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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”。


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。


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。