therelational function of such expressions).

    Of these, the marginal-salient position has been the most important crite-rion for the selection and analysis of our data, since it can be viewed asespecially correlated with specific interactional (macro-)functions (see 2.1in this chapter).

    2.1 Greetings and leave-takings: A close-up

    From the vast array of expressions that can be included in the category ofconversational routines, for the purpose of our project we decided to re-tain the following extended set of more or less formulaic expressions (cf.Laver 1981; also see Masi 2008):

    greetings and leave-takings proper, i. e. expressions which have a salientposition, a conventional and fixed form and serve a politeness-relatedexpressive function, such as hello and good-bye;

    terms of direct address or vocatives (e. g. Sir, darling), often co-occur-ring with greetings or leave-takings proper, but which can also appearalone and can modify the degree of politeness of the speech act;

    utterances of phatic communion, that is, routine expressions of a lessfixed nature which are more flexible in their meanings and functions,e. g. inquiries about health, comments about the weather, etc. (cf. Laver1981; see also Coupland and Coupland 1992 and Coupland 2003 onsmall talk).

    These three types of expressions are often tightly intertwined in our dataand jointly contribute to the negotiation of social relationships betweenthe participants in conversations.

    Generally speaking, greetings and leave-taking formulae proper areused to open and close communication (phatic function), to express feel-ings and attitudes towards interlocutors (expressive function), and, more

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    specifically, to indicate the relationship between speaker and interlocutorin terms of power (superiority/inferiority) and solidarity (vicinity/remote-ness) (cf. Brown and Gilman 1960). A special type of greeting in our datais the introductory one (see Eisenstein-Ebsworth et al. 1996), which mayinvolve more or less ritualized exchanges with the specific function of al-lowing the parties to establish a connection for the first time.

    Terms of direct address, too, express and codify social meaning alongthe scalar dimensions of power and vicinity, and represent a crucial elementin the intersemiotic mapping exemplified by dubbing, as address systemsvary both cross-linguistically and within speech communities themselves(on relevant work on Italian in dubbed English films see for instance Pavesi1996 and Ulrych 1996; on vocatives in film subtitles see Bruti and Perego2005). Finally, what counts as utterances of phatic communion varies greatlyacross social groups and generations and, notably, across cultures (Couplandand Coupland 1992: 213). Utterances of phatic communion can performdifferent functions depending on their position. When they occur in theopening phase of an exchange they defuse the potential hostility of silence(e. g. talking about the weather and/or enquiries about health), and haveinitiatory and exploratory functions. When used in the closing phase theytypically bring about effects of mitigation (e. g. I must leave) and consolida-tion (e. g. See you next Saturday) of social relationships.

    In our paper, we use the following labels (letters in italics) to identifythe main categories of expressions we analyze:

    g > greetings proper, e. g. hi, hello, hey, good morning, etc.i > introductory formulae, e. g. nice to meet you, how do you do, pleasure,

    etc.v > vocatives, e. g. darling, Mr. President, etc. > leave-takings proper, e. g. good-bye, see you, take care, cheers, farewell,

    etc.p > more or less formulaic expressions of phatic communion, e. g. thank-

    ing, apologizing, promising, etc.; these also cover expressions such ashow are you, good to see you, as well as good wishes, e. g. good luck.

    The latter expressions are often ambiguous and can be attributed a fullyconventional, non-informational interpretation, or a transactional read-ing. In fact, this very indeterminacy is the key to their social utility (seeCoupland and Coupland 1992: 226). Crucially, their more or less com-mitted status, i. e. commitment to a speakers own factuality (Coupland




  • 27Formulae across languages

    and Coupland 1992: 213), is often a matter of on-the-ground negotia-tion by participants [] contingent on local sequential placement inparticular contextualized episodes and on the momentary salience of par-ticular interactional goals. This adds to the importance of the correlationof these linguistic expressions with sequential positioning in the classifica-tion of our data.

    Our analysis is organized on the basis of the five linguistic categorieswe have outlined, matched with the subsequent three functional para-meters (or macro-functions):

    I) O > Opening;II) I > Introduction (i. e. when speakers introduce themselves);III) C > Closing.

    The macro-functions of Opening and Introduction usually correlate withthe sequence initial posit