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I'm trying to find the best translation for the Russian term Сиятельство. (I can't speak Russian either! So don't expect too much from me in that regard.) This is a form of address, often translated into English as Illustrious Highness. In the old Russian Empire, it was the default form of address for princes and princesses not part of the imperial family. (With the tsar's blessing, some princely families used the higher style of Serene Highness, but let's not get into all that!)

The literal translation of Her Illustrious Highness would, I think, be Son altesse illustre. However, I know from the Monégasque princely family that their style - the official English form of which is His/Her Serene Highness - is Son altesse sérénissime, and not Son altesse sereine. Might Son altesse illustrissime then be a more elegant translation? Or is that just nonsense?

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  • Thanks to your question, I learned a new false friend: "courtier" that translates to courtisan in French while courtier means "broker", +1 for that :-)
    – jlliagre
    Dec 28 '20 at 2:11
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I don’t have too much knowledge of historical context around it, but having grown up for a large part of my life in a French environment (France !) I’m almost positive the word majesté (literally « majesty ») is the best word to associate with « illustre », in terms of frequency of use.

Though the Monégasque princely family seems to be using a similar phrase, your idea of using son altesse illustrissime sounds mostly like a humorous exaggeration to a mere mortal, while son altesse illustre could probably work if you instead said « illustre altesse » (French can also have adjectives before the noun, when the sentence is respectful or as a way to make it elegant). However, I think « illustre majesté » is best because the adjective contains 2 syllables, versus 3 for the noun, allowing it not to be overshadowed. But perhaps I’m missing a semantical difference that leaves « altesse » as being a better word choice.

Also, « Son » and « Votre » can be used interchangeably (unsure which is most respectful though).

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  • Son and votre are not interchangeable! You introduce with son ( or leurs) but you address with votre.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 27 '20 at 20:17
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    Son altesse sérénissime (À Monaco et ailleurs fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Son_Altesse_S%C3%A9r%C3%A9nissime )
    – Personne
    Dec 27 '20 at 21:04
  • @MatTheLemur +1. From my (very!) limited expertise with the French language, your answer seems spot on from a linguistic point of view. From a historical point of view however, you're a bit off; the style of majesty (in any European language) was only ever used by kings, queens and those with even grander titles. Dec 27 '20 at 21:59
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    @chancellorofpaphos Ok, I figured there might be a difference in the rank it's used to designate. Good to know, as well as for the "Votre" and "Son" (which should be obvious to a French guy, but somehow went over my head I guess) Dec 28 '20 at 6:30
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    @chancellorofpaphos … En effet, mais ce titre est réservé à la Russie dont la noblesse parlait maîtrisait le français à l'époque. Pour la noblesse de ce côté de l'Oural Sérénissime est utilisé. L'élégance de votre traduction sera de tenir compte de cette géographie honorifique.
    – Personne
    Dec 29 '20 at 8:55

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