2020-12-02 15:56:16 来源:参考消息网 责任编辑:黄晋一

Oxford's 2020 Word of the Year? It's Too Hard to Isolate

牛津2020“年度词”?很难单挑出一个

Jennifer Schuessler 珍妮弗·许斯勒

Oxford Languages's annual Word of the Year is usually a tribute to the protean creativity of English and the reality of constant linguistic change, throwing a spotlight on zeitgeisty neologisms like “selfie”, “vape” and “unfriend”.

Sure, it isn't all lexicographic fun and frolic. 2017 saw the triumph of “toxic”. Last year, the winner was “climate emergency”.

But then came 2020, and you-know-what.

This year, Oxford Languages, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, has forgone the selection of a single word in favor of highlighting the coronavirus pandemic's swift and sudden linguistic impact on English.

“What struck the team as most distinctive in 2020 was the sheer scale and scope of change,” Katherine Connor Martin, the company's head of product, said in an interview. “This event was experienced globally and by its nature changed the way we express every other thing that happened this year.”

The Word of the Year is based on usage evidence drawn from Oxford's continually updated corpus of more than 11 billion words, gathered from news sources across the English-speaking world. The selection is meant “to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations” of the preceding year, while also having “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

The 2020 report does highlight some zippy new coinages, like “Blursday”, “covidiots” and “doomscrolling”. But mostly, it underlines how the pandemic has utterly dominated public conversation, and given us a new collective vocabulary almost overnight.

Take, for starters, “pandemic”: Use of the term increased more than 57,000 percent since last year. “Coronavirus” also surged, breaking away from run-of-the-mill topical words.

Back in January, it was neck-and-neck with “impeachment”, then surging because of the proceedings against President Trump. But by April, “coronavirus” had become one of the most common nouns in English, overtaking even stalwarts like “time”.

The Oxford report also highlights words and phrases relating to social justice, including “Black Lives Matter”, “Juneteenth”, “decolonize”, and “allyship”, some of which surged dramatically starting in late May, amid the protests following the killing of George Floyd in police custody. But those increases, while notable, were nowhere near those of pandemic-related terms.

And the pandemic may have actually reduced the frequency of other topical words. Last year, Oxford released an all-climate related short list, topped by “climate emergency”. But in March, as the pandemic took hold, the frequency of the word “climate” itself abruptly plunged by almost 50 percent.

The pandemic turned once-obscure public-health terminology like “social distancing” or “flatten the curve” into household terms, and made words and phrases like “lockdown” and “stay-at-home” common. More subtly, it also altered usage patterns for ho-hum words like “remote”.

Previously, the most common collocates of “remote” were “village”, “island” and “control”. This year, Ms. Martin said, they were “learning”, “working” and “work force”.

Most years, a lot of the fun of Oxford's short list comes from portmanteaus, or blend words, like “mansplain” or “broflake”. But this year, even the neologisms were a bit downbeat. For every “covidiot” and “Blursday”, there was a “twindemic” and an “infodemic”.

So … is it fair to say that in 2020, even the words were, well, kind of terrible?

Ms. Martin declined to be so negative. But she confessed to some nostalgia for the days of playful, dare-you-to-put-it-in-the-dictionary coinages like “lumbersexual”, from Oxford's 2015 shortlist.

She said she hoped 2021 would bring more “fun, positive words that didn't seem to hold the weight of the world on their shoulders.”

牛津语言部每年选出的“年度词”通常充分体现了英语千变万化的创造性和语言不断变化的现实,让“自拍”、“电子烟”和“删除好友”等具有时代精神的新词受到瞩目。

当然,编纂词典时也不全是嬉戏欢乐。2017年见证了“有毒”的胜出。去年,赢家是“气候紧急状态”。

不过接着到了2020年,情况如你所见。

今年,《牛津英语词典》的出版方牛津语言部放弃了选出单个字词的努力,而是强调新冠肺炎大流行从语言学角度给英语带来的迅猛而突然的冲击。

公司产品事务主管凯瑟琳·康纳·马丁在接受采访时说:“2020年整个团队感觉最不同寻常的是变化的规模之大、范围之广。全球各地都经历了这场疫情,其根本特征是改变了我们表达今年所发生的其他每件事情的方式。”

年度词基于从持续更新的牛津语料库提取的使用情况证据,语料库包含的单词超过110亿个,收集自整个英语世界的新闻信息。选出的单词旨在“体现上一年的精神风貌、情绪状况或关注重点”,并且有“对文化产生影响的持久潜质”。

2020年度报告的确突出了一些鲜活的新造词,如“模糊日”、“新冠白痴”和“阴暗刷屏”。不过最重要的是,它凸显了疫情大流行如何全面主导了公众对话,以及如何在几乎一夜之间交付给我们一批新的共用词汇。

首先来说“疫情大流行”:自去年以来,这个词的使用率是过去的570多倍。“冠状病毒”的出现频率也急剧增加,从时下普通热词中脱颖而出。

1月时,它与“弹劾”一词不相上下,当时由于针对特朗普总统的诉讼程序,“弹劾”的使用量激增。不过到4月时,“冠状病毒”已经成为英语中最常见的名词之一,甚至超过了像“时间”这样的中坚词语。

这份牛津报告还强调了与社会正义相关的单词与短语,包括“黑人的命也重要”、“六月节”、“去殖民化”和“同盟状态”,其中有些词的使用频率从5月底开始骤增,当时正是因乔治·弗洛伊德在被警方扣留时遇害而爆发抗议活动之际。不过这些词的使用量虽然显著上升,却远不及与疫情相关的词语。

而且这场疫情可能居然减少了其他热词的使用频率。去年,牛津发布了全部与气候相关的一份入围名单,位居榜首的是“气候紧急状态”。不过到了3月,随着疫情深入发展,“气候”一词的使用频率骤降近50%。

疫情让“拉开社交距离”和“压平曲线”这类曾鲜为人知的公共卫生术语变得家喻户晓,也让“封锁”和“居家”等单词及短语随处可见。更微妙的是,它还改变了像“偏远/远程”这类平淡乏味词语的使用模式。

之前,“偏远/远程”最常见的搭配词是“村庄”、“岛屿”和“控制”。马丁说,今年,搭配词变成了“学习”、“办公”和“工作人员”。

大多数年份,牛津年度词入围名单给人带来的许多快乐来自合并词,又称混合词,如“男人说教”或“玻璃心男”。不过今年,就连新词也有点令人沮丧。只要有“新冠白痴”和“模糊日”,就少不了“双重疫情”和“信息疫情”。

那么……是不是可以说2020这一年连词汇也有点糟糕呢?

马丁不愿如此消极。不过她承认有点怀念过去有好玩的、简直不敢相信会收入词典的新造词的时候,比如牛津2015年度词入围名单上的“伐木型男”。

她说,希望2021年会带来更多“不显得背负着全世界重担的有趣而积极的词语”。(李凤芹译自美国《纽约时报》网站11月22日文章)

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