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全球化呼唤“简化英语”  

2008-09-04 12:32:16|  分类: 大学教育 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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作者:英国《金融时报》专栏作家迈克尔·斯卡平克(Michael Skapinker)

 

最近,当我在布鲁塞尔的一次商务翻译研讨会上发言时,其中一位翻译工作者问我,英国《金融时报》是否有计划再单独发行一份简化英语版。虽然我没有听说过此事,但我还是告诉他,这是一个有趣的想法。

我们有成千上万母语非英语的读者,不过他们的英语知识足以让他们理解每天报纸上的内容。然而,肯定还有许多人尽管掌握财经概念,却发现英语过于复杂。

坐在返回伦敦的欧洲之星(Eurostar)列车上,我思索着简化版的英国《金融时报》看起来会是怎样。我认为,首先需要解决的问题应该是词汇表。戴维?克里斯特尔(David Crystal)在他的《The English Language》一书中表示,一部中型英语词典包含约10万个词条。即便是母语为英语的人也只认识其中一小部分。

“你认识多少个词?”萨莎?拜伦?科恩(Sacha Baron Cohen)所创作的故作天真的电视角色Ali G曾向语言学大师诺姆?乔姆斯基(Noam Chomsky)提出这个问题。乔姆斯基教授表示,成年人通常认识数万单词。“其中有哪些?”Ali G问道。当不知如何回答的乔姆斯基惊讶得语无伦次时,Ali G告诉他:“我认识好多单词:parachute(降落伞)、photograph(照片)、spaghetti(意大利面条)、camera(照相机)。”

在他的书中,克里斯特尔重新尝试确定一个以英语为母语的普通人认识多少个单词。该项工作包括,从一部词典不同位置采取词条样本并询问接受测试者,然后记下她认识的单词数。将这一数字外推至整部词典后显示,她能看懂的单词有3.83万个,而经常使用的有3.15万个。

母语非英语的人若要理解简化形式的英语,需要掌握多少个单词?在过去几年里,有几个人对此进行了调查,并得到相似的答案:不到1000个。简化语言的先驱之一查尔斯?凯?奥格登(Charles Kay Ogden)于上世纪20年代设计出了他所谓的“基础英语”(Basic English)。它只用了850个单词——奥格登表示,对于交流来说,这已经足够了。

欧洲航空航天和国防工业协会(Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe)是简化英语的拥护者之一。它已设计出一套制度,所用单词不超过900个。该协会的参与说明,推动简化英语的因素往往是安全需要。

当来自不同国家的飞行员或海员相互交谈时,通常使用的是英语。英语作为一种国际语言,尽管面临着来自西班牙语或汉语普通话的挑战,但它仍有可能在我们的有生之年保持这一地位。

空中交通管理员、飞行员和海员起初用英语对话,并很快发展出一种他们都可以理解的语言。有限但是有效的词汇表只是这种语言的一部分,他们还需要他们都能领会的讲话方式。误解意味着可能有人会因此丧命。

克里斯特尔写道,于是在1980年发起了一个被称为国际海事基本英语(Essential English for International Maritime Use)的项目。这个也被称为“水手话”(Seaspeak)的项目基于标准的、容易理解的短语。所以,海员和海岸警卫队官员们被告知,应讲“再说一遍(Say again)”,而不要讲“你说什么?(What did you say?)”、“我没听到你说什么(I can't hear you)”或者“请重复一遍(Please repeat that)”。

当欧洲航空公司协会(Association of European Airlines)要求飞机制造商们提高维修手册的可理解性后,欧洲航空航天和国防工业协会在一年后启动了上述工作。许多航空公司的技师并非以英语为母语,他们发现文档难于理解。

1986年,飞机制造商们发布了它们第一部简化技术英语(Simplified Technical English)指南,随后被美国航空运输协会(Air Transport Association of America)采用,并自那时起成为一个国际标准。

此项标准具体体现在其各项指令当中,这些指令旨在确保一旦人们掌握某个词所表示的意思,他们就不会遇到该词还表示其它意思的情况。例如,飞机制造商们被告知,单词“Follow”始终应表示“跟随”而不是“遵守”之意。因此,你能够说“Obey(遵守)安全指令”,而不能再说“Follow(遵守)安全指令”。

你可以意识到,为什么此项标准在飞机维修书中或许是有价值的,但在报道信贷危机时却会带来不必要的限制。

然而,至少有一个新闻机构已开发出简化英语服务,并且距今已有相当一段时间。美国之音(Voice of America)于1959年播出了第一期所谓的“特别英语”(Special English)的节目。

该节目的词汇表稍大一些——1500个单词。它还拥有文法规则:使用短句,每句只包含一个意思;使用主动语态;不使用成语;而最为重要的是,语速要慢。“特别英语”节目广播员的语速是正常语速的三分之二。

对于一个母语为英语的人来说,这种效果会令人昏昏欲睡。不过对于一个母语非英语的人来说,能增进理解必定是令人兴奋的。简化英语可能不适用于每个人,但是随着全世界工作环境为英语的人数增加,我想我们将看到它的更多应用。

译者/汪洋

 

A WORD IN YOUR EAR: KEEP IT SLOW AND SIMPLE

By Michael Skapinker 2008-09-04

When I spoke to a recent Brussels conference of business translators, one of them asked me if the Financial Times had any plans to publish a separate edition in simplified English. Not that I knew of, I told him, although it was an interesting idea.

We have thousands of readers who are not native English speakers but whose knowledge of the language is sufficient to take in these pages every day. But there must be many others who grasp the financial concepts but find the English too complicated.

On the Eurostar back to London, I pondered what a simplified FT might look like. The first issue to tackle, I thought, would be vocabulary. In his book The English Language, David Crystal says that a medium-sized English dictionary has about 100,000 words in it. Even native speakers know only a fraction of these.

“How many words does you know?” Ali G, Sacha Baron Cohen's faux-na?f television creation, once asked the linguistics luminary Noam Chomsky. Prof Chomsky said that mature humans usually knew tens of thousands of words. “What is some of them?” Ali G demanded. As the unsuspecting Prof Chomsky spluttered in amazement, Ali G told him: “Me know loads of words: parachute, photograph, spaghetti, camera.”

Mr Crystal, in his book, recounts an attempt to work out how many words the average native English-speaker does know. This involved taking a sample of entries from different parts of a dictionary and asking the subject to count how many she recognised. Extrapolating her answer to the whole dictionary suggested she understood 38,300 words and regularly used 31,500.

How many words would a non-native speaker need to understand a simplified form of English? Several people have investigated this over the years and have come up with a similar answer: fewer than 1,000. One of the pioneers of simplified language, Charles Kay Ogden, devised what he called Basic English in the 1920s. It used only 850 words – sufficient, he said, to communicate.

The Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, a champion of simplified English, has devised a system that uses no more than 900 words. The association's involvement demonstrates what often drives simplified English: the need for safety.

When pilots or sailors from different countries talk to each other, they usually do so in English. English is the international language and, in spite of challenges from Spanish or Mandarin, is likely to remain that way throughout our lifetimes.

Air traffic controllers, pilots and sailors began speaking to each other in English and soon developed a language they could all understand.

A limited but effective vocabulary was one part of it, but they also needed forms of speech that they could all recognise. Misunderstandings meant people could die.

So in 1980, Mr Crystal writes, a project was set up on Essential English for International Maritime Use. Also known as Seaspeak, this relied on standard, easily understood phrases. So instead of “What did you say?” or “I can't hear you” or “Please repeat that”, sailors and coast guard officials were told to opt for “Say again.”

The European aerospace association's effort began a year earlier when the Association of European Airlines asked aircraft manufacturers to improve the comprehensibility of maintenance manuals. Many airline technicians were not native English speakers and found the documents difficult.

In 1986 the manufacturers issued their first guide to Simplified Technical English, which was then adopted by the Air Transport Association of America and has since become an international standard.

The standard is specific in its instructions, which aim to ensure that once someone has learnt a word in one form, they will not encounter it in another. So manufacturers are told the word “follow” should always mean “come after” and not “obey”. So you can say “obey the safety instructions” but not “follow the safety instructions”.

You can see why this might be useful in aircraft maintenance books but it would be unnecessarily restrictive in reporting the credit crisis.

But at least one news organisation has developed a simplified English service, and it did it some time back. The Voice of America broadcast its first programme in what it calls “Special English” in 1959.

This has a slightly bigger vocabulary – 1,500 words. It also has style rules: use short sentences that contain only one idea. Use the active voice. Do not use idioms. And above all, speak slowly. Special English broadcasters speak at two-thirds of normal speed.

To a native speaker, the effect is soporific. To a non-native speaker, the increase in comprehension must be thrilling. Simplified English may not be for everyone, but with the rise in the number of people around the world working in English, I suspect we will see more of it.

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