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大师非大词也:评陆谷孙先生的一封推荐信

读到复旦外语发出的《看陆谷孙先生如何为学生写英文推荐信,这应该是最标准的模板》一文,很多地方我感觉诧异。和众多错误百出的推荐信相比,这信写得还算可以。作为“标准模板”则会误导学习者。我是陆老字典的用户之一,对他十分尊重和敬佩。只不过从写作上看,此信可疑处甚多,故作一学术商榷,也欢迎老师朋友们赐教。
 
像推荐信这种应用写作,不仅要考虑语法、修辞、风格,还要有对受众文化的深切了解,以及此种文化之下沟通的常识。对这一切,没有人什么都知道,否则真成仙了。陆老的专长是辞典编撰,在写作上则有闭门造车之嫌。汉学家写汉语也是一回事。这不能怪陆老,或是这些汉学家。编字典、翻译、教学和实际写作,相互关联但也各有专攻。应用写作上可师从的对象,未必是国内英文系的某大咖牛人,这未必是其长项,将其毫无原则地捧起来,未必是老先生原意。阅读以英语为母语的人写的东西,并去模仿,这才是正道。
 
下面的点评,有些也是我自己在过去某个时候,从老师、编辑、同事处得来的反馈,算是久病成医。不如借此点评的实例,将经验教训传给读者。对于推荐信,如用英文写,给外国人看,华丽词藻和复杂句式多为忌讳。作者尽量要用简单语言,准确表达思想。用大词不是为了炫耀,而是某个概念用这个词才能精准表达。大师非得用大词。大词无大用,则虚张声势,大而无当。学校以英语为外语来教学,自然要求学生扩大词汇量,学习不同句式。但学生出去后,或在实际语言环境之中,目标有所变化,表达甚于表现,若仍保持原来习惯,则预备好被人修理。
 
为便于阅读,我将原文多截了几段,并用不同颜色区分原文和点评。点评多属个人风格取舍,未必是对正误的判断。
 
17 August 2010
 
To Whom It May Concern 
It is my privileged pleasure [1] to recommend, and that highly, [2] to you Professor Mountalk, whom I’ve known and worked with for over twenty-five years– first as his teacher and now as a close associate [3] at work at Fudan University, Shanghai, PR China.
 [1] privileged pleasure, 语法上没错,但听来别扭。Privilege和pleasure不分彼此并用,更为有力:It is my privilege and pleasure to...
 [2] that具体所指不明。这里说highly recommend 即可。
 [3] Associate多用于企事业,指同事或合作伙伴,高校中同事一词多用colleague。
 
Mountalk thrust himself under my notice [4] when he first enrolled at the undergraduate program of this university as an applicant with by far the greatest[5] score in a keenly [6] competitive entrance examination. I began to scrutinize [7] him as he proceeded to [8] the fourth year when I actually taught him. 
 [4] thrust himself under my notice这个说法比较生硬,有居高临下之嫌,与前文privileged pleasure表现出的谦恭姿态“打架”。
 [5] greatest score搭配不太合适,可用highest score, top score, 或best score.
 [6] 形容竞争,用keenly不是最贴切,可换为fiercely.
 [7] scrutinize 给人的印象是对方有错,需像放在显微镜下那样细细观察。改为pay attention, 或者将began to scrutinize 改为developed a close relationship with...
 [8] 如果说as he proceeded to…给人印象是从三年级过渡到四年级,还没有正式在四年级,那说明陆先生还没有教他,谈何详细了解?更好的说法是during the fourth year…也不要说actually, 这么说,潜台词是先前我对他的了解,不过是道听途说。
 
Then, from 1990 to 1992 and from 1995 to 2001respectively, he worked toward his MA and then PhD degrees under my supervision. For him it was a long [9] odyssey of learning and discovery; for me it was a gratifying process to watch a young talent blossoming. Mr Mountalk has set himself apart from and way ahead of his peers[10]  (whom I also taught) with a quiet superb intelligence[11] , a never failing interest [12] in probing into a foreign culture with Chinese culture as a frame of reference, perseverance in his academic agendas through hardworking [13] -- and with, above all, accruing credits in academia without intentionally or painstakingly seeking after them[14] .
[9] odyssey已有旅途漫长的意思,以long修饰多此一举。
[10] ...set himself apart from and way ahead of his peers 并排使用较为啰嗦,可用distinguish himself among his peers或rose to the top of his cohort等。
[11] 搭配新奇,但superb多余。
[12] 兴趣用never failing来修饰不妥。这不是语法的问题,而是它所指的alternative是什么?兴趣会fail吗?兴趣的维系,多以时间长短丈量。
[13] ... through hard work更好,有现成名词,就不要用动名词凑合。
 [14] 这句赞扬申请人漫不经心,不费吹灰之力即在学术上攻城掠地。申请人或许已有不少成就,陆老推荐为锦上添花。若申请者是新人,推荐人这么去说,会让审阅者怀疑申请人对学术并无追求。学术之路越走路越窄,用心不一定有成果,漫不经心一定没有成果。赞扬对方后天奋发努力,比赞扬其先天资质更有价值。
 
It seems [15] he tackles [16] a wide spectrum from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde and then to new literary phenomena [17] such as Nobel laureates in literature over recent years not as a pressure of work but as a labor of love with the pleasure of a duck taking to water. He has published many different titles besides translating, editing, and last but not least, writing creatively as a professional writer on contract.[18] 
 
[15] It seems在推荐信中不必要。知道就知道,不知道就不知道,依据猜测的推荐缺乏力度。
[16] 不大理解为什么用tackle与spectrum搭配,说cover a wide spectrum更合理:his interests cover a wide spectrum.
[17] phenomena后的举例为Nobel Laureates,是人,而非前面说的现象。或许在中国诺奖得奖人是现象,但在英文语境中人还是人,窃以为这里搭配不当。不如直接说... then to works by recent Nobel laureates.
[18] 这句话意思含糊。He has published many different titles如果翻译、编辑不算,这些titles是指什么title呢?如指原创作品,后面 besides translating, editing, and last but not least, writing creatively 如何解释?as a professional writer on contract我知道可能是指约稿作者,但是professional writer on contract让人摸不着头脑。是指staff writer吗?那么如何解释申请人的教师工作? 可能改成columnist, contract writer, part-time writer或者stringer更合理一些, 或者说:He has written, translated, and edited xxx (数量) books and he is frequently asked to contribute to journals, magazines and newspapers.
 
I have looked at [19] his proposal for his Fulbright nomination and am firm in my belief [20] that Shakespeare’s sonnets[21]  is a manageable and worthwhile subject for him. For one thing, Mr Mountalk has done his homework -- enough and to spare --for the topic. Secondly, with the multifarious qualities I described above I think I can vouchsafe[22] for his sustained interest and concentration.
 [19] looked at 会给人只草草看过看过的印象,改成reviewed更好。后面的proposal for his Fulbright nomination 可改为his Fulbright proposal.
 [20] I firmly believe更简洁。
 [21] 所指不够精细,研究十四行诗?翻译十四行诗?十四行诗哪方面研究?
 [22] Webster字典这样解释vouchsafe: "to grant or furnish, often in a gracious or condescending manner". 有俯视、恩赐的感觉,在推荐信中使用不大妥当,再说一个人的兴趣,外人无从担保。更合理的说法是据以往观察判断,他会在这方面保持兴趣. Based on my past observations, I am confident that his interest is firm. 或者:...showed me that he will sustain his interest...
 
He is purposeful, for instance, in completing surveying the Shakespearelandscape [23] in the United States by complementing, say[24] , Steve Greenblatt of Harvard with Harold Bloom at Yale. Thirdly, as a surviving Shakespeare instructor[25] , I am too old to expose myself to [26] rigorous training abroad. Mr Mountalk, if and when he accomplishes this new Fulbright missive[27] , will surely be able to flesh out the Shakespeare syllabus [28] at this university and revive student interest in the Bard.
 
[23] landscape of Shakespeare studies?
[24] Say这里比较口语化,用For example/instance 更正式。
[25] 这是什么意思,别的莎士比亚研究者都死了吗?
[26] …expose myself to 仅是接触而已,可能作者是指接受长期的、严格的训练。更好的说法,是go through rigorous academic training.
[27] 疑为mission之误。
[28] Syllabus在美国仅为具体某门课的教学大纲,这里怀疑作者指的是enrich our Shakespeare Study Curriculum.不过中国一个大学有完整的莎士比亚研究课程,有些让人难以置信。如果仅指开设莎士比亚课程, develop more courses to enrich Shakespeare research in our university (or in China)更可信。
 
One point, though.[29]  I hope Mr Mountalk will also throw in the relationship [30] between Shakespeare’s  sonnets and new findings about his bio-data [31]  in his proposal. I’m discussing the point with him separately.
 
Thank you very much for considering this letter of recommendation[32] . 
[29] 口语化,不太正式。
[30] 说法比较奇怪,不能说错误,至少过于口语化。
[31] Findings…about data搭配不当,只用其一即可:“…and new biographical findings”. 整句话可以改为:Ihope Mr. Mountalk will also research how new biographical findings may shape future studies about Shakespeare’s sonnets.
[32] This letter of多余,可改为for considering my recommendation.
 
Signed:
 
Lu, the Senior Immortal [32] 
Distinguished Professor of Fudan University &
Senior Fulbright Scholar, 1984-85, UC Berkeley 
 [32] 中文世界的绰号"老神仙”,除非对方熟知陆老先生,知道他这个绰号。否则用于推荐信,对方会非常纳闷。自称神仙,在中文语境中或许别有生趣,但很多文化都反对人而神化的偶像崇拜。
 
如果陆老的文字都能找出这么多遗憾,倘若日后外文教材以本土自编为主,可信度就更成问题了。
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