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散文佳作108篇 第75期:In Praise of the Humble Comma 小小逗号赞

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In Praise of the Humble Comma

小小逗号赞

Pico Lyer

皮科·埃尔
小小逗号赞

The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the samesaid-could be said-could itnot?-of the humble comma. Add it to the present clause, and, all of a sudden, the mind is,quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprivedof a resting place. Yet still the comma gets no respea. It seems just a slip of a thing, apedant's tick, a blip on the edge of our consciousness, a kind of printer's smudge almost.Small, we claim, is beautiful (especially in the age of the microchip). Yet what is so often used,and so rarely called, as the comma-unless it be breath itself?

人都说神仙把气赐予生灵,又把气夺走。不过这话用在小小的逗号上,何尝不是如此?给现在这句加上逗号,脑子里真会,突然,停下来想想;若随意去掉,或忘了它,就剥夺了脑子休息的空间。尽管如此,逗号仍然不受人算重。它似乎只是一个小撇,书呆子手下的一个小点儿,是我们意识边缘上的一个记号,甚至排字工人沾上的一点污。我们好说以小为美(尤其在这集成电路时代)。然而,还有什么东西是像逗号那样频频使用而又那样默默无闻的呢?——不就是气吗?

Punctuation, one is taught, has a point: to keep up law and order. Punctuation marks are theroad signs placed along the highway of our communication——to control speeds,providedirections and prevent head-on collisions. A period has the unblinking finality of a red light,the comma is a flashing yellow light that asks us only to slow down, and the semicolon is astop sign that tells us to ease gradually to a halt, before gradually starting up again. Byestablishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between thepeople using words. That may be one reason why school teachers exalt it and lovers defy it("we love each other and belong to each other let’s don’t ever hurt each other Nicole let's don'tever hurt each other,” wrote Gary Gilmore to his girlfriend )A comma ,he must have known, "separate inseparables" ,in the clinching words of H. W. Fowler, King of English Usage.

我们都学过,标点有一个目的:维持法律与秩序。标点符号正是我们交通要道上一路设置的路标——用以控制速度,指示方向,避免迎头相撞。句号具有红灯的一丝不苟,说一不二;逗号是一闪一闪的黄灯,要求我们只是放慢速度;分号则是停车标记,指示我们缓缓煞车,然后再缓缓启动标点建立起词与词之间的关系,从而建立起用词人之间的关系。教师捧它,情人烦它,其原因盖出于此。(盖瑞·基尔摩尔给女友写道:“我爱你你爱我我是你的你是我的我们永远谁也别伤谁的心科尔我们永远谁也别伤谁的心。”)他一定学过英语惯用法大王福勒的断言:逗号是“把不可分开的东西分开”。

Punctuation, then, is a civic prop, a pillar that holds society upright. (A run on sentence, itsphrases piling up without division, is as unsightly as a sink piled high with dirty dishes.)Smallwonder,then,that punctuation was one of the first proprieties of the Victorian age, the age ofthe corset, that the modernists threw off the sexual revolution might be said to have begunwhen Joyce's Molly Bloomis spilled out all her private thoughts in 36 pages of unbridled, almostunperioded and officially censored prose: and another are bellion was surely marked whenE.E.Cummings first felt free to commit "God" to the lower case.

如此说来,标点乃是百姓的支柱,是支撑社会不至于垮掉的栋梁冗长的句子,词组堆砌成赘而不分彼此,就好比洗碗槽堆满了脏碗,很不雅观。)也难怪在维多利亚时代,风行紧身胸衣的时代,标点是讲礼貌的头等大事,而现代派一概弃之门外。性的革命可以说就是始于乔伊斯笔下的莫莉·布鲁姆,她将全部私衷一吐为快,洋洋36页文字信口道来,几乎没有句号,遭到官家查禁。再就是卡明斯,肯定也算造反,他当初为所欲为,擅自将“Cod”贬为小写。

Punctuation thus becomes the signatrire of cultures. The hot-blooded Spaniard seems to berevealed in the passion and urgency of his doubled exclamation points and question marks ( "iCaramba! LQuien sabe?"), while the impassive Chinese traditionally added to his so-calledinscrutability by omitting directions from his ideograms. The anarchy and commotion of the60s were given voice in the exploding exclamation marks, riotous capital letters and Day-Gloitalics of Tom Wolfe's spray-paint prose; and in Communist societies, where the State isabsolute, the dignity-and divinity-of capital letters is reserved for Ministries, Sub-Committeesand Secretariats.

于是,标点成了不同文化的标志。西班牙人性好激动,打惊叹号打问号都用双重的(“jCaramba! LQuiensabe?”见鬼啦!谁能明白?)情真意切,如见其人;中国人则不好动声色,表意字的文言自古就不注标点,所谓胸有城府,益见其深。汤姆·沃尔夫那种喷漆式的散文体,惊叹号一哄而起,大写字母泛滥成灾,斜体字像是涂了荧光漆,无不表达了60年代的无法无天和乱作一团;而在共产党当政的社会,国家至上,大写字母的尊严——与神威——只留给政府各部委和书记处享用。

Yet punctuation is something more than a culture's birthmark; it scores the music in ourminds, gets our thoughts moving to the rhythm of our hearts. Punctuation is the notation inthe sheet music of our words, telling us when to rest, or when to raise our voices; itacknowledges that the meaning of our discourse, as of any symphonic composition, lies notonly in the units but in the pauses, the pacing and the phrasing. Punctuation is the way onebats one's eyes, lowers one's voice or blushes demurely. Punctuation adjusts the tone andcolor and volume till the feeling comes into perfea focus: not disgust exactly, but distastes; notlust, or like, but love.

然而,标点又不仅是某一种文化的胎记;它记下我们心中的乐曲,指引我们的思想与我们的心声合拍。标点是我们作词的歌篇上的乐谱,它告诉我们何时休止,何时提高嗓门;它表明,我们说话着文,犹如谱写交响乐曲,情意所至,不仅见于整体段落,也见于起落有间、快慢有节以及长短有致。标点就像人眨眨眼睛,低声细语,或忸怩作态。标点可调整音调、音色和音量,直至找准了感情,万无一失:未必是厌恶,而是厌烦;并非情欲之类,而是情爱。

Punctuation, in short, gives us the human voice, and all the meanings that lie between thewords. "You aren't young, are you?" loses its innocence when it loses the question mark.Every child knows the menace of a dropped apostrophe (the parent's "Don't do that" shiftinginto the more slowly enunciated "Do not do that"), and every believer, the ignominy of havinghis faith reduced to "faith." Add an exclamation point to "To be or not to be..." and thegloomy Dane m has all the resolve he needs; add a comma, and the noble sobriety of "Godsave the Queen" becomes a cry of desperation bordering on double sacrilege.

简言之,标点给我们传来话音,传来字里行间的全部含义。“你不小了,是吧?”这话去掉问号,无心便成了有意。做父母的先是说“Don't do that”(“别做那事”),转而又慢声慢气交代清楚:“Do not.dothat”(不要做那事),每个孩子都听得明白,拿掉了撇号可就把话说绝了。每个信徒也都明白,把他的信教加上引号,所谓“信教”,那可是在污辱他。给“生存或者灭亡……”一句添上个惊叹号,那位忧心忡忡的丹麦人便是毅然决然万死不辞之士。在“上帝保佑女王”中间加个逗号,那崇高的庄严则成了绝望的呼号,简直是对双方的亵渎。

Sometimes, of course, our markings may be simply a matter of aesthetics.Popping in a commacan be like slipping on the necklace that gives an outfit quiet elegance, or like catching thesound of running water that complements as it completes the silence of a Japaneselandscape. When VS.

Naipaul , in his latest novel, writes, "He was a middle-aged man, with glasses," the first commacan seem a little precious. Yet it gives the description a spin, as well as a subtlety, that itotherwise lacks, and it shows that the glasses are not part of the middle-agedness, butsomething else.

当然,’有时我们的标点符号也许只是个审美的问题。插进一个逗号,犹如给一套服装悄然配上项链,使之显得娴静优雅,又如在日本园林的一片幽静之外还听到潺潺流水声,使园景更加充实。奈保尔在他新近的一部小说中写道:“他是个中年人,戴着一副眼镜。”前一个逗号看似有点做作。然而它使描述更为婉转,也更为微妙,否则都显不出来;它还表明,那副眼镜并非人到中年就非戴不可,而是别有由来。

Thus all these tiny scratches give us breadth and heft and depth. A world that has only periodsis a world without inflections. It is a world without shade. It has a music without sharps andflats. It is a martial music. It has a jackboot rhythm. Words cannot bend and curve. Acomma, by comparison,catches the gentle drift of the mind in thought, turning in on itselfand back on itself, reversing, redoubling and returning along the course of its own sweet rivermusic; while the semicolon brings clauses and thoughts together with all the silent discretionof a hostess arranging guests around her dinner table.

可见所有这些小来小去的一深度。只有句点的世界是个千篇撇一点都给我们增加了广度、分量和一律的世界。是个没有差别的世界。它的乐曲不分升调降调。是一首军乐曲。是长筒靴的节奏。文字不能弯曲。相形之下,逗号却能捕捉头脑里思路的涓涓细流,任它沿着自己娓娓动听的河上乐曲的航线,自行蜿蜒曲折,倒流,重叠。分号则将分句与思想融为一体,犹如女主人不露声色地把来宾一一妥善安排入席。

Punctuation, then, is a matter of care. Care for words, yes, but also, and more important, forwhat the words imply. Only a lover notices the small things: the way the afternoon lightcatches the nape of a neck, or how a strand of hair slips out from behind an ear, or the way afinger curls around a cup. And no one scans a letter so closely as a lover, searching for its smallprint, straining to hear its nuances, its gasps, its sighs and hesitations, poring over the secretmessages that lie in every cadence. The difference between"Jane (whom I adore)" and "Jane,whom I adore," and the difference between them both and "Jane-whom I adore-" marks all thedistance between ecstasy and heartache. "No iron can pierce the heart with such force as aperiod put at just the right place," in Isaac Babel's lovely words; a comma can let us hear avoice break, or a heart. Punctuation, in fact, is a labor of love. Which brings us back in a way togods.

由此说来,标点符号又是个要谨慎从事的问题。用词要慎,不错,但更要紧的是对词的涵义尤宜慎重。只有情人才注意到这些细节:下午的阳光如何照在后颈上,一缕发丝如何从耳后根滑下来,手指如何勾住杯子。谁看信也不会像情人那般仔细,苦苦寻觅信中的微小印迹,极力听出其间的细微差别,其中的喘息、感叹和犹豫不决,潜心揣摩那抑扬顿挫中的秘密信息。“简(我深爱她)”与“简,我深爱她”两句之间的差别,以及这两句与“简——我深爱她——”之间的差别,标明了醉心与伤心之间的距离。巴别尔有句话说得多好:“句点用得其所,可穿透人心,虽刀枪力莫能及。”逗号则可使我们听到声咽或心碎。标点符号其实是一项心甘情愿而为之的工作。它多少使我们重新成为主宰。


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