(2/2) Purple Prose

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Sep 26, 2017 01:22
In my opinion, these students should not be blamed for such behaviors. They are taught to do so. Aside from that, without having an English-speaking environment, most of them study English by memorizing word lists and parsing sentences from textbooks. They haven’t gained sufficient “real English” experience to figure out that this type of writing -- extravagantly using big/long words they don’t truly understand -- is quite annoying. For them, writing English simply equals putting down the words they’ve learned from word lists, guided by the grammar knowledge they’ve gained from course books.

I’ve also seen some Lang-8 users writing ornate and confusing Chinese entries. They try to use as many advanced expressions as possible, but most of these words are misused. Worse still, their essays are fraught with many grammatical errors. All this makes their writing too confusing to correct. For example, I once saw a user overreaching by using one (or more) chengyus (a kind of advanced Chinese expression) in every sentence of his entry, but unfortunately, what he wrote made little sense to me. I gave up correcting halfway because I had no idea what he was trying to say. It dawned upon me that native English speakers might feel the same way while reading the purple prose we created. I also came up with an idea: if a student with poor English skills argues that using complicated words ensures high marks, I’ll show a Chinese entry of that kind to him and ask what he thinks of it.

What I’m trying to say is that when writing on English exams* like the TOEFL and IELTS (whose graders are native speakers), the students should write clearly in the first place. In fact, if they have achieved this, they already stand out among other examinees. If they’re unable to write clearly, using complicated words profusely will only make their essays hard to understand. To graders, it seems not impressive at all. I agree with my Lang-8 friend Anthill’s point on this issue: “If someone learning English already has near-perfect grammar and essentially speaks at a near-native level, but is still not getting top marks, then I would say it's reasonable to try looking into using more advanced words, but before then it's likely to be a futile exercise.”

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* I believe that when we practice writing on Lang-8, most native speakers would like to give suggestions on our mistakes where we misuse complicated expressions. But on exams, we should avoid using words we don’t entirely understand because it may take marks off.
以我愚见,说到喜欢滥用大词的错误,也不能全怪在学生头上。是老师教他们这样做的。另外,由于没有一个英语环境,大多数学生靠背词汇表学习生词,通过分析课文来学习英语。他们意识不到,滥用大词是一种让人反感的行为。对于他们而言,英语写作不过是把词汇表里的单词,通过书本里学的语法串起来而已。

我也在Lang-8上看到一些网友写的中文文章同样浮夸和表意不清。他们刻意使用大量的高级表达,但大部分都用错了。更糟糕的是,通篇是语法错误。两者加一起,使得他们的文章无法修改。比如,我看到一个网友刻意在文章里的每个句子里会用一个或者好几个的成语,但遗憾的是,他写的东西我基本上看不懂,改到一半实在是改不下去了。这时,我突然明白,或许英美人士读我们写的purple prose也是同样的感觉。我还萌生了一个想法,如果下次碰到有学生说,多用高大上的词汇就能拿高分,但本身基本功不扎实,我就会给一篇类似的中文文章给他看,问问他的感想如何。

我的意思是说,如果在托福和雅思之类的考试中(评卷人是英美人士),考生的首要任务是表达清楚。其实,如果能达到这一点,他们就已经脱颖而出了。如果表达清楚都做不到,而追求难词大词,那只会让文章看起来很拗口难懂。这不会给考官好印象,只会令他们反感。我同意Lang-8好友的观点。如果一个考生能够做到语法基本完美,水平达到接近母语者水平的程度,但如果还没拿到顶级的分数,这时候才可以考虑使用高大上的词汇。在达到这个水平之前,一切都是徒劳。