2008年4月7日星期一

蕭愷一錯評高考卷

人氣網誌《英文由F字學起》的作者蕭愷一,昨日以《高考試卷的破英文》為題,高調批評本屆高級程度會考的英文水平低下。可惜,蕭的批評暴露了他對學術文章行文方式一竅不通。

以下是蕭認為「水平低下」的文章內容:
The researchers looked at 58 people who had recently started a relationship and compared their neutrophin protein levels with those in both the same number of people in long-term relationships and the same numbers of single people. In those who had just started a relationship, levels of the NGF protein, which causes well-known signs of uneasiness such as sweaty palms and the feeling of having 'butterflies in the stomach', were significantly higher. Of the 39 people from the original sample who were still in the same new relationship after a year, the levels of NGF had returned to normal.
(上文 numbers 中的 s 為蕭的原文所有,當為他手民之誤。)文章的第一句,蕭認為「文句不通,詞序大亂」和「十分累贅」,並質疑「甚麼叫 with those in both the same number?」

不幸地,蕭連原文都解錯了。原文的 'those',指的不是人,而是 neutrophin protein levels。累贅一點說,原文首句的意思其實是這樣:
The researchers looked at 58 people who had recently started a relationship. They compared their neutrophin protein levels with those (here 'those' means 'the neutrophin protein levels') in another two groups of people of the same size, namely the people in long-term relationships and the single people.
原文的句子雖然並不淺白,但不難理解。我讀第一次已明其意,不明白英文修養比我高出多倍的蕭愷一為何讀不通。更奇怪的是本地報章竟隨著蕭的錯誤批評而起舞。就我所知,明報、東方日報和南華早報均有簡述蕭愷一的批評。南華早報的編輯和記者不都是英文素養極佳的嗎?怎麼看不出蕭的批評中的錯誤?

要把原來的句子說得簡單點,可以這麼寫:
The researchers looked at the neutrophin protein levels of three groups of people (each of size 58), namely, the people who had recently started a relationship, the single people and the people in long-term relationships.
說原來的句子累贅,我也同意。但學術文章首要是內容紮實,表義準確。能有邱吉爾的文采固然好,但只得 The Suffocated 的水平亦無不可。何況寫學術文章的人多不是專研文學的文學家,其文字枯燥無味,早已不是新聞。正如在蕭的網站留言的某幾位訪客指出,被蕭批評的這段文字,並不是作為範文用,而是被用來考驗學生的閱讀理解能力。艱澀一點,正好用來分辨考生強弱。

蕭的批評還有另外兩點。其一是他認為 'looked at' 二字語義含糊;其二是說 "the feeling of having 'butterflies in the stomach'" 實在累贅到極。前者暴露了蕭的無知。在某些學術範疇,'look at' 是標準學術用語,意思和 inspect, examine 類同。至於後者,總算有一定道理。英文水平低下如我,其實並未聽過 'butterflies in the stomach' 這個詞語。上網搜尋,發現這似乎是美式英語。假若如是,原文的作者可能為了讓不明此語的讀者至少能明白 'butterflies in the stomach' 是一種感覺(而非胃潰瘍之類的物理傷害)而加上 'the feeling of having ...'。這樣行文雖不簡潔,但卻是負責任的做法。

總括來說,蕭論證錯誤,但其結論正確、無新意、和閱讀理解部份的選文準則「唔啦更」。整體成績:F。

註:雖然蕭的這篇批評謬誤處處,但大家不要誤會,以為我對他的整個 blog 有甚麼劣評。事實上,如果閣下是很想自己英文進步的香港中學生,我想蕭的網誌是一個絕佳的學習場所。從蕭對讀者的回應看來,此君為人友善,胸襟亦廣,應當是良師益友。我不在他的網頁留言,而在這裏指出他的錯誤,純粹因為雅虎網誌只接受雅虎人留言,別無其他。

23 則留言:

Dorothy Wong 說...

「能有邱吉爾的文采固然好,但只得 The Suffocated 的水平亦無不可。」整句的內容、構句與語氣,實配合得天衣無縫,令人忍俊不禁XD。

既然如此,鄙人就在此請教前輩英文啦。以前補習時,某阿sir曾說本地學生不能領略英語的真諦,並舉出了兩個例子。其一,生病時應該說自己「not feeling well」,而不是「I’m sick.」,雖然「sick」在字典裏也解作不舒服,不過我也同意,用上這個字時,多數是指某樣東西厭惡得會令人產生了一種非常反胃的感覺吧。第二個例子,他說我們常常在天氣炎熱時高呼「It’s so hot!」是錯的,因為「hot」只可應用於liquid之上,我們要用的便用「warm」這個字。這個令鄙人非常大惑不解──那麼難道在30多度的日子裏,我也只能對著老天大喊「It’s really warm!」嗎?完全無法表達我對熱到死那種天氣的憎恨啊!

附:一次過回應之前兩篇意見的:
1. 我不會被踢出校,最多係fail左softball or IT test or 古詩而被逼下年要retake這些courses。
2. anyway,我最近越來越相信「船到橋頭自然直」這句諺語,你不用給自己太大壓力,我覺得你會handle到的。大不了就回流香港吧,條條大路通羅馬。=)

The suffocated 說...

唔好玩我啦,我知你知你問o個兩條問題o既答案o既。

其實英文呢家o野…你都係問 Siu Sir 好D。不過以我的「有限公司」英語知識來看,說 hot 只可應用於液體上,真是亂嗡。燒紅了的鐵,我們說它是 red hot iron;熱氣球,是 hot air balloon;熱天氣,是 hot weather。液體當然也可以用 hot 來形容,不過要小心:熱水是 hot water,但滾水(沸水)應叫 boiling water。

至於「我病了」,說 "I'm sick" 並無錯誤。當然,如你所說,sick 一字還有其他意思,所以為免誤會,大可說 "I'm not feeling well" or simply "I'm ill"。

呀,多謝你再次鼓勵,不過我雖然驚,仍未至於覺得有好大壓力。所以,不用擔心。

Dorothy Wong 說...

其實我當時是想到一個反駁例子的,就是稱讚性感的女孩子時也會用上一個hot字,不過這也許是美式的說法而已,anyway……邊鬼個得閒玩你,我真係唔肯定架,如果唔係當年個阿sir係補習老師,距離甚遠,我晨早挾持住佢,問個明白。

Kevin 說...

首句確實"累贅", 有縮短或用標點符合拆開的必要. 例如閣下的例子便好得多了. 又或者加個 found 字 (found in) 便讓人更易理解.
意見中 Dorothy 提到的用 hot 來描述氣溫是沒有錯的. 她的老師是矯枉過正了. 實際上兩個例子都只是怕惹人誤會或招人"玩字"取笑而已(就如 TS 所言), 談不上是錯. I'm sick 確實會因此而少這樣說, 但"我生病了"較為普遍的說法是 I'm ill 才對. Not feeling well 是"覺得不舒服"而已, 例如室內空氣翳焗妳覺得不適便可以這樣說; 雖然也會用來表示"病"但真是生病了時仍以 ill 較為正確(又或說明病況如 I'm down with a cold). 某某因病而請假, 我們亦只會說 she called in sick, 而少用 ill 或 feeling well 的.
路過搭嘴, 有怪莫怪!

The suffocated 說...

Kevin, 謝謝意見。教育當局同教師成日都話要提升本地學生英語水平,但係課本上的英語根本與日常英語無關。就算上課全用英語,也不保證學生懂得用英語說「我病了」。我自己都有這個困難,我可以在學術會議上用英語作報告或答問,卻難以和外國人用英語「傾閒偈」。如何改善學生以至大眾的英語能力,真是天曉得。

匿名 說...

我不懂誰是蕭愷一,也沒看過他的文章,但你的評論實在有欠公允。蕭愷一的說法其實十分中肯。我常看研究報告和技術性的文章,常感慨為何要把英語寫成這個樣子?「專業」不是借口,寫得差就是寫得差。反覺你的評論是無的放矢。我經常提醒身邊的朋友,寫東西要從讀者的角度考慮。當然這類技術性的文章,讀者多是業內人仕,他們也大多看慣了,但當這些文章被刊於報上,情況自又不同。

The suffocated 說...

謝謝留言。我想澄清幾點:

1)我從沒說高考卷那段文章寫得好,亦無提倡寫冗贅的英文。事實上,本文提到「說原來的句子累贅,我也同意。」任何人寫學術文章,都應該儘量淺白,學術(或你說的專業)並非文章冗贅的藉口。然而,學術文章對準確性的要求本身與文學的要求有衝突,因此不是要淺白就可以淺白的。舉個最極端的例子,數學之所以有數學符號,正是要令表述變得簡單。若你用一般英語去表達數學推理,想不累贅也難。

2)你沒看過蕭的文章,所以不瞭解本文討論的重點。蕭的批評有將高考卷所引的文章當作範文的傾向(他後來亦承認這點),而本文則指出現實中有許多這種文章,我們不應視而不見,只拿通順的來測驗學生。

3)你說「經常提醒身邊的朋友,寫東西要從讀者的角度考慮」,而本文正好指出,擬題員加上 'the feeling of having ...'一語,可能是為了顧及讀者,但蕭批評時卻沒考慮這點。簡單來說,他批評該段高考文章冗贅,卻無想過文章之所以累贅,及將它放在考卷中的理由,因此我覺得他的批評有欠公允,誰知現在反被閣下批評我不夠公允、無的放矢了。學莎朗史東話齋:is that karma?

匿名 說...

'the feeling of having ...'根本就是劃蛇添足。即使原意可能是為了顧及讀者,卻也反映出擬題員的水平。「學術文章對準確性的要求本身與文學的要求有衝突,因此不是要淺白就可以淺白的。」這點我很明白。但很多人根本就懶得去嘗試寫得淺白一些,這是應改的惡習。

匿名 說...

還有,香港寫英文寫得很爛的人比比皆是,難道我們也不應視而不見,就拿一篇來測驗學生?

蕭愷一 說...

Here there! I didn't come across this page until this very morning - two years after it was written. Though a long time has passed, I feel compelled to leave a few words here in response.

First of all, I appreciate the time you have taken to write this article, and the very kind words you said about me at the end of it. Second, I agree with you on the use of "looked at". That was indeed correct, and I have to take back my criticism in this case.

However, I stand my ground regarding the rest of my criticism. Moreover, I think you have totally missed my point.

The problem with the paragraph in question is not that it is unclear in its meaning. Nor is it a matter of academic prose versus everyday language. It is the poor quality of writing that I am concerned about. No self-respecting writers of English, in my opinion, would have come up with sentences like this:

...compared their neutrophin protein levels with those in both the same number of people in long-term relationships and the same number of single people.

The problem lies not in the single word "those", as you allege I have an issue with, but in the awkward construction of the sentence as a whole. In normal written English, if the general structure is to be retained, the sentence would look something this:

…compared their neutrophin protein levels with people in long-term relationships and single people, each group being the same size.

In fact, your re-write is much better than the original sentence. Here's another example of non-English from the paragraph:

…which causes well-known signs of uneasiness such as […] the feeling of having 'butterflies in the stomach'

The issue here is not that it is, strictly speaking, ungrammatical, but it is very unnatural for the native English reader.

My point is that the paragraph was so poorly written that it could not have been written by any competent writer of English. It was perhaps acceptable to be included in a reading comprehension paper, but that doesn't change the fact that it was very badly written*.

*or "re-written", to be exact, as the paragraph in question was a hopeless adaptation from a BBC article that was written originally in natural and simple English.

The suffocated 說...

Thanks for your comments! You have made your case very clear. I am certain that most readers of this blog will find your comments and your original blog entry thought provoking.

匿名 說...

I do not think you (The Suffocated)have missed any of the points made by Mr. Siu two years ago. On the contrary, the further comments left here by Mr. Siu seem to me no more than a further repetition of his long-held view. To me, the HKCEE sentence is okay in structure. Besides, Mr. Siu writes: "The problem with the paragraph in question is not that it is unclear in its meaning." I wonder if a native speaker would like such verbosity. Besides, the rewritten sentence suggested by Mr Siu seems to me ambiguous in meaning.

匿名 說...

I have read what Mr. Siu wrote in his blog. He wrote: 這部份文句不通,詞序大亂。甚麼叫 with those in both the same number?
I don’t think “with those in both the same number of …and the same number of” is incomprehensible or clumsy (although there are, of course and as always, alternative ways to state the same thing). I have searched "with those in both the" and “both the same number of" in Google and found there are thousands of entries, mostly found in academic writing.
Example 1: The color-coded FA map overlaid on the MD map (I) shows high FA values (arrow) in the GP (0.20) compared with those in both the control (0.10) and his sibling (0.12). (From American Journal of Neuroradiology) http://www.ajnr.org/cgi/content/full/31/3/442
Example 2: he compared the characteristics of urban land use in Kowloon with those in both the industrialized West and the developing countries of (from Doctoral Dissertations on Hong Kong 1990-1997) http://books.google.com.hk/books?id=DStVe4K2BaoC&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=%22with+those+in+both+the+%22&source=bl&ots=5LkRe42aw0&sig=TXxmRu8K8ZaH9HYJsMAEp0q8Ifk&hl=zh-TW&ei=bq6mTJ-YDsKeccei0KcH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CE4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=%22with%20those%20in%20both%20the%20%22&f=false
Besides, Mr. Siu wrote: “The problem lies not in the single word "those", as you allege I have an issue with, but in the awkward construction of the sentence as a whole.” Mr. Siu’s sentence is ambiguous in its meaning and I think the comma highlighted in yellow should be omitted. This is because “as you allege I have an issue with” refer to “those” only and does not refer to “The problem lies not in the single word "those"”. The Suffocated have never alleged “The problem lies not in the single word “those””. An example is given below - As it turns out, Rupert Murdoch did indeed say "fat" not "facts" as alleged by Keith Olbermann and the Daily Kos. (There is NO comma before not “facts” and as alleged).

匿名 說...

Typo: I refer to the last sentence of the previous message I left. What I want to write is :"(There is NO comma BETWEEN not “facts” and as alleged). "

匿名 說...

the feeling of having 'butterflies in the stomach'…

The issue here is not that it is, strictly speaking, ungrammatical, but it is very unnatural for the native English reader.
-------------------
ungrammatical? unnatural? LOL!
why don't you google "feeling butterflies in the stomach -definition -idiom" and judge for yourself?

匿名 說...

the feeling of having 'butterflies in the stomach'…

The issue here is not that it is, strictly speaking, ungrammatical, but it is very unnatural for the native English reader.
-------------------
ungrammatical? unnatural? LOL!
why don't you google "feeling butterflies in the stomach -definition -idiom" and judge for yourself?
-------------------
Maybe you have misinterpreted Mr. Siu's point which criticizes the use of clumsy or unnatural wordings of 'feeling of having "butterflies"',instead of doubting the meaning of 'feeling butterflies in the stomach'.
Compare the two versions and you would find the main focus.

匿名 說...

大家不妨看看蕭愷一自己的文章: http://siuhoiyat.com/
充斥著各種不同性質的錯處, 比起這篇高考卷多很多呢! ;)

匿名 說...

蕭先生在其原文中的開頭這樣寫:「不禁搖頭:文章水平怎麼這樣低下?」
這句說話拿來形容他自己的文章會更合適.
就以他在其個人網站上最新發表的"怎樣在寫作比賽中取得成功"那篇為例, 標題為"How to Ensure Success in Joining Writing Contests", 不禁令人搖頭嘆息, 只能苦笑問天為甚麼會寫成是"怎樣能成功參加寫作比賽"!??
無言...

匿名 說...

Mr Siu is overrated. His writing is mediocre at best.

匿名 說...

Another problem with Siu is that his "British" accent sounds very contrived. All real British English speakers can tell immediately that he isn't a native speaker.

Raymond Lee 說...

Siu's comment is correct !

匿名 說...

People who think Siu has a good command of English all suck at English, and that's why they are so easily fooled. 只有英文水平有限的人才會以為Siu英文厲害。

匿名 說...

"蕭先生在其原文中的開頭這樣寫:「不禁搖頭:文章水平怎麼這樣低下?」
這句說話拿來形容他自己的文章會更合適.
就以他在其個人網站上最新發表的"怎樣在寫作比賽中取得成功"那篇為例, 標題為"How to Ensure Success in Joining Writing Contests", 不禁令人搖頭嘆息, 只能苦笑問天為甚麼會寫成是"怎樣能成功參加寫作比賽"!??
無言..."


LOL. What kind of English is that? "Success in JOINING"?! "Success in winning" man!