Degree of Social Distance (closeness of relationship between the interlocutors) is one of the most important social factors to consider when making requests in Spanish. It can be a very important clue in helping you select the proper language strategies to perform a request.

There is an inverse relationship between distance and directness in many varieties of Spanish. Can you figure out what that means using the examples below?

Play each of the two conversations. The first conversation is an interaction between two friends in which the degree of social distance is very low. The second conversation involves a professor and a student and demonstrates a greater degree of social distance. As you watch each interaction, pay special attention to the type of request strategies used by the native speakers and think about how they might be related to social distance.

A Request Between Friends: Iker (standing) asks Gemma (sitting) if he can borrow a book.


A Request from a Student to Her Professor*: A student (wearing a red sweater) asks her professor (wearing a black sweater) for an appointment.

*You will notice that the student, from Spain, uses Ud. with her professor. Typically, in Spain, it is permissible to use with a professor. Ud. is probably used here since the professor is from Venezuela, where Ud. would be the accepted form of address. This is a good example of changing a pragmatic strategy to match a different language variety.



What do you notice about the different request strategies in each of the interactions?

In which of the situations is the request more direct? How might this be related to social distance?

List one request strategy from each of the dialogues that reflects the differences in social distance.

Less Social Distance

More Social Distance

Is this relationship between directness and social distance the same in English?