23 September 2014

Light before heavy

Here's an instantly applicable quote from yet another review of Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style. The review by Gary Stephen Ross appeared in the Books section of the October 2014 issue of Walrus magazine and is entitled Why Good People Write Bad Prose. Now to the quote (my bold):
It’s fascinating to learn the science that underlies the stylistic techniques good writers seem to intuit — for example, a list is most easily grasped if the bulkiest item comes at the end (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; or The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle; or Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!). “Light-before-heavy is one of the oldest principles in linguistics,” Pinker writes, “having been discovered in the fourth century BCE by the Sanskrit grammarian Pānini.” Why? Because the mind must hold the early items in suspension before incorporating the final one, and it’s easier to retain simple things than more complex elements.
Like that?
Here's a little more (my bold again):
Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images,” Pinker tells us. (This explains why white Econoline van is preferable to getaway car; and a mound of flowers, balloons, and teddy bears is more effective than impromptu roadside memorial.) Or this: “It’s good for a writer to work with the ongoing newsreel in readers’ minds and describe events in chronological order.” He showered and put on his new suit before he went to dinner is easier to understand than He went to dinner after he showered and put on his new suit. Similarly, positive statements are more readily grasped than negative ones, and so negation should not be used for no good reason. (That’s a joke.) And my favourite Pinkerism of all, the undisputed first rule of worthwhile prose: “a writer has to have both something to talk about (a topic) and something to say (the point).”
Note that many, though not all of these rules can be applied to a translation.

One more:
Syntax he describes as “an app that uses a tree of phrases to translate a web of thoughts into a string of words.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Translation and disruption #5

If the translation industry is indeed on the brink of disruptive innovation some of the things that may happen could include: change will ...