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Love and logic: The story of fallacy

I had my first date with Polly after I made the trade with my roommate Rob. That year every guy on campus had a leather jacket, and Rob couldn't stand the idea of being the only football player who didn't, so he made a pact that he'd give me his girl in exchange for my jacket. He wasn't the brightest guy. Polly wasn't too shrewd, either.

But she was pretty, well-off, didn't dye her hair strange colors or wear too much makeup. She had the right background to be the girlfriend of a dogged, brilliant lawyer. If I could show the elite law firms I applied to that I had a radiant, well-spoken counterpart by my side, I just might edge past the competition.

"Radiant" she was already. I could dispense her enough pearls of wisdom to make her "well-spoken".

After a banner day out, I drove until we were situated under a big old oak tree on a hill off the expressway. What I had in mind was a little eccentric. I thought the venue with a perfect view of the luminous city would lighten the mood. We stayed in the car, and I turned down the stereo and took my foot off the brake pedal. "What are we going to talk about?" she asked.







"Cool," she said over her gum.

"The doctrine of logic,” I said, "is a staple of clear thinking. Failures in logic distort the truth, and some of them are we ll known. First let's look at the fallacy Dicto Simpliciter."

"Great,” she agreed.

"Dicto Simpliciter means an unqualified generalization. For example: Exercise is good. Therefore, everybody should exercise."

She nodded in agreement.

I could see she was stumped. "Polly," I explained, "it's too simple a generalization. If you have, say, heart disease or extreme obesity, exercise is bad, not good. Therefore, you must say exercise is good for most people."

"Next is Hasty Generalization. Self-explanatory, right? Listen carefully: You can't speak French. Rob can't speak French. Looks like nobody at this school can speak French."

"Really?" said Polly, amazed. "Nobody?"

"This is also a fallacy," I said. "The generalization is reached too hastily. Too few instances support such a conclusion."

She seemed to have a good time. I could safely say my plan was underway. I took her home and set a date for another conversation. Seated under the oak the next evening I said, "Our first fallacy tonight is called Ad Misericordiam."

She nodded with delight.

"Listen closely," I said. "A man applies for a job. When the boss asks him what his qualifications are, he says he has six children to feed." "Oh, this is awful, awful," she whispered in a choked voice.

"Yes, it?s awful," I agreed, "but it's no argument. The man never answered the boss's question. Instead he appealed to the boss's sympathy - Ad Misericordiam."
















She blinked, still trying hard to keep back her tears."

Next," I said carefully, "we will discuss False Analogy. An example, students should be allowed to look at their textbooks during exams, because surgeons have X-rays to guide them during surgery.

"I like that idea," she said.

"Polly," I groaned, "don't derail the discussion. The inference is wrong. Doctors aren't taking a test to see how much they have learned, but students are. The situations are altogether different. You can't make an analogy between them."

"I still thi nk it?s a good idea," said Polly.

With five nights of diligent work, I actually made a logician out of Polly. She was an analytical thinker at last. The time had come for the conversion of our relationship from academic to romantic.

"Polly," I said when next we sat under our oak, "tonight we won't discuss fallacies."

"Oh?" she said, a little disappointed.

Favoring her with a grin, I said, "We have now spent five evenings together. We get along pretty well. We make a pretty good couple." "Hasty Generalization," said Polly brightly. "Or as a normal person might say, that's a little premature, don't you think?"'I laughed with amusement. She'd learned her lessons well, far surpassing my expectations. "Sweetheart," I said, patting her hand in a tolerant manner, "five dates is plenty. After all, you don't have to eat a whole cake to know it's good."


“接下来”,我小心地说,“我们来讨论…错误类比?。举个例子:学生考试时应该允许看课本,因为外科医生在做手术时可以看X 光片。”








"False Analogy," said Polly promptly.

"Your premise is that dating is like eating. But you're not a cake. You're a boy."

I laughed with somewhat less amusement, hiding my dread that she'd learned her lessons too well.

A few more false steps would be my doom. I decided to change tactics and try flattery instead.

"Polly, I love you. Please say you'll go out with me. I'm nothing without you."

"Ad Misericordiam," she said.

"You certainly can discern a fallacy when you see it," I said, my hopes starting to crumble.

"But don't take them so literally. I mean this is all academic. You know the things you learn in school don't have anything to do with real life."

"Dicto Simpliciter," she said. "Besides, you really should practice what you preach."

I leaped to my feet, my temper flaring up. "Will you or will you not go out with me?"

"No to your proposition," she replied.

"Why?" I demanded."I'm more interested in a different petitioner - Rob and I are back together.

With great effort, I said calmly, "How could you give me the axe over Rob?

Look at me, an ingenious student, a tremendous intellectual, a man with an assured future.















32 “错误类比,”波莉立即回应。“你的前提是约会就如同吃东西。可你不是蛋糕,你是个男孩。”

33 我又笑了笑,不过不觉得那么有趣了,同时还不能表露出我害怕她学得太好了。再错几步我可就无法挽回了。我决定改变策略,转而尝试奉承她的办法。34 “波莉,我爱你。请答应做我的女朋友,没有你我什么也不是。”

35 “文不对题,”她说。

36 “你还真是能在遇到逻辑谬误时一一辨别它们了,” 我说,心里的希望已经开始动摇。“不过不要对它们太死板,我是说这都是些学术的东西。你知道,学校里学的东西和实际生活根本没有什么联系。”

37 “绝对判断,”她说道,“而且,你自己教的东西应该自己身体力行。” 38 我一下跳了起来,怒火中烧,“你到底愿不愿意做我的女朋友?”

39 “我不愿意,”她答道。

40 “为什么?”我追问道。

41 “我对另一位求爱者更感兴趣——罗伯和我重归于好了。”

42 我极力地保持着平静,说道:“你怎么会甩了我而选择罗伯?看看我,一个聪明过人的学生,一个不同凡响的学者,一个前途无量的人。再看看罗伯,一个肌肉发达的蠢材,一个有了上顿没下顿的家伙。你是否能给我一个充足的理由,为什么要选择跟他?”

43 “喔,这是什么假设啊!为了让像你这样聪明的人能够明白,我这么说吧,”波莉反驳道,声音里充满了讽刺,“事情的真相是——我喜欢罗伯穿皮衣。是我让他同意你们的协议的,这样他就能拥有你的夹克!”


43 “喔,这是什么假设啊!为了让像你这样聪明的人能够明白,我这么说吧,”波莉反驳道,声音里充满了讽刺,“事情的真相是——我喜欢罗伯穿皮衣。是我让他同意你们的协议的,这样他就能拥有你的夹克!”

Unit 2

The confusing pursuit of beauty

If you're a man, at some point a woman will ask you how she looks.

You must be careful how you answer this question. The best technique is to form an honest yet sensitive response, then promptly excuse yourself for some kind of emergency. Trust me, this is the easiest way out. No amount of rehearsal will help you come up with the right answer.

The problem is that men do not think of their looks in the same way women do. Most men form an opinion of themselves in seventh grade and stick to it for the rest of their lives. Some men think they're irresistibly desirable, and they refuse to change this opinion even when they grow bald and their faces visibly wrinkle as they age.

Most men, I believe, are not arrogant about their looks. If the transient thought passes through their minds at all, they like to think of themselves as average-looking. Being average doesn't bother them; average is fine. They don't affix much value to their looks, or think of them in terms of aesthetics. Their primary form of beauty care is to shave themselves, which is essentially the same care they give to their lawns. If, at the end of his four-minute allotment of time for grooming, a man has managed to wipe most of the shaving cream out of the strands of his hair and isn't bleeding too badly, he feels he's done all he can.

Women do not look at themselves this way. If I had to guess what most women think about their appearance, it would be: "Not good enough." No matter how attractive a woman may be, her perception of herself is eclipsed by the beauty industry. She has trouble thinking I'm beautiful, She magnifies the smallest imperfections in her body and imagines them as glaring flaws the whole world will notice and ridicule.







Why do women consider their looks so deficient? This chronic insecurity isn't inborn, but created through the interaction of many complex psychological and societal factors, beginning with the dolls we give them as children. Girls grow up playing with dolls proportioned so that, if they were human, they would be seven feet tall and weigh 61 pounds, with tiny thighs and a large upper body. This is an absurd standard to live up to, especially when you consider the size of the doll's waist, a relative measurement physically impossible for a living human to achieve. Contrast this absurd standard with that presented to little boys with their "action figures". Most of the toys that young boys have played with were weird-looking, like the one called Buzz-Off that was part human, part flying insect. This guy was not a looker, but he was still extremely self-confident. You could not imagine him saying to the others, "Is this accessory the right shade of violet for this outfit?" But women grow up thinking they need to look like Barbie dolls or girls on magazine covers, which for most women is impossible. Nonetheless, the multibillion-dollar beauty industry, complete with its own aisle in the grocery store, is devoted to constant warfare on female self-esteem, convincing women that they must buy all the newest moisturizing creams, bronzing powders and appliances that promise to "stimulate and restore" their skin. I once saw an Oprah Show in which supermodel Cindy Crawford dispensed makeup tips to the studio audience. Cindy had all these middle-aged women apply clay masks and other "wrinkle-removing" products to their faces; she stressed how important it was to adhere to the guidelines, like applying products via the tips of their fingers to protect elasticity. All the women dutifully did this, even though it was obvious to any rational observer that, no matter how carefully they applied these products, they would never have Cindy Crawford's face or complexion.

为什么女性会把自己的外貌想得这么差呢?这种长期的不安全感并不是与生倶来的,而是由许多复杂的心理和社会因素的相互作用造成的,从小时候大人们给她们买洋娃娃时就开始了。女孩成长过程中摆弄的洋娃娃,如果按照身材比例还原为真人大小的话,就会是7 英尺高,61 英磅重,大腿纤细,上身丰满。要达到这样的标准是很荒唐的,尤其是当我们想想那种洋娃娃的腰围尺寸,就知道其相对尺寸对任何一个活人来说都是不可企及的。与女孩玩具的这种荒唐标准相比,小男孩们得到的“动作玩偶”却是完全不同的模样。大多数男孩的玩具都样貌古怪,例如那个叫作“蜜蜂侠”的玩偶,一半像人,一半像会飞的昆虫。这个玩偶尽管样子不好看,但仍然非常自信。你肯定无法想象他会问别人说:“这个配饰的紫罗兰色和这件外套配不配呢?”


I'm not saying that men are superior. I'm just saying that you're not going to get a group of middle-aged men to plaster cosmetics to themselves under the instruction of Brad Pitt in hopes of looking more like him. Men don't face the same societal focus purely on physical beauty, and they're encouraged to reach out to other characteristics to promote their self-esteem. They might say to Brad: "Oh yeah? Well, what do you know about lawn care, pretty boy?"

Of course women argue that they become obsessed with appearance as a reaction to pressure from men. The truth is that most men think beauty is more than just lipstick and perfume and take no notice of these extra details. I have never once, in more than 40 years of listening to men talk about women, heard a man say, "She had gorgeous fingernails!" To most men, little things like fingernails are all homogeneous anyway, and one woman's flawless pink polish is exactly as invisible as another's bare nails.

By participating in this system of extreme conformity, women are actually opening themselves up to the scrutiny of other women, the only ones qualified to judge their efforts. What is the real benefit of working this hard to appease men who don't notice when it only exposes women to prosecution from other women?

Anyway, to get back to my original point: If you're a man, and a woman asks you how she looks, you can't say she looks bad without receiving immediate and well-deserved outrage. But you also can't shower her with empty compliments about how her shoes complement her dress nicely because she'll know you're lying. She has spent countless hours worrying about the differences between her looks and Cindy Crawford's. Also,she suspects that you're not qualified to voice a subjective opinion on anybody's appearance. This may be because you have shaving cream in your hair and inside the folds of your ears.





Unit 3

Fred Smith and FedEx: The vision that changed the world

Every night several hundred planes bearing a purple, white, and orange design touch down at Memphis Airport, in Tennessee. What prec edes this landing are package pickups from locations all over the United States earlier in the day. Crews unload the planes' cargo of mor e than half a million parcels and letters. The rectangular packages and envelopes are rapidly reshuffled and sorted according to address, then loaded onto other aircraft, and flown to their destinations to be dispersed by hand - many within 24 hours of leaving their senders. This is the culmination of a dream of Frederick W. Smith, the founder, president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of t he FedEx Corp. - known originally as Federal Express - the largest and most successful overnight delivery service in the world. Conceive d when he was in college and now in its 28th year of operation, Smith's exquisite brainchild has become the standard for door-to-door p ackage delivery.

Recognized as an outstanding entrepreneur with an agreeable and winning personality, Smith is held in high regard by his competitors a s well as his employees and stockholders. Fred Smith was just 27 when he founded FedEx. Now, so many years later, he's still the "capt ain of the ship". He attributes the success the company simply to leadership, something he deduced from his years in the military, and f rom his family.

Frederick Wallace Smith was born into a wealthy family clan on August 11, 1944 in Mississippi. His father died when he was just four ye ars old. As a juvenile, Smith was an invalid, suffering from a disease that left him unable to walk normally. He was picked on by bullies, and he learned to defend himself by swinging at them with his alloy walking stick. Cured of the disease by the age of 10, he became a st ar athlete in high school, playing football, basketball, and baseball.


每天夜晚,在田纳西州的孟菲斯机场,都有几百架带着白、紫、桔色图案的飞机降落。而在每天此前的早些时候,这些飞机都在美国各地收集包裹。工作人员从飞机上卸下的包裹及信件数量超过五十万之巨。长方形的包裹和信封又在这里依据收件地址被迅速整理分拣,然后装载上其他飞机,飞往各自的目的地,在那儿再由人工投递——到这时很多邮件离开寄件人之手还不到 24 小时。这是弗雷德里克·W·史密斯的终极梦想,他就是联邦快递集团(最初为联邦快递)这一全球最大、最成功的隔夜送达服务企业的创始人、总裁、首席执行官及董事会主席。如今,史密斯这一源于大学时代的妙想已在现实中经营到了第 28 个年头,并已成为包裹快递入户行业的标杆。

史密斯被公认为是一位和蔼可亲、性格迷人的杰出企业家。无论是他的竞争者、员工,还是他公司股票的持有人,都对他十分敬重。弗雷德·史密斯创建“联邦快递”时只有 27 岁。现在多年过去了,他仍然坐在“掌门人”的位置上。他将公司的成功简单地归因于领导力,而这一推论则来自于他的军旅生涯及其家庭的影响。

弗雷德里克·华莱士·史密斯 1944 年 8 月 11 日出生于密西西比州一个富裕的家族。他四岁时父亲就离世了。史密斯年少时被视为病残者,因为他得了一种病,使他无法正常行走。为此他常遭受坏孩子的侮辱捉弄,他学会了挥舞合金拐杖来保护自己。十岁时他的病治好了,到了高中他则成了学校里的体育明星,足球、篮球、棒球样样能行。

Smith's passion was flying. At 15, he was operating a crop-duster over the skyline of the Mississippi Delta, a terrain so flat that there was little need for radar navigation. As a student at Yale University, he helped revive the Yale flying club; its alumni had populated naval aviation history, including the famous "Millionaires' Unit" in World War I. Smith administrated the club's business end and ran a small charter operation in New Haven.

With his study time disrupted by flying, his academic performance suffered, but Smith never stopped looking for his own "big idea". He thought he had found it when he wrote a term paper for an economics class. He drafted a prototype for a transportation company that would guarantee overnight delivery of small, time-sensitive goods, such as replacement parts and medical supplies, to major US regions. The professor wasn't impressed and told Smith he couldn't quantify the idea and clearly it wasn't feasible.

However, Smith was certain he was onto something, even though several more years elapsed before he could turn his idea into reality. In the interim, he graduated from Yale in 1966, just as America's involvement in the Vietnam War was deepening. Since he was a patriot and had attended officers' training classes, he joined the Marines.

Smith completed two tours in Vietnam, eventually flying more than 200 missions. "In the military, leadership means getting a group of people to subordinate their individual desires and ambitions for the achievement of organizational goals," Smith says, fusing together his military and business experiences. "And good leadership has very measurable effects on a company's bottom line."

Home from Vietnam, Smith became fascinated by the notion that if you connected all the points of a network through an intermediary hub, the streamlined efficient could be enormous compared to other disjointed, decentralized businesses, whether the system involved moving packages and letters or people and planes. He decided to take a stab at starting his own business. With an investment from his father's company, as well as a chunk of his own inheritance, Smith bought his first delivery planes and in 1971 formed the Federal Express.

史密斯对飞行充满了激情。15 岁时,他就曾驾驶一架作物喷粉飞机在密西西比三角洲的天际翱翔,三角洲的地形平坦开阔,甚至都不需要雷达导航。在耶鲁大学上学时,他参与重建了耶鲁飞行倶乐部,在美国海军航空史的每个时期都有这一俱乐部出来的校友的身影,包括一战时期著名的“百万富翁飞行队”。史密斯负责管理俱乐部的事务,同时还在纽黑文经营一项小规模的租赁业务。


然而,史密斯确信自己已经发现了些什么,尽管又过了好几年他才得以把自己的想法付诸实施。在此期间,他于1966 年从耶鲁大学毕业,那时正值美国在越战中越陷越深,而他是个充满爱国热情的人,又参加过士官训练课程,所以他加入了美国海军陆战队。


从越南战场回国后,史密斯开始执着于这样一个理念,即如果能将某个运输网络的各个节点通过一个中介枢纽相互连接,其效率较之其他各环节相互之间无联系的分散经营的模式来说要高出许多,不论这一系统所涉及的是运送包裹和信件还是人员和飞机。他决定放手一搏,创建自己的企业。史密斯用父亲公司的投资和他自己继承财产的一部分购买了第一架快递飞机,并于1971 年创建了联邦快递。

The early days were underscored by extreme frugality and financial losses. It was not uncommon for FedEx drivers to pay for gasoline for their vans out of their own pockets. But despite such problems, Smith showed concern for the welfare of his employees. Just as he recalled, even when they didn't have the money, even when there weren't couches in the office and electric typewriters, they still set the precedent to ensure a good medical and dental plan for their people.

Along the way, FedEx pioneered centralization and the "hub and spoke" system, which has since been adopted by almost all major airlines. The phrase FedEx it has become a fixture in our language as much as Xerox or Google.

Smith says success in business boils down to three things. First, you need to have appealing product or service and a compelling strategy. Then you need to have an efficient management system. Assuming you have those things, leading a team is the single most important issue in running an organization today.

Although Smith avoids the media and the trappings of public life, he is said to be a friendly and accessible employer. He values his people and never takes them for granted. He reportedly visits FedEx's Memphis site at night from time to time and addresses sorters by name. For years he extended an offer to any courier with 10 years of service to come to Memphis for an "anniversary breakfast". That embodies Fred Smith's philosophy: People, Service, Profit (P-S-P). Smith says, "The P-S-P philosophy is like an unbroken circle or chain. There are no clearly definable points of entry or exit. Each link upholds the others and is, in turn, supported by them." In articulating this philosophy and in personally involving himself in its implementation, Frederick Smith is the forerunner of the new sphere of leadership that success in the future will demand.




尽管史密斯回避媒体采访和公众生活的荣耀,但他却被称为是一位友善而平易近人的雇主。他重视自己的雇员,从不认为他们理所应当该为自己工作。有报道称,他会时不时在晚上造访联邦快递位于孟菲斯的基地,并且称名道姓地与包裹分拣人员打招呼。他会主动发邀请给任何一位已在公司服务十年的快递员,请他们到孟菲斯出席“周年庆典早餐”,这已经持续了很多年。而这其中包含了弗雷德?史密斯自己的哲学:人员,服务,利润(P-S-P)。史密斯说,“P-S-P 的哲学理念就好像一个不可分割的循环,没有清晰可辨的入口或出口,每一个环节都支持着其他环节,同时也反过来受其他环节支撑。”通过明确表达并亲身践行这一理念,弗雷德里克?史密斯已成为未来成功所必需的新领导领域的开拓者。

Unit 4

Achieving sustainable environmentalism

Environmental sensitivity is now as required an attitude in polite society as is, say, belief in democracy or disapproval of plastic surgery. But now that everyone from Ted Turner to George H. W. Bush has claimed love for Mother Earth, how are we to choose among the dozens of conflicting proposals, regulations and laws advanced by congressmen and constituents alike in the name of the environment? Clearly, not everything with an environmental claim is worth doing. How do we segregate the best options and consolidate our varying interests into a single, sound policy?

There is a simple way. First, differentiate between environmental luxuries and environmental necessities. Luxuries are those things that would be nice to have if costless. Necessities are those things we must have regardless. Call this distinction the definitive rule of sane environmentalism, which stipulates that combating ecological change that directly threatens the health and safety of people is an environmental necessity. All else is luxury.

For example, preserving the atmosphere - stopping ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect - is an environmental necessity. Recently, scientists reported that ozone damage is far worse than previously thought. Ozone depletion has a correlation not only with skin cancer and eye problems, it also destroys the ocean's ecology, the beginning of the food chain atop which we humans sit.

The possible thermal consequences of the greenhouse effect are far deadlier: melting ice caps, flooded coastlines, disrupted climate, dry plains and, ultimately, empty breadbaskets. The American Midwest feeds people at all corners of the atlas. With the planetary climate changes, are we prepared to see Iowa take on New Mexico's desert climate, or Siberia take on Iowa's moderate climate?






Ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect are human disasters, and they are urgent because they directly threaten humanity and are not easily reversible. A sane environmentalism, the only kind of environmentalism that will strike a chord with the general public, begins by openly declaring that nature is here to serve human beings. A sane environmentalism is entirely a human focused regime: It calls upon humanity to preserve nature, but merely within the parameters of self-survival.

Of course, this human focus runs against the grain of a contemporary environmentalism that indulges in overt earth worship. Some people even allege that the earth is a living organism. This kind of environmentalism likes to consider itself spiritual. It is nothing more than sentimental. It takes, for example, a highly selective view of the kindness of nature, one that is incompatible with the reality of natural disasters. My nature worship stops with the twister that came through Kansas or the dreadful rains in Bangladesh that eradicated whole villages and left millions homeless.

A non-sentimental environmentalism is one founded on Protagoras's idea that "Man is the measure of all things." In establishing the sovereignty of man, such a principle helps us through the dense forest of environmental arguments. Take the current debate raging over oil drilling in a corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Environmentalist coalitions, mobilizing against a legislative action working its way through the US Congress for the legalization of such exploration, propagate that Americans should be preserving and economizing energy instead of drilling for it. This is a false either-or proposition. The US does need a sizable energy tax to reduce consumption. But it needs more production too. Government estimates indicate a nearly fifty-fifty chance that under the ANWR rests one of the five largest oil fields ever discovered in America. It seems illogical that we are not finding safe ways to drill for oil in the ANWR.




The US has just come through a war fought in part over oil. Energy dependence costs Americans not just dollars but lives. It is a bizarre sentimentalism that would deny oil that is peacefully attainable because it risks disrupting the birthing grounds of Arctic caribou.

I like the caribou as much as the next person. And I would be rather sorry if their mating patterns were disturbed. But you can't have your cake and eat it too. And in the standoff of the welfare of caribou versus reducing an oil reliance that gets people killed in wars, I choose people over caribou every time.

I feel similarly about the spotted owl in Oregon. I am no enemy of the owl. If it could be preserved at a negligible cost, I would agree that it should be - biodiversity is after all necessary to the ecosystem. But we must remember that not every species is needed to keep that diversity. Sometimes aesthetic aspects of life have to be sacrificed to more fundamental ones. If the cost of preserving the spotted owl is the loss of livelihood for 30,000 logging families, I choose the families (with their saws and chopped timber) over the owl.

11 The important distinction is between those environmental goods that are fundamental and those that are not. Nature is our ward, not our master. It is to be respected and even cultivated. But when humans have to choose between their own well-being and that of nature, nature will have to accommodate.

12 Humanity should accommodate only when its fate and that of nature are inseparably bound up. The most urgent maneuver must be undertaken when the very integrity of humanity's habitat, e.g., the atmosphere or the essential geology that sustains the core of the earth, is threatened. When the threat to humanity is lower in the hierarchy of necessity, a more modest accommodation that balances economic against health concerns is in order. But in either case the principle is the same: protect the environment - because it is humanity's environment.

13 The sentimental environmentalists will call this saving nature with a totally wrong frame of mind. Exactly. A sane and intelligible environmentalism does it not for nature's sake but for our own.







Unit 5

Speaking Chinese in America

Once, at a dinner on the Monterey Peninsula, California, my mother whispered to me confidentially: "Sau-sau (brother's wife) pretends too hard to be a polite recipient! Why bother with such nominal courtesy? In the end, she always takes everything."

My mother acted like a waixiao, an emigrant, no longer patient with old taboos and courtesies. To prove her point, she reached across the table to offer my elderly aunt from Beijing the last scallop from the garlic seafood dish, along with the flank steak and the cucumber salad. Sau-sau frowned. "B'yao, zhen b'yao!" she cried, patting her substantial stomach. I don't want it, really I don't.

"Take it! Take it!" my mother scolded in Chinese, as predictably as the lunar cycles.

"Full, I'm already full," Sau-sau muttered weakly, eying the scallop.

"Ai!" exclaimed my mother. "Nobody wants it. It will only rot!"

Sau-sau sighed, acting as if she were doing my mother a favor by taking the scrap off the tray and sparing us the trouble of wrapping the leftovers in foil.

My mother turned to her brother, an experienced Chinese magistrate, visiting us for the first time. "In America, a Chinese person could starve to death. If you don't breach the old rules of etiquette and say you want it, they won't ask you again."

My uncle nodded and said he understood fully: Americans take things quickly because they have no time to be polite.











I read an article in The New York Times Magazine on changes in New York's little cultural colony of Chinatown, where the author mentioned that the interwoven configuration of Chinese language and culture renders its speech indirect and polite. Chinese people are so "discreet and modest", the article started, that there aren't even words for "yes" and "no".

Why do people keep fabricating these rumors? I thought. They describe us as though we were a tribe of those little dolls sold in Chinatown tourist shops, heads moving up and down in contented agreement!

As any child of immigrant parents knows, there is a special kind of double bind attached to knowing two languages. My parents, for example, spoke to me in both Chinese and English; I spoke back to them in English.

"Amy-ah!" they'd scold me.

"what?" I'd answer back.

"Do not question us when we call," they'd scold in Chinese. "It's not respectful."

"what do you mean?"

"Ai! Didn't we just tell you not to question?"

If I consider my upbringing carefully, I find there was nothing discreet about the Chinese language I grew up with, no censorship for the sake of politeness. My parents made everything abundantly clear in their consecutive demands: "Of course you will become a famous aerospace engineer, they prodded." And yes, a concert pianist on the side."

It seems that the more forceful proceedings always spilled over into Chinese: "Not that way! You must wash rice so not a single grain is lost." Having listened to both Chinese and English, I'm suspicious of comparisons between the two languages, as I notice the reciprocal challenges they each present. English speakers say Chinese is extremely difficult because different words can be denoted by very subtle variations in tone. English is often bracketed with the label of inconsistency, a language of too many broken rules.












Even more dangerous, in my view, is the temptation to view the gulf between different languages and behavior in translation. To listen to my mother speak English, an outside spectator might make the deduction that she has no concept of the temporal differences of past and future or that she is gender blind because she refers to my husband as "she". If one were not careful, one might also generalize that all Chinese people take an indirect route to get to the point. It is, rather, my mother's individual tendency to ornament her language and wander around a bit.

I worry that the dominant society may see Chinese people from a limited perspective, hedging us in with the stereotype. I worry that the seemingly innocent stereotype may lead to actual intolerance and be part of the reason why there are few Chinese in top management positions, or in the main judiciary or political sectors. I worry about the power of language: If one says anything enough times, it might become true, with or without malicious intent.

Could this be why the Chinese friends of my parents' generation are willing to accept the generalization?

"why are you complaining?" one of them said to me." If people think we are modest and polite, let them think that. Wouldn't Americans appreciate such an honorary description?"





And I do believe that anyone would take the description as a compliment - at first. But after a while, it annoys, as if the only things that people heard one say were what had been filtered through the sieve of social niceties: I'm so pleased to meet you. I've heard many wonderful things about you.

These remarks are not representative of new ideas, honest emotions, or considered thought. Like a piece of bread, they are only the crust of the interaction, or what is said from the polite distance of social contexts: greetings, farewells, convenient excuses, and the like. This generalization, therefore, is not a true composite of Chinese culture but only a stereotype of our exterior behavior.

"So how does one say 'yes' and 'no' in Chinese?" my friends may ask carefully.

At this junction, I do agree in part with The New York Times Magazine article. There is no one word for "yes" or "no", but not out of necessity to be discreet. If anything, I would say the Chinese equivalent of answering "yes" or "no" is specific to what is asked.

Ask a Chinese person if he or she has eaten, and he or she might say chrle (eaten already) or meiyou (have not).

Ask, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" and the answer refers directly to the proposition being asserted or denied: stopped already, still have not, never beat, have no wife.

What could be clearer?








Unit 6

The weight men carry

When I was a boy growing up off the grid in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the men I knew labored with their bodies from the first rooster crow in the morning to sundown. They were marginal farmers, shepherds, just scraping by, or welders, steelworkers, carpenters; they built cabinets, dug ditches, mined coal, or drove trucks, their forearms thick with muscle. They trained horses, stocked furnaces, made tires, stood on assembly lines, welding parts onto refrigerators or lubricating car engines. In the evenings and on weekends, they labored equally hard, working on their own small tract of land, fixing broken-down cars, repairing broken shutters and drafty windows. In their little free time, they drowned their livers in beer from cheap copper mugs at a bar near the local brewery or racecourse.

The bodies of the men I knew were twisted and wounded in ways visible and invisible. Heavy lifting had given many of them spinal problems and appalling injuries. Some had broken ribs and lost fingers. Racing against conveyor belts had given some ulcers. Their ankles and knees ached from years of standing on concrete. Some had partial vision loss as the glow of the welding flame damaged their optic receptors. There were times, studying them, when I dreaded growing up. All around us, the fathers always seemed older than the mothers. Men wore out sooner, being martyrs of constant work. Only women lived into old age.

There were also soldiers, and so far as I could tell, they scarcely worked at all. But when the shooting started, many of them would die for their patriotism in fields and forts of foreign outposts. This was what soldiers were for - they were tools like a wrench, a hammer or a screw. 男人背负的重担




These weren't the only destinies of men, as I learned from having a few male teachers, from reading books and from watching television. But the men on television - the news commentators, the lawyers, the doctors, the politicians who levied the taxes and the bosses who gave orders - seemed as remote and unreal to me as the figures in old paintings. I could no more imagine growing up to become one of these sophisticated people than I could imagine becoming a sovereign prince.

A scholarship enabled me not only to attend college, a rare enough feat in my social circle, but even to traverse the halls of a historic university meant for the children of the rich. Here for the first time I met women who told me that men were guilty of having kept all the joys and privileges of the earth for themselves. I was puzzled, and demanded clarification. What privileges? What joys? I thought about the grim, wounded lives of most of the men back home. What had they allegedly stolen from their wives and daughters? The right to work five days a week, 12 months a year, for 30 or 40 years, wedged in tight spaces in the textile mills, or in the coal mines, struggling to extract every last bit of coal from the rock-hard earth? The right to die in war? The right to fix every leak in the roof, every gap in the fence? The right to pile banknotes high for a rich corporation in a city far away? The right to feel, when the lay-off came or the mines shut down, not only afraid but also ashamed?



In this alien world of the rich, I was slow to understand the deep grievances of women. This was because, as a boy, I had envied them. Before college, the only people I had ever known who were interested in art or music or literature, the only ones who ever seemed to enjoy a sense of ease were the mothers and daughters. What's more, they did not have to go to war. By comparison with the narrow, compartmentalized days of fathers, the comparatively lightweight work of mothers seemed expansive. They clipped coupons, went to see neighbors, or ran errands at school or at church. I saw their lives as through a telescope, all twinkling stars and shafts of light, missing the details that truly defined their days. No doubt, had I taken a more deductive look at their lives, I would have envied them less. I didn't see, then, what a prison a house could be, since houses seemed to me brighter, handsomer places than any factory. As such things were never spoken of, I did not realize how often women suffered from men's bullying. Even then I could see how exhausting it was for a mother to cater all day to the needs of young children. But, as a boy, if I had to choose between tending a baby and tending a machine, I think I would have chosen the baby.

So I was baffled when the women at college made a racket accusing me and my sex of having cornered the world's pleasures. They demanded to be emancipated from the bonds of sexism. I think my bafflement has been felt by other boys (and by girls as well) who grew up in dirt-poor farm country, by the docks, in the shadows of factories - any place where the fates of men and women are symmetrically bleak and grim.

When the women I met at college thought about the joys and privileges of men, they didn't see the sort of men I had known. These daughters of privileged, Republican men wanted to inherit their fathers' power and lordship over the world. They longed for a say over their future. But so did I. The difference between me and these daughters was that they saw me, because of my sex, as destined from birth to become like their fathers, and therefore as an enemy to their desires. But I knew better. I wasn't an enemy to their desires, in fact or in feeling. I was an ally in their rebellion. If I had known, then, how to tell them so, or how to be a mediator, would they have believed me? Would they have known?



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