向英语学习者讲话 | A “Foolish” Principle of Composition 一个“愚笨的”写作原则

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A “Foolish” Principle of Composition
一个“愚笨的”写作原则

Books on rhetoric may tell you many principles of composition. But the principle that I am going to explain is one1 that I have not found in any book on rhetoric. I discovered it myself, and I acted up to2 it as soon as I discovered it, many years ago. I have found it so helpful that I believe you will do well to adopt it. The principle is that you should use no construction, no form of expression, and no combination of words, that you have not seen in your reading.
修辞学书也许告诉你许多写作的原则。但我将解释的那个原则是我不曾在任何修辞学书中见到过的。我自己在多年前发现了它,一发现就开始实行。我发现它很有用,所以相信你采用了也将会得益。这个原则是:你不该用在阅读中未见到过的任何结构、表达方式和词组。

It seems to me that the average Chinese learner of English has a fair knowledge of grammar and a fairly large vocabulary, and that when he writes English, he makes sentences according to his knowledge of grammar and his understanding of the meaning of words. The result is that his English often seems to be correct enough but is not really correct. For correct English is a matter of usage, not merely a matter of grammar and vocabulary. In composition correction I have often been asked why I had changed a certain word or construction to another. Well, I cannot always say why. I have substituted that word or construction simply because that is the word or construction that an Englishman would have used there.
在我看来一般的中国英语学习者有相当好的语法知识和相当大的词汇量,而且当他写英语的时候,会按照自己的语法知识和对于词义的理解来造句。结果是:他的英语往往看似正确但并不真正正确。因为正确的英语和惯用法有关,不只是语法和词汇。在修改的作文中,我经常被问为什么把某个词或结构改成了另外一个。好吧,我不是每次都能说出为什么。我改用了那个词或结构是因为英国人会在那里用那个词或结构。

Suppose you are on the point of 3 writing “He was rich to live on luxury”. Is this sentence correct? “He was” is certainly correct; you have seen it many, many times. “He was rich” is also correct; you have seen it more than once. “He was rich to …”—well, you have never seen it, have you? No, you have never seen it, and therefore you should not let it pass.4 “On luxury”—well, you have never seen this expression, and so you should not use it. Now, the correct sentence is “He was rich enough to live in luxury”.
假定你将写“He was rich to live on luxury”这句话。这句句子对吗?“He was”肯定是对的,你见过许多次。“He was rich”也是对的,你见过不止一次。“He was rich to…”——你从来没见过,对吗?不,你从来没见过,所以你不该放它过去。“on luxury”——你从来没见过这个表达方式,所以你不该用它。正确的句子应该是:“He was rich enough to live in luxury.”

Do you think my principle very foolish? It does look so. But I regard it as very helpful, and I hope that you will try to put it into practice.
你认为我的原则很愚蠢吗?看起来是的。可是我认为它很有帮助,而且我希望你将试着使用它。

The question may naturally arise: Shall I not find it practically5 impossible to write anything because I do not always remember whether I have ever seen a certain construction or form of expression or combination of words? Well, you should remember. You should read carefully. You should learn the art of expression from your reading. I hope you have not forgotten my article entitled “Reading to Learn the Art of Expression”.
有个问题当然会被提出:我并不总是记得自己是否见过某个结构、表达方式或者词组,我不是几乎什么都不能写了吗?你应该记得,你应读得仔细,你应该从阅读中学习表达的艺术。我希望你不曾忘记题目为“为了学习表达的艺术而阅读”的那篇文章。

NOTES

  1. one=a principle
  2. acted up to 实行
  3. are on the point of 将
  4. let it pass 任它过去
  5. practically 几乎

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