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Brits can get rather sniffy about the English language – after all, they originated it. But a Google search of the word “Americanisms” turns up claims that they are swamping, killing and absorbing British English. If the British are not careful, so the argument goes, the homeland will soon be the 51st State as workers tell customers to “have a nice day” while “colour” will be spelt without a “u” and “pavements” will become “sidewalks”. The two versions of English are intelligible but have long had enough differences to inspire Oscar Wilde to claim:

说到英语,英国佬们往往会变得非常自命不凡,毕竟,英语从他们那儿发源。但上谷歌搜索单词“Americanisms(美国腔)”,会发现许多人主张是英国人自己陷英语于泥沼,是他们自己在杀死、吞噬英语。如同论点中说的,如果英国佬不小心一点,英国本土会很快变成(操美式英语的美国)第51个州,在那里,工作人员会告诉顾客“have a nice day(译者注:“祝您过得愉快!”,典型的美式问候语)”时,拼写“colour”时会去掉“u”(译者注:英式英语中的colour不省略u),还会把“pavements”变成“sidewalks”(译者注:表示人行道时,英国用pavements,美国则用sidewalks)。英语的这两个版本是易懂的,但它们之间始终有着足够多的差异,激发了奥斯卡·王尔德作出如下断言:

(译者注:奥斯卡·王尔德(Oscar Wilde,1854年10月16日—1900年11月30日),出生于爱尔兰都柏林,19世纪英国(准确来讲是爱尔兰)最伟大的作家与艺术家之一,代表作《道林格雷的画像》)

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language.

“如今我们和美国真是在每个地方都有共同之处,当然,语言除外。”

My research examined how both varieties of the language have been changing between the 1930s and the 2000s and the extent to which they are growing closer together or further apart. So do Brits have cause for concern?

我的研究考察了英语的这两个变种在1930年代到2000年代间各自发生了怎样的转变,以及它们之间变得更接近或更分裂的程度。那么英国佬有理由让人担心么?

Well, yes and no. On the one hand, most of the easily noticeable features of British language are holding up. Take spelling, for example – towards the 1960s it looked like the UK was going in the direction of abandoning the “u” in “colour” and writing “centre” as “center”. But since then, the British have become more confident in some of their own spellings. In the 2000s, the UK used an American spelling choice about 11% of the time while Americans use a British one about 10% of the time, so it kind of evens out. Automatic spell-checkers which can be set to different national varieties are likely to play a part in keeping the two varieties fairly distinct.

好吧,是也不是。一方面,英语言中大多数显而易见的特征保持着稳定。拿拼写来说,在将近1960年代的时候,似乎英国趋向于抛弃“colour”中的“u”,并把“centre”写成“center”。但从那时候起,英国人开始对他们独有的一些拼写方式变得更加自信。在2000年代,英国人使用美式拼写的约占11%,同时,美国人使用英式拼写的约占10%,所以大致相仿。作用于不同国别英语变种的自动拼写检查程序可能在保持两个变种清楚地互相区别上起到作用。



There is also no need to worry too much about American words, such as “vacation”, “liquor” and “law-maker” creeping into British English. There are a few cases of this kind of vocabulary change but they mostly tend to be relatively rare words and they are not likely to alter British English too much.

同时也没有必要太过忧虑诸如“vacation”、“liquor”、“law-maker”的美制词汇混进英式英语。确实有一些诸如此类词汇表变化的例子,但它们通常都是生僻词,不太可能让英式英语变样太多。

The British are still using “mum” rather than “mom”, “folk” rather than “folks”, “transport” rather than “transportation”, “petrol” rather than “gas”, “railway” rather than “railroad” and “motorway” rather than “highway”. Words to keep an eye on, however, are lawyer, jail, cop, guy and movie – all of which are creeping into the lexicon more and more.

英国人仍在使用“mum”而不是“mom”, “folk”而不是“folks”, “transport”而不是“transportation”,“petrol” 而不是“gas”, “railway”而不是“railroad”,“motorway”而不是“highway”。是该对词汇密切留意了,然而,像lawyer, jail, cop, guy and movie,所有这些词越来越多地混进了词典。 

But when we start thinking of language more in terms of style than vocabulary or spelling, a different picture emerges. Some of the bigger trends in American English are moving towards a more compact and informal use of language. American sentences are on average one word shorter in 2006 than they were in 1931.

但当我们开始从流行风尚的角度来思考语言而非词汇或拼写时,情况就有所不同了。美式英语更重大的一些趋势,是语言使用上的更简洁和更非正式。2006年时,美国人的句子较之1931年平均要短出一个词。

Americans also use a lot more apostrophes in their writing than they used to, which has the effect of turning the two words “do not” into the single “don’t”. They’re getting rid of certain possessive structures, too – so “the hand of the king” becomes the shorter “the king’s hand”. Another trend is to avoid passive structures such as “a paper was written”, instead using the more active form, “I wrote a paper”.

美国人使用的省字号也远比从前多,它的效果是将两个词“do not”转成单一的词“don't”。他们也正在抛弃某些所有格结构,于是“the hand of the king”变成了更短的“the king's hand”。另一个趋势是避开被动结构,比如不去写成“a paper was written(一篇论文被写成了)”,而是写成更主动的形式“I wrote a paper(我写成了一篇论文)”。

And some words are starting to be drastically eroded from English – especially a grammatical class called gradable adverbs which consists of boosters like “frightfully” and “awfully” and downtoners (words or phrases which reduce the force of another word or phrase) like “quite” and “rather”.

一些词开始从英语里大幅消失,尤其是一种叫做递变副词的语法种类像是“frightfully”和“awfully”,以及弱化词(即能够减弱词或短语意义的词或短语)像是“quite”和“rather”。

If anything marks out the British linguistically, it’s their baroque way of using adverbs, especially as a form of polite sangfroid or poise – so “the worst day ever” is “things perhaps aren’t quite as wonderful as they could be”. As the American critic Alexander Woollcott once said: “The English have an extraordinary ability for flying into a great calm.”

如果有什么是能在语言学角度上辨认出英国人的,那就是他们以结构复杂的方式使用副词,尤其是作为一种有礼貌的镇定或平静的形式时,那么“the worst day ever(迄今最糟糕的一天)”就变成了“things perhaps aren’t quite as wonderful as they could be(情况可能不如它们可以达到的那样十二分美妙)”。如同美国批评家Alexander Woollcott曾说过的:“英语有一种超乎寻常的能力,它能够瞬间滑入一种宏大的平静。” 

Classic films such as Brief Encounter are absolutely packed with gradable adverbs. Americans, on the other hand, tend to communicate in a more straightforward manner, telling it “as it is”. However, and here’s the thing, in all these aspects Brits are changing too – and in exactly the same way as Americans. They’re just about 30 years behind the trend that Americans seem to be leading.

诸如《相见恨晚》的那些经典电影绝对是塞满了递变副词的。然而美国人,倾向于以一种更加直截了当的方式沟通,表达的时候“不加装饰”。然而,情况是,英国佬也在所有的这些方面上发生着变化,且变化方式完全和美国人一样。他们只是落后于这个看似由美国人引领的风潮大约30年。

So this raises a question, is British English actively following American English – copying its more economical, direct use of language – or is this something that is simply a global trend in language use? Perhaps we’re all just on the same path and the British would have gone in that direction, even if America had never been discovered? I’d like to think the latter but due to the large amount of American language that British people encounter through different forms of media, I suspect the former is more accurate.

那么这就提出了一个问题,英式英语是在积极地追随美式英语吗?通过复制它更经济、更直接使用英语语言的方式?还是说,这单纯就是全球语言使用的一个共同趋势?可能我们所有人都只是在同一条路上,哪怕亚美利加洲从未被发现,英国人也会往那个方向去。我很想认可后者,但由于英国人通过不同形式的媒体遭遇到大量美国语言的情况存在,我怀疑前者才是更准确的。

These stylistic changes generally make for a more user-friendly version of the language which is accessible and easy to follow so they’re hard to resist. Except for the loss of those gradable adverbs, though – I’m slightly annoyed about that and would like to advocate that we keep hold of them. They’re a linguistic passport and also a marker of national character, so it would be rather lovely if we could hold on to them.

这些语体变化大体上促生了语言的更易用版本,既易懂也容易遵循,所以它们是很难抗拒的。但除了那些消失的递变副词,对此我略微有些恼火,想向我们大家提倡不要弃用它们。它们是语言的一种手段,也是民族性的一种标识,所以如果我们能够紧紧抓住它们,将是一件非常令人愉快的事。