The World is Englishing 世界正在英语化





The World is Englishing

Alongside the cross-country ski tack in this mountain village extends a wide piste where very fit people on long narrow skis pursue an activity known in French as “le skating.” Needless to say, like so many –ing words disseminated across the globe, “le skating” bears absolutely no relationship to what is meant in English by the word “skating”.

Somewhere in the modern human psyche lies an urge to create trendy and interesting words of this –ing type, in grammatical terms known as gerunds, or verbal nouns. Let’s call this creative process “gerunding.”

Yes, I know the word gerunding doesn’t exist, but since when did such a concern deter those who go gerunding? The whole point is to make up words which sound and look English. It matters not a bit that they are foreign inventions, often inventions, often unrecognizable to a native English speaker.

Smoking, footing, bronzing, shapmpooing, pressing, lifting, mobbing, standing-these are just a few of the words that have found their way across Europe in curious distortions of their original sense.

Take the strange history of the word “pressing.” In its British context, pressing was a service provided for those who wore a uniform or smart clothing. “Shall I have your trousers pressed, Sir?” the butler might say, before going off to see to the damp ironing of the garment. Building on this association, around the 1930s “un pressing” entered the French language in the sense of a dry-cleaning service, and has remained on the French street ever since-if never in the Dictionnaire de l’A cademie Francaise. But nowadays “pressing has been given a completely new life in soccer commentaries on radio and television around Europe, referring to one team “putting pressure” on the other. The only country where won’t hear such a gerund is Britain.

Where does this kind of neologism come from? And how dies it arise and become widespread without any relationship to standard English? By what mysterious process did European properties for sale come to have “standing”- a quality which British English associates with people or institutions, but certainly not with houses or buildings?

Inconsistencies abound. Perfectly good English gerunds like boxing and surfing get ignored in favor of European forms like “boxe” and “surf.” Equally strange, the term “sparring” has come to refer not to the activity of sparring but to the sparring partner.

No native English speaker ever went “footing,” but this word has been around in Europe since the end of the 19th century when it entered Spanish, for example, in the sense of hiking,. Nowadays it substitutes for “jogging,” a word which is often harder fro non-native speakers to pronounce.

It must be said that native speakers of English are as guilty as the rest when it comes to gerunding. Grammatically the gerund is verbal noun, there fore its root should be a verb, as in walking, eating, running and so on. But in modern (and especially American) English we find an increasing use of gerund-type words generated form nouns, a wrong usage severely frowned upon by purists.

Go beyond Europe, a recent editorial in our own IHT brought to our attention the word “bunkering,” a “quaint term Nigerians use to describe outright stealing of crude oil by members of the armed forces or the government” (“Nigeria’s dashed hopes,”).

Bunkering can hardly be called an English cultural export. But I wonder how long it will be before “beasting “ and “monstering” find their way around the world. These unsavory words are slang terms for interrogation methods employed by the U.S. military, made public by court proceedings related to abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq..

What other pleasant cultural exports can we find? I was interested to see the word “bullying” in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, over an article about youngsters being haraseed by other children at school. While glossed in the text as “el acoso, “ a general term for being aggressive, the word “bullying” referred t the emotional and physical variant found widely in the British school environment.

“Why is that in English” I asked a Spanish friend. The answer came, “We’ve never needed a word for that before in Spain.” Here, as ever, language is our clearest living indicator of social change.

        沿着这个山村越野滑雪道,延伸着一条宽阔的滑雪道,站在细长、狭窄滑雪板上的那些十分健壮的人们从事着法语称之为“le skating” 的活动。不用说,就像许多被传播到世界各地的带-ing 词尾的词一样,“le skating”与英语中“skating”(滑冰)一词的意思之间根本没有什么关系。

  在现代人心灵的某个角落,都存有一丝冲动来创造这类带-ing 词尾的既时髦又有趣的词。用语法术语来说,这就是动名词,或者叫动词性名词。我们姑且就把这种创造性的过程称为“动名词化”。

  是的,我知道“动名词化” 一词并不存在。但是,什么时候这种顾虑曾经阻止过那些从事“动名词化”活动的人们呢?这个问题的关键是创造一些听起来、看起来都像英语的词。即使这些词是外国的创造,而且往往连母语为英语的人也不认识,也没什么问题。

  Smoking, footing, bronzing, shampooing, pressing, lifting, mobbing, standing——这些只不过是这类词中的一小部分,它们奇怪地改变了原本的意思而在欧洲流行开来。

  以“pressing”这个词的奇怪经历为例。在英国语境当中,pressing 是一种为那些穿制服或者高档衣服的人提供的服务。“先生,我把您的裤子拿去熨烫一下,好吗?”管家在去照看熨烫外衣前,他可能会这样问一句。基于这样的联系,大概是在上个世纪30年代,“un pressing” 进入法语当中,意思是一种干洗服务。从此,它就被罚过普通大众所使用了——尽管它从未被收入《法兰西学院词典》当中。但是今天在欧洲,“pressing” 在广播和电视节目的足球解说中被赋予了全新的生命,意指一个球队对另一个球队“施加压力”。唯一一个你听不到这个动名词的国家是英国。

  这种新词是从何而来的呢?而且在与标准英语没有任何关系的情况下,又是如何产生并被广为传播的呢?是什么神秘过程使得欧洲其他地方被出售的房产具有了“standing”(此处意为“待售” )之意?这一属性在英国英语里往往与人或者机构相联系。

  这种相互不一致的情形比比皆是。英语中很地道的动名词, 如 boxing 和surfing, 在欧洲大陆却被人忽视,让位于 “boxe” 和 “surf” 这些欧洲大陆的语言形式。同样奇怪的是, “ sparring” 一词变得不指拳击格斗这一活动,而是指拳击格斗中的对手。

  例如,从没有一个母语为英语的人会去 “footing”, 不过这个词从19世纪末进入西班牙语时起就在欧洲流传,意思是徒步旅行。如今,它又替代了 “jogging”(慢跑)这个词, 该词对于母语为非英语的人来说,往往较难发音。

  必须指出,当谈到动名词化问题时,母语为英语的人和其他人一样有过错。从语法角度说,动名词是动词性名词,因此,它的词根应该是动词,就像walking, eating, running 等等。但是,在现代英语 (特别是美国英语) 中,我们可以发现人们越来越多地使用由名词派生而来的动名词类的词,这是令语言纯粹主义者极为不满的一种错误用法。

  那么看看欧洲以外的世界,我们自己的《国际先驱论坛报》最近的一期社论使我们注意到 “bunkering” 这个词,这是“尼日利亚人用来描写军队或政府人员明目张胆地盗取原油的一个怪异用词” (《尼日利亚破灭的希望》)。

  Bunkering 一词很难说是英语文化的输出。不过,我想知道的是,“ beasting” 和 “monstering” 两个词需要多长时间才会通行全球。这些令人厌恶的词是一些俚语用词,指美国军方使用的审讯方法,伴随着对伊拉克阿布•格莱布监狱虐囚事件的审判而为公众所了解。

  我们还可以找出其他什么令人愉快的文化输出例子吗?当我在西班牙《世界报》上看到 “bullying” 一词的时候,我感到很有趣。当时,我是在读一篇关于学校里边小学生被其他孩子欺负的文章。尽管“bullying” 一词 在文内被解释为 “el acoso” ,是表示“具有攻击性”的一个普遍用词,但它却是原指英国学校中普遍存在的情感和身体上欺凌弱小者的种种行为。

  我问一位西班牙朋友:“为什么用英语里的这个词呢?”回答是:“在西班牙,我们以前从不需要表达那个意思的词。” 在此,就像从前一样,语言是我们用以反映社会变动的最清晰的鲜活指示器。

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