30 April 2015

Snippets from Pinker on style, Ch5

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

Chapter 5, entitled Arcs of coherence, presents into-English translators with a host of questions and arguments justifying significant departures from 'close' translation strategies.

On page 160, Pinker defines the term "arc of coherence" as follows (my bold): Examples, explanations, violated expectations, elaborations, sequences, causes and effects are arcs of coherence that pinpoint how one statement follows another.

p139: Even if every sentence in a text is crisp, lucid, and well formed, a succession of them can feel choppy, disjointed, unfocused -- in a word, incoherent.

p145 (my bold): Paragraph breaks. Sometimes a writer should cleave an intimidating block of print with a paragraph break just to give the reader's eyes a place to alight and rest.
This advice should be followed not only by writers, but by translators and the graphic artists and layout teams that format the translator's work.
French-mother-tongue graphic artists and layout teams typically laid out my English versions of technical publications and articles in the same way as they did the French version, refusing to admit that the change of language might be good cause for a change of approach. This often resulted in huge blocks of visually uninviting text because they preferred layouts with no paragraph spacing or indents.
p147: ... a reader must know the topic of a text in order to understand it. As newspaper editors say: Don't bury the lede (lede being journalistic jargon for "lead", which might otherwise be misread as the heavy metal).

p148: ... the reader usually needs to know the point. ...
Human behavior in general is understandable only once you know the actor's goals.

p149: ... magazine and newspapers help the reader with a tag line (an explanation beneath the title) or a pull quote (an illustrative sentence displayed in a box).
But everyone should strive to inform, not dumbfound.

p151: The word "topic" in linguistics actually has two meanings.

p152: It's always easier for a reader to follow a narrative if he can keep his eyes on a protagonist who is moving the plot forward, rather than on a succession of passively affected entries or zombified actions.

p153-4: ... moves temporal modifiers to the front of the sentence.
... avoids the monotony of a long string of similar sentences ...
Given always precedes new.
The noun system of English provides a writer with ways to distinguish entities the reader is being introduced to for the first time from entities he already knows about. This is the major distinction between the indefinite article, a, and the definite article the.

p154: Indefinite plurals and mass nouns ...
Definiteness can be marked by other th- words such as this, that, these, and those, or with a genitive noun, as in Clarie's knee or Jerry's kids.

pp155-160: See Snippets from Pinker on synonyms.

p160 (my bold): Examples, explanations, violated expectations, elaborations, sequences, causes and effects are arcs of coherence that pinpoint how one statement follows another.

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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...