15 April 2015

Snippets from Pinker on style, Ch4

More snippets from Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

p82: Syntax, then, is an app that uses a tree of phrases to translate a web of thoughts into a string of words.

p83: ... the main resource that English syntax makes available to writers -- left-to-right ordering on a page -- has to do with two things at once. ... to convey who did what to whom ... but it also determines the sequence of early-to-late processing in the reader's mind.

p122: ... one of the most easily overlooked disambiguation words in English is ... the lowly definite article the.

p124: ... when faced with an ambiguous word, readers favor the more frequent sense.

p125: ... structural parallelism ... is one of the oldest tricks in the book for elegant (and often stirring) prose.

p126: cause-effect order

p130-131:  English, which has a rudimentary system of case and agreement, must be more tyrannical about order.

Save the heaviest for last.
Light before heavy.
Topic, then comment. Given then new.

English syntax demands subject before object. Human memory demand light before heavy. Human comprehension demands topic before comment and given before new.

p132: ... the passive: it allows the doer to be mentioned later in the sentence than to done-to.

p135:  That's why well-written prose puts object relative clauses in the passive voice.
... passivizing ...

p136: ... a tacit awareness that the writer's goal is to encode a web of ideas into a string of words using a tree of phrases.

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After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...