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2009年考研英语时文阅读及翻译之英语的消亡

黄涛   2008-11-27 09:01 【 】【我要纠错
英语的消亡
   

  导读:怪异的短信语言是对语言的亵渎还是创新?是年轻一代人堕落的标志吗?语言学家得出了与中学教师和语言保守主义者不同的结论。

  In an experiment, the more adept children were at text messaging, the better they did in spelling and writing.

  The most hotly contested controversy sparked by the text-messaging phenomenon of the past eight years is over truant letters. Textese(Text(手机短信)+ ese(用语))组成, a newly born dialect of English that subverts letters and numbers to produce ultra-concise words and sentiments, is horrifying language loyalists and pedagogues. And their fears are stoked by some staggering numbers: this year the world is on track to produce 2.3 trillion messages——a nearly 20 percent increase from 2007 and almost 150 percent from 2000. The accompanying revenue for telephone companies is growing nearly as fast——to an estimated $ 60 billion this year. In the English-speaking world, Britain alone generates well over 6 billion messages every month. People are communicating more and faster than ever, but some worry that, as textese drops consonants, vowels and punctuation and makes no distinction between letters and numbers, people will no longer know how we were really supposed to communicate. Will text messaging produce generations of illiterates? Could this——OMG(Oh my God)——be the death of English language?

  Those raising the alarm aren't linguist. They are teachers who have had to red-pen some ridiculous practices in high-school papers and concerned citizens who believe it their moral duty to write grammar books. The latter can be quite prominent, like John Humphrys, a television broadcaster and household name in Britain, for whom texting is vandalism and Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, who actually enjoys texting so much she never abbreviates. Britain, one of the first countries where texting became a national habit, has also produced some of the most bitter anti-texting vitriol, textese wrote John Sutherland in The Guardian, masks dyslexia. But linguists, if anyone is paying attention, have kept quiet on this score——until now. In a new book, Britain's most prolific linguist finally sets a few things straight.

  David Crystal's Txtng: the Gr 8 Db8 (Oxford) makes two general points: that the language of texting is hardly as deviant as people think, and that texting actually makes young people better communicators, not worse. Crystal spells out the first point by marshalling real linguistic evidence. He breaks down the distinctive elements of texting language——pictograms, initialisms, or acronyms; contractions and others——and points out similar examples in linguistic practice from the ancient Egyptians to 20th century broadcasting. Shakespeare freely used elisions, novel syntax and several thousand made-up words (his own name was signed in six different ways)。 Even some common conventions are relatively novel: rules for using the oft-abused apostrophe were set only in the middle of the 19th century. The point is that tailored text predates the text message, so we might as well accept that ours is a language of vandals. Who even knows what p.m. stands for? (Post meridiem, Latin for after midday, first recorded by a lazy delinquent in 1666. )

  Where the opponents see destruction, Crystal sees growth. He believes in the same theory of evolution for language as some evolutionary biologists do for life: change isn't gradual. Monumental developments interrupt periods of stagnation, always as a result of crucial external developments. The American Revolution had much greater consequences for the English language than texting has had thus far. The resulting differences between American and British English, Crystal says, are more pronounced than the differences between, say, the language of newspapers and text messages. (Interestingly, there are hardly any differences between American and Britain texting.)

  As soon as linguists began to peer into the uproar over texting, researchers examined the effects of texting experimentally. The results disproved conventional wisdom: in one British experiment last year, children who texted——and who wielded plenty of abbreviations——scored higher on reading and vocabulary tests. In fact, the more adept they were at abbreviating, the better they did in spelling and writing. Far from being a means to getting around literacy, texting seems to give literacy a boost. The effect is similar to what happens when parents chat away to infants or read to toddlers: the more exposure children get to language, by whatever means, the more verbally skilled they become. Before you can write abbreviated forms effectively and play with them, you need to have a sense of how the sounds of your language relate to the letters, says Crystal. The same study also found the children with the highest scores to be the first to have gotten their own cell phones.

  Which doesn't let the teenager who LOLS in a term paper off the hook——but that's not so much a question of language ability as of judgment. It, too, should go the way of all slang ever inappropriately used in a classroom——rebuked with a red pen, not seized upon as a symptom of generational decline. Even if electronic communication engenders its own kind of carelessness, it's no worse than the carelessness of academic jargon or journalistic shorthand. It certainly doesn't engender stupidity. One look at the winners of text-poetry contests in Britain proves that the force behind texting is a tendency for innovation, not linguistic laziness. Electronic communication, Crystal says, has introduced that kind of creative spirit into spelling once again. That heathen Shakespeare would have been onboard.

  (Newsweek <<新闻周刊>>,August,2,2008)

  一次实验表明,手机短信发得越是熟练的孩子,单词拼写和写作能力就越强。在最近8年中,由手机短信现象引起的最激烈的争论是关于不规范用语。“短信语言”作为一种新兴的表达方式,颠覆了字母和数字,创造出极其简洁的词汇和情绪表达方式,令语言的尽忠信守者和学究们惶恐不已。而一些大得惊人的数字又加剧了他们的惶恐:今年全世界发送的短信数量将达到2.3万亿条,比2007年增加了将近20%,比2000年增加了近150%.随之而来的电话公司的收入也以近乎同样的速度增长——今年预计达到600亿美元。在说英语的国家中,仅英国每月发送的短信就大大超过60亿条。尽管人们之间的交流更多更快了,但有人担心,随着短信语言省略了辅音、元音和标点,对字母和数字不加区别的使用,人们会忘记正常的交流方式。发短信会造就几代文盲吗?上帝啊(短信用语:OMG)——英语会就此消亡吗?

  提出警告的并非语言学家。他们中有不得不批改中学学生试卷中一些荒唐用法的老师,也有认为自己有道德义务编写语法书的忧虑的公民。后者包括相当知名的人物,如英国家喻户晓的电视主播约翰汉氟莱斯,他认为短信是“对文化的恶意破坏行为”。还有《吃、射、走》一书的作者林恩特拉斯,她实际上非常喜欢发短信因而从不使用缩写。英国是首批发短信已成国民习惯的国家之一,但这里也产生了针对短信行为的最激烈尖刻的批评。约翰萨瑟兰在《卫报》上写到:“发短信是针对诵读困难的掩饰。” 但语言学家(如果当中有谁关注此事的话)却至今对此保持沉默。英国最高产的语言学家最终在一本新著中澄清了几件事。

  戴维克里斯特尔所著的《发短信:大讨论》(牛津大学出版社出版)中提出了两大论点:一是短信语言并不像人们想的那样离经叛道,二是发短信实际上使年轻人交流得更好,而不是更差。克里斯特尔通过收集现实中语言例证清楚地阐述了第一点。他分析了短信语言的特殊要素——象形文字,词首字母缩略或缩拼词,缩略词等。他还列举自古埃及文字到20世纪广播中都存在的类似语言应用的例证。莎士比亚随意使用的省音、新奇句法和数千个自造词(他的名字便有6种不同的签法)。即使是一些常见用法也是相对新奇的:常被滥用的省字号撇号的用法规则直到19世纪中叶才定型。重要的是规范过的语言先于短信的出现,所以我们也可以认为我们的语言是恣意破坏文化者的语言。谁知道p.m.代表什么呢?(Post meridiem,拉丁语“中午之后”,1666年由一位懒散的失职者首次记录。)

  反对者看到毁灭的地方,克里斯特尔则看到成长。如同一些生物学家相信生物进化论那样,他相信语言同样展现着进化论:变化不是渐进的。非常的变化会打破停滞期,其原因总在于重要的外部变化。美国独立战争对英语的影响远远大于发短信迄今为止对英语的影响。克里斯特尔说,结果美国英语和英国英语的差别比报纸语言与短信语言之间的差别还要显著。(有趣的是,美国和英国的短信之间差别几乎没有。)

  语言学家刚一开始关注关于短信的争议,研究人员就通过实验来检验发短信的影响。实验结果与传统看法相悖:去年在英国举行的一项实验表明,写短信和大量使用缩写的儿童在阅读和词汇考试中成绩更好。实际上,他们使用缩写越熟练,就越擅长拼写和写作。写短信远非避开识字的途径,反而是为识字增添助力。其效果类似家长对婴儿叨叨咕咕,或者给刚会走路的孩子读故事:无论以何种方式,孩子接触语言越多,语言能力就越强。克里斯特尔说:“在有效使用缩写词并巧妙对此加以运用之前,你必须了解语言的声音与字母之间的关系。”这项研究还发现得分最高的孩子最先拥有他们自己的手机。

  让十几岁的年轻人的学期论文不能轻松通过的原因与其说是语言能力问题,不如说是判断问题。它也应该像在课堂上使用不当的俚语一样,以红笔判错,但并不作为一代人堕落的表现。即使电子通讯产生一种特有的随意,但并不比学术术语或新闻用语的简略表达法所产生的随意更糟糕。它肯定不会造成愚蠢。只要看看英国短信诗歌比赛的获胜者就会明白,写短信的驱动力是创新的追求,而不是语言的惰性。克里斯特尔称,电子通讯“已经将创新精神再次引入到单词拼写中来”。如果离经叛道的莎士比亚再世,他也会热衷于短信语言。

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