What, When and How? Spanish Native and Nonnative Uses of Politeness

  • María J. Barros García Universidad de Granada
  • Marina Terkourafi Universidad de Illinois en Urbana-Champaign
Palabras clave: interlanguage pragmatics, Peninsular Spanish, U.S. American English, face-saving, face-enhancing, role-plays


The current study reports on three role-plays investigating the understanding and uses of politeness by native speakers of Spanish from Spain, native speakers of English from the United States, and nonnative speakers of Spanish from the United States. Motivated by the different characterization of Peninsular Spanish and U.S. American cultures as solidarity and distancing cultures, respectively (Hickey, 2005; Pinto, 2011), we expected that American English speakers would be more inclined towards the use of politeness strategies linked to the protection of face, while Spaniards would make more use of maneuvers to enhance face. The pertinent research question is whether learners transfer into L2 their L1 preference for face-saving, or, conversely, are able to adapt their behavior depending on the language of the interaction. Our results show that, overall, nonnative speakers still abide by the norms of their L1 to some extent, attaching more importance to the avoidance of face-threats when speaking in Spanish than native speakers do, although this preference tends to become less marked as their proficiency in the L2 increases.