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纽约时报双语:我们所说的语言终将灭绝

我们所说的语言终将灭绝
We All Speak a Language That Will Go Extinct
SARA GOUDARZI
2020年8月13日
纽约时报双语:我们所说的语言终将灭绝

“We can’t play tennis because you don’t have a net.”

“我们没法打网球,因为你没有网。”

I was standing on a quiet, suburban street in Bristol, Conn., when Eric, the boy next door, said that to me. Two rackets in hand, I felt my face ablaze. Then anger spread through my slight 10-year-old frame and my mouth erupted.

当时我正站在康涅狄格州布里斯托尔市郊一条安静的街道上,隔壁的男孩埃里克对我说道。拿着两支球拍的我觉得自己的脸发热。然后,愤怒的情绪在我刚满10岁的身躯里蔓延,我爆发了。

“I don’t have net?” I yelled. “I don’t have net?” I repeated for effect. “You don’t have net. Your father doesn’t have net. Your mom doesn’t have net,” I continued, bombarding him with what I thought were insults. I wanted to hit him where it hurt — his family — a common tactic among my people, Iranians. I just had to make my playmate understand that I had plenty of net.

“我没有网?”我喊道。“我没有网?”为了增强效果,我又重复了一遍。“你才没有网。你爸没有网。你妈没有网。”我继续说道,用我以为的侮辱人的话来炮轰他。我想戳到他的痛处——他的家人,这是我们伊朗人爱用的策略。我只需要让我的玩伴知道,我有的是网。

Eric was dumbfounded. He confessed that indeed, he and his family had neither a tennis court nor a net, but he seemed unable to make sense of my reaction to this shortcoming.

埃里克傻眼了。他承认,他家的确没有网球场,也没有球网,但他看起来无法理解,我为什么会对他家的这个不足火冒三丈。

For reasons I still don’t understand, as a new arrival to the United States, armed with a limited palette of English words, I had presumed that “net” meant “manners.” Eric didn’t want to play with me because I lacked good manners. It was only after I stormed back into the house that my brother, who had been breathing American air for close to a decade, explained where I had gone wrong.

出于一些至今仍不明白的原因,作为一个刚到美国、英语词汇有限的人,我以为“网”(net)指的是“礼貌”(manners)。埃里克不想跟我玩是因为我没礼貌。怒气冲冲地回到家,来美近十年的哥哥指出,是我搞错了。

Language, which we use to send and receive information, ideas and emotions, is at best inadequate to begin with. Even when we speak the same tongue, understanding and being understood can be a struggle. Add to that the challenges of communicating in a foreign language, and confusion and hilarity ensues — a phenomenon that isn’t lost on sitcom writers.

我们用来收发信息、思想和情感的语言,往往难以胜任。即使我们操同一种语言,相互理解也不是容易的事情。此外,使用外语进行交流所带来的挑战,以及随之而来的混乱和搞笑,在情景喜剧的编剧那里并不陌生。

There wasn’t a lot of exciting programming on Kenyan television when my parents and I arrived in Nairobi. I was several months away from becoming a teenager, landing on my third continent in three years. If I’m not mistaken, there were only two channels that mostly operated in the evenings with very few shows I was interested in watching. “Mind Your Language” was one of those. A 1970s British sitcom, the show was set in a classroom of adults where a young Englishman taught a cast of students from countries including China, India, France, Spain, Italy and Greece.

当我和父母抵达内罗毕时,肯尼亚的电视上有意思的节目不多。作为少年初长成的我,那是三年内踏上的第三块大陆。如果我没记错的话,只有两个晚上播出的频道,我想看的节目很少,《请讲普通话》(Mind Your Language)就是其中之一。这是上世纪70年代的一部英国情景喜剧,故事发生在一个成人学习班,一个年轻的英国人教一群来自中国、印度、法国、西班牙、意大利和希腊等国的学生。

In one of the first scenes of the first episode, a prospective student says “squeeze me,” instead of “excuse me,” to the woman in charge of the school. Looking at a class syllabus, he says to her, “I’m hopping to be unrolled like it says on your silly bus.”

在第一集有一幕,一个即将入学的学生对女校长说“打扰”(excuse me),结果说成了“捏我”(squeeze me)。他看着课纲,对她说,“我要跳起来就像你的蠢大巴车一样展开。”(他本意是说,我希望能像课纲上说的这样修这门课。——译注)

I learned in my Kenyan school that French fries were chips and eraser was rubber. (This last one prompted a drawn-out silence when I returned to the United States and asked for one aloud during a high school class.) Because despite my speaking the same language in both my Nairobi and New Jersey high schools, I found that language is inextricably bound to culture.

在肯尼亚的学校里,我得知法式炸薯条是chips,橡皮擦是rubber。(回到美国后,一次在高中课堂上,我大声找人借rubber [保险套——译注],结果引来长时间的沉默。)尽管我在内罗毕和新泽西的高中说的是同一种语言,但我发现语言与文化有着密不可分的联系。

I best understood this the first time I told an American boyfriend I was so hot I was going to die. He responded with genuine feeling, “No, you won’t.” It dawned on me then that my first language, the one whose lullabies cradled my earliest dreams, was inherently dramatic. In recent years, I broke down a phrase we often use in Farsi as a substitute for goodbye, “ghorboonat beram,” and only then realized that it literally means “I will sacrifice myself for you.”

第一次对美国男友说我热得快死了的时候,我才真正明白了这件事。他真诚地回答我:“不,你不会死。”那时我开始意识到,我的母语,也就是用摇篮曲哺育了我最初的梦境的那种语言,天生就具有戏剧性。前几年,我拆解了波斯语中用来代替再见的一个短语“ghorboonat beram”,然后才意识到它的字面意思是“我愿为你牺牲自己”。

By the time I reached early adulthood, English had become my dominant language and made a sprawling home in my brain, forcing Farsi into a tiny corner, so much so it worried me at times. To lose that connection, or have it weaken, felt devastating. But as it turns out, a language doesn’t just slip out of your mind. In fact, in a 2014 study, researchers found that our mother tongue creates neural patterns on our infant brains that stay with us even if we don’t use the language.

到了刚成年的时候,英语已经成为我的主要语言,在我的大脑中占据了一个很大的空间,波斯语被逼到一个很小的角落,以至于有时会让我担心。失去这种联系,或者这种联系被削弱,会让人感到毁灭性的打击。但事实证明,一种语言并不会从你的脑海中溜走。事实上,在2014年的一项研究中,研究人员发现,母语会在婴儿的大脑中创造神经模式,即使不使用这种语言,这些模式也会伴随着我们。

Several years ago, after I fell asleep during the day — an occurrence as rare as a solar eclipse — and woke up confused, I asked my husband what time it was. “Saat chande?” I said in Farsi, a language of which he only understands a few words. He was baffled. Flustered, I repeated, “Saat chande?” In that confused moment between sleep and wakefulness, I resorted to the language that makes me feel safe, the one that has literally etched patterns in my brain.

几年前,我在白天睡着了——这种事就像日食一样罕见——醒来后,我迷迷糊糊地问丈夫现在几点了。“Saat chande?”我用波斯语问,这种语言他只懂几个词。他一脸茫然。我又慌乱地重复了一遍:“Saat chande?”在半睡半醒的困惑时刻,我求助于那种让我感到安全的语言,那种在我的大脑中刻下印记的语言。

My parents are both from an area in western Iran. People from that region of Lorestan Province speak a dialect. Some words and phrases are different from the equivalent in Farsi, at times funnier, sharper, tangier. I enjoy these words and associate them with laughter and the smell of tea, with summers at my grandmother’s house.

我父母都来自伊朗西部的一个地区。在那个名叫洛雷斯坦省的地方,方言中的一些单词和短语和波斯语中的对应用语不太一样,有时会显得更有趣、更尖锐、更强烈。我喜欢这些词,并把它们与笑声和茶香以及祖母家的夏天联系在一起。

Because I left Iran before I was 10, I forget that not all Iranians know those words. At times, I use them with Iranian friends here in New York. I’ve said the word “gamelas” to signify a lazy or incompetent person — but I can’t translate it. It’s more than just lazy; it’s a feeling, really, weighed by cultural context. I start laughing, because it’s a funny word. But my friends look at me with inquisitive eyes, waiting for a translation of what to me is our mother tongue. But it’s not. It’s my mother tongue, concentric circles of English, Farsi and a Borujerdi dialect of Luri (in which I’m not even close to fluent) that center in to some unique amalgamation of all those things, the language of my family, population five. Now four. A language that will go extinct.

因为我在10岁之前就离开了伊朗,所以忘记了不是所有伊朗人都知道这些词。有时,我和身在纽约的伊朗朋友说话时使用它们。我曾经用“gamelas”这个词来指一个懒惰或无能的人,但我无法翻译它。它不仅仅意味着懒惰;而是一种感觉,真的,要放到文化背景里去考量。我笑了,因为这是一个有意思的词。但朋友们用好奇的眼神看着我,等待着我来翻译这个对我来说是我们的母语的词。但它不是我们的母语。这是我的母语,是英语、波斯语和洛雷的一种博鲁杰尔迪(Borujerdi)方言(我其实说得也根本不算流利)构成的同心圆,中心是所有这一切的独特混合体。这也是我的五口之家的语言,现在只剩下四口人。一种将要灭绝的语言。

That’s the thing with languages. Though we can give each a name, no two people really speak the same one. But in a quest to feel understood, we hold on to what we presume is a common one like a life raft in a sea of expressions, often orphaning old words and sayings to make room for new ones. And as the old float farther out, they become as unfamiliar and foreign to us as Tehran is to me now. They are our “ghorbooni,” the victims of the sacrifice, what we give up in order to be recognized, to expand. As if I had to give up Farsi to gain all this English.

这就是语言。虽然我们可以给每种语言都起一个名字,但实际上没有两个人说的是同一种语言。但在寻求被理解的过程中,我们紧紧抓住一种被我们视为共同的语言,就像在表达的汪洋大海中抓住的救生筏,我们经常抛弃旧的词语和谚语,为新的词语腾出空间。随着旧的词语在大海中漂流渐远,它们对我们来说就像现在的德黑兰对我一样陌生。它们是我们的“ghorbooni”——牺牲品,是我们为了得到认可、求得发展而放弃的东西。就好像我必须放弃波斯语才能彻底学会英语。

But though the words might disappear, or occupy a smaller parcel of our minds, they continue to lurk in our unconscious brain, and the feelings, well, “gamelas,” will always make me laugh, even if I don’t quite remember why.

但是,尽管这些文字可能会消失,或者只占据大脑的一小部分,它们仍然潜伏在我们的意识深处,而那些感觉,嗯,“gamelas”,总会让我发笑,即使我不太记得到底是为什么。

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