|English Language Etiquette for Russians: |
helping those in linguistic need avoid
making arses of themselves
A final post before I go on holiday to Scotland where I will be taking in, amongst many other things both reputable and disreputable, the Edinburgh Book Festival, which is one of the great events in the literary world. I will be posting occasional pieces about interesting authors I have seen. Beyond that, posts will have a more Scottish than a Russian flavour until the beginning of September.
Before I set off, I want to stress one thought (not for the first time!). It is this: a high level of skill at written English is of vital importance in the modern world. Let me recommend two internet items that are relevant here. The first one is entitled: “How your grammar skills affect your salary”. The second one makes much the same point, in a different way, and carries with it the plutological authority (that means they are rich, or does now that I have coined the word!) of Forbes magazine. It is called: “How grammar influences your income.”
Why do I stress this? Because a friend has sent me two outstanding examples of the linguistic mush which far too many Russian academics put out because they do not write English well (which is no sin) and are not prepared to get their work put into acceptable English by a specialist, like me (which is a sin!). People who spout guff and try to pass it off as clever discourse are said in colloquial English to be “talking a lot of hot air”. The picture on the right illustrates the process.
It is important to be clear that it is not only incoherent language which gets in the way of clear communication, it is confused thinking too. Just because the authors of the two pieces below are high-level academics, does not mean they do not need help with their thought processes as much as their language. My point, really, is that the latter reflects the former. Confused, opaque, over-complicated English is a sure sign of sloppy thinking.
The prize in this year’s ELERussians Hot Air Awards goes to the a Professor of English at one of Moscow’s leading universities. He has written an abstract for a paper to be submitted to a learned journal with the following title (which is in itself incomprehensible to me): “Metaphorical Potential of Phraseological Units in English Business Discourse”.
If the title is beyond understanding, what chance is there of a coherent text? This is an extract:
“The author also states that the use of metaphors is a natural way of studying the world. The specificity of perception with the help of some metaphors reflects traditions, and the special features of national character of the native speaker. Phraseological units have both impact and educational functions. The author states that Russian and Western scientists are working on different schemes of metaphoric transformation and methods of classification, which are based on the transparency of the internal form of expressive vocabulary. However, the scientists were not able to reach full agreement, so ‘the last phase of the transformation of the metaphors core is also broadly disputed’. The author also discusses some of the reasons why figurative language is so intensively used in modern business discourse and argues that the criterion of idiomaticity is found to be an inadequate guide in distinguishing between metaphors and phraseological units. The article concludes that the ideological significance of figurative language should not be underestimated.”
If any reader is able to extract a concrete meaning from that, then I will buy him or her a large drink at the next ELERussians whisky tasting.
The problem is not confined to academics. This next piece was written by a distinguished lawyer and is the abstract of an article, also intended for publication in a learned journal. The subject is Russian “atomic legislation”, which is itself a nonsense, since it is not the legislation that is atomic but the industry which is the subject of the legislation. It is runner-up in the Hot Air Awards for the blog year 2012-2013.
Can any reader make any sense from these words beyond the statement of the obvious that Russian policy on the peaceful use of nuclear power needs to be revisited because of the new economic union with Kazakhstan and Belorussia?
“Furthermore, Russia is going to establish a single economic space with Kazakhstan and Belorussia, so the norms of all parties are to be synchronized. The author states that the development of the normative legal acts is made by different federal executive government bodies and some collectives. The existing bunch of normative acts should be reconsidered, rethought, analyzed and systemized; a monitoring of the use of nuclear energy legislation should be made. It is worth noticing that the systematization of the nuclear energy legislation needs a complex plan of preparing law drafts and normative acts in this sphere. In this connection the work on the systematization are going to allow legal activity for the satisfaction of innovative development of nuclear energy in Russia and gives a broad approach for the regulation of social relations in such potentially dangerous field, as the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
Since I might be bumping into Edward Snowden in the departure lounge at Sheremetyevo airport this afternoon, it occurs to me that I could usefully suggest to him that the best way to defeat the American global mail-spying programme would be to persuade everyone to write like the two award-winners above. His friends in Langley, Virginia, would never be able to decode that.