Exercices

April, 29th – What have I learnt ?

First, I would like to say that I am very happy I took this class for it taught me a lot! I was actually expecting something completely different. I was expecting a strict teacher leaning over our shoulders as we would write, red pencil in hand, crossing out every single line on our notebooks that would sound boring and uninteresting to them. But the reality was very different.

One of the first thing that I am grateful for learning was how to use in a proper way punctuation. English punctuation is slightly different than French one. For instance, the dashes are very rare in French texts, and, on the other hand, the semicolon is much more used than in English. Before this class I had never used a dash, and I felt very uncomfortable using semicolons; I simply didn’t know how to use them. I especially liked the way we had to alternate our readings between Style and Difference and A Dash of Style and later between Johnson and Pinker, because it enabled me to learn about the same thing but with two different perspectives and two different styles. The first weeks were very useful to me. They helped me understand which punctuation mark conveys which style, and which style is more appropriate in which particular case. Knowing that enables me today to control the effect that I want my writing to produce on the readers. I will not say that I can play and juggle with punctuation but I am definitely more skilled in this field than before.

One of the most important thing that I learnt though, was from the first book that I opened for this class. There is no “good” or “bad” style, because style is personal and every form of writing as its style. A good style would simply be one that appeals us, which makes it completely subjective. We had this discussion a lot in class, and my mind changed a lot about it during this class. But at the end, I think I am able to formulate something that, if not an answer, would be my opinion about it. The readings played a great role in coming to this conclusion. We read five books which are all from very good writers, good writers that have their own style. Some of them were more appealing to me than others. Yet I think no one in the class can say that one of them had no style. The question of a good or a poor style sounds then very personal to me. We had this debate about prescriptive books and descriptive books. Most of the students agreed that a descriptive book is maybe nicer to read, but I have a different opinion. I have been learning English for 8 years now, and every day I am doing my best to perfect it in order to, one day, master it like a native speaker. This is a long way to go, and to do so, I need rules! I need a good grammar book in which the author tells me what to do or what not to do. I have nothing against prescriptive books. When you learn a language, it seems important to me that you master its bases. And once you achieve so, then you can read descriptive books in which the author would tell you that you actually have different options and no obligation to follow formal rules. This has also been a personal struggle for me. I need to know the formal English because half of my time here was dedicated to classes and academic writing. But at the same time, the other half was just living the life of a college student and focusing on improving my conversation skills and how to better interact with people. I am obviously not going to talk to people as formally as I write in English, I need to be able to know informality as well. Sometimes I would say to my friends “I don’t want to sound correct, I want to sound American”. But to do that, I believe that we actually have to master both so as to be able to switch from one to another.

Taking this class also helped me understanding that every good style as a particular angle. Without this angle, it is clearly harder to catch readers. I had no idea what angle I could write from, but this was facilitated by the fact that I am a French student. I choose to adopt the first person in my blog post for several reasons. I am, myself, more attracted by text that are written at the first person because it helped me identifying with the narrator and feel fully immersed into the story. Moreover, this choice was also the easiest for me as I actually wrote about my own experience and I am directly talking about what I think about a particular topic. However I realized recently that once I am back in France I will have the same struggle as my classmates had at the beginning, because I will be a simple French students among others and I will need to find another angle…


April 16th – Syntax problems

The impact of the cuts have not yet hit.

The impact of the cuts has not yet hit.

We get the job done, not make excuses.

We get the job done, we don’t make excuses.

Give Joe Biden and I a chance to bring America back.

Give Joe Biden and me a chance to bring America back.

Man eating Piranha mistakenly sold as pet fish.

New vaccine may contain rabies


March 20th – 6 Word Stories

Said goodnight, should have said goodbye.

Some say God, I say murderer.

Went for a walk, came back with a cold.


March 10th – The Additive Style

Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting, in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever.

Here is a piece of writing that I took from Lemony Snicket’s novel Horseradish.

The quotation starts with a sort of statement about life: “Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world…” The author could have stopped here, but he chose to add another clause, separating both with a coma. Again, he could have stopped there, but he added one another, and one another again and so on. At the end, we have 7 added clauses. The noteworthy length of the sentence makes us think of stream of consciousness, a stylistic movement that uses the words to express the flow of thoughts in the minds of the characters, expressing, at the same time, their complexity. A movement which is also conveys by the repetition of independent clauses introduced with “and”. The sentence sounds very concrete to me, as, when I read it, I can imagine the character behind. I feel that he is directly talking to me, confessing something. We have the impression that the narrator is writing the same way as he talks in life, such as J.D. Salinger does when Holden Caulfield, the main character of his novel The Catcher in the Rye, narrates the story. In Salinger’s book, the style has been chosen on purpose, so that we can imagine a teenager talking, as an imitation. Here, when reading this sentence, I feel like the narrator considers me as his personal psychologist, telling me his depressing vision of life and describing how sad and empty he can feel.


 March 10th – The Subordinating Style

When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.

This sentence has no known author but is still very popular and I heard it many times. It can be described as an adage or a maxim (as it carries a rule of conduct). Obviously here, the first clause – “When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry”- is the subordinate as it cannot stand alone. The second clause is, then, the independent one. The first word of this maxim –“when”- indicates a state which is prior to the one carried in the second clause. The first situation lead to the second one. It also justify the action of the second clause, for being an advice or a rule to follow. I would say the independent clause is more a rule than a piece of advice, because it immediately started with the imperative mood. Whenever you find yourself in this situation, act like that. This adage “commands” you to act a certain way. The effect would have been completely different if the author had chosen to write like that: “then you should show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile”. With “should” –or any other term used to introduce advice- the impact of the sentence on the reader would have been less direct and powerful. The use of the imperative mood carries the idea of necessity, of something the person has to do. It leaves him no choice. I also think if the author chose to replace “when” by “if”, the effect would have be different as well. “If life gives you a thousand reasons to cry” sounds more like an eventuality or a hypothesis to me. The maxim would only be addressed to some people, those who find themselves in such a situation. On the other hand, with “when”, the author seems to say that everybody is experiencing this situation, or at least, its implication is stronger than “if”. “When” would then be here to indicate that, at the moment of your life when you will face this situation, because it is sure you will, you have to act like that.


March 5th – In-class exercice

When clause:

« When you have woken up every day of your life at 5 in the morning to milk the cows; when you have spent all your afternoons harvesting the fields, in all weathers; when you have worked more than seventy hours a week to make sure your farm works enough to provide your family with a decent life and to be able to send your children to school; then you will understand what working hard means. »

Although… Yet structure:

Although the Bostonian accent is very difficult for me to understand, yet I am trying hard to catch up what people are saying.


March 5th – Sentence Analysis

I chose a sentence from the Red Badge of Courage writter by Stephen Crane.

It was a blind and despairing rush by the collection of men in dusty and tattered blue over a green sward and under a sapphire sky, toward a fence, dimly outlined in smoke, from behind which spluttered the fierce rifles of enemies.

This sentence atually describes the rush of the Union Army during the Civil War. If you read it carefully, you will understand that this rush is very wild but the choice of vocabulary gives us a completely different impression. « Blind »; « tattered blue »; « green »; « sapphire sky »; « smoke » : all this terms refer to the sight sense. Crane appears like a painter who make a picture of the scene. We can perceive the colors he uses in his painting, there is a lot of pictorial elements. It gives an impression of aesthethism, though he is actually writting about what is happening on the battlefield. I love this sentence because if you don’t pay attention to the meaning at first, as a non-english speaker would do, the sentence is really poetic and you are far from imagining that it is actually one of the wildest sentence of all the novel.


March 3rd – Rules Breaker

Here is a few extracts of published texts that have often confused me as an English learner. All oof them are lyrics of songs and contain one or several mistakes.

When you cheated girl
My heart bleeded girl

– Justin Timberlake, What Goes Around

I’m about to strip and I’m well equipped
Can you handle me the way I are?

– Timbaland, The Way I Are

I ain’t worried doin’ me tonight, a little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody

– Beyonce, Get Me Bodied


February 17th – Rhythm and emphasis 

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

This is an excerpt of Martin Luther King speech of August 28, 1963.

Here, he uses the repetition of “One hundred years later” to emphasize what he is trying to explain people. Plus, the sentences in general are constructed the same way.

It can also be noticed that he chose to place strong words at the end of the sentences, just before the period (“free”, “discrimination”, “shameful condition”), which emphasize them and bring out his ideas.

The first sentence is shorter than every others. It ends brutally, with a strong word, which give it a more powerful impact. Indeed, it was his main idea.

There is no italics but if we listen to the speech, we can notice that he is clearly emphasizing some words (“a lonely island of poverty”; “an exile”…).


February 12th – Poetry and Stanza Breaks

I chose a French Poem from Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) which I admire a lot :

Reconnais-toi

Cette adorable personne c’est toi

Sous le grand chapeau canotier

Oeil

Nez
La Bouche

Voici l’ovale de ta figure

Ton cou Exquis

Voici enfin l’imparfaite image de ton buste adoré

Vu comme à travers un nuage

Un peu plus bas c’est ton cœoeur qui bat

In this poem, he is talking to – and about – the woman he loves and he is describing her body (from the top of her head to her breast). He starts with what I can awkwardly translate as :

« Do you recognize yourself ?

This adorable person, that’s you

Under the large straw boater

Eye

Nose

Mouth

… « 

The stanza breaks are actually made in a way to enable him to adapt this text into a calligram : a design in which the letters of a word (as a name) are rearranged so as to form a decorative pattern or figure (as for a seal).

Here is what he made with this text and what explains the stanza breaks of the text :

reconnais toi

Not only did he manage to draw a women silhouette with his words, but also, the words are placed at the exact part of her body that they describe. So the word »Nez » – which means « nose »- has been put where the woman’s nose was supposed to be.

I will never be able to draw this kind of things but I can use stanza breaks to make a special effect. Here, in the text, forgetting about the calligram, he stopped after each described part of her body. He could have simply put a coma, so as to list what he likes about her body. But the way he stopped and start writing on another line has a strong effect on the reader and on the poem and its style. I think it is much more interesting than using punctuations signs.


February 5th – Colon

« The film was not very popular when he was released, but it tends to be very famous now. The wide variety of location make people feel like traveling and finding the courage to face their dreams. I would particularly recommend it to people who feel like escaping their world for two hours and who are looking for a movie full of meaning and philosophical reflections. The dramatic ending is also to consider and make it a movie which is not that suitable for children who would probably find it a bit boring and difficult to understand due to the way the scenes are edited. There is a couple of other movies which deal with this issue and breathe life into the desire to travel; such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, which combine wonderful landscapes and humour and is worth seeing with your family. »

« The film was not very popular when he was released, but it tends to be very famous now. The wide variety of location make people feel like traveling and finding the courage to face their dreams. I would particularly recommend it to people who feel like escaping their world for two hours and who are looking for a movie full of meaning and philosophical reflections. The dramatic ending is also to consider and it makes it a movie which is not that suitable for children : they would probably find it a bit boring and difficult to understand due to the way the scenes are edited. There is a couple of other movies which deal with this issue and breathe life into the desire to travel; such as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, which combine : wonderful landscapes, humour, and is worth seeing with your family. »

→ I added two colons to this conclusion I had to make for a movie review. I think it makes it more concise and clear. I am not used to use colons that much, especially in academic writings, but I am eager to use what I’ve just learnt about them. I particularly like the « bombshell effect » that it can bring !


February 3rd – Semicolon

Here is two versions of something I wrote for my ESL class. The first paragraph is the original version. I applied what I’ve learned about semicolons in the second one.

« The first striking difference is the weather, which is obviously colder and snowier than what I am used to in North of France. However, this is specific to New England, not to all the US. My friend Amandine, who is currently studying in Louisiana, on the contrary, is having summer-like weeks with high temperatures and sun every day (which is definitely different as what we have in the North too!). Talking about snow, it is currently snowing a lot here, and most of my classes have been cancelled. When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t distinguish the road from the pavement. I don’t remember seeing such a white weather in my life. It used to snow a lot every winter in France when I was a child. But it has been a while since snowed had stayed on the ground for more than 2 days. »

« The first striking difference is the weather; it’s obviously colder and snowier than what I am used to in North of France. However, this is specific to New England, not to all the US. My friend Amandine, who is currently studying in Louisiana, on the contrary, is having summer-like weeks with high temperatures and sun every day; which is definitely different as what we have in the North too. Talking about snow, it is currently snowing a lot here; most of my classes have been cancelled. When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t distinguish the road from the pavement. I don’t remember seeing such a white weather in my life. It used to snow a lot every winter in France when I was a child. But it has been a while since snow had stayed on the ground for more than 2 days. »

I just added three semicolons. I used the first one instead of the relative « which », the second one instead of a parenthesis and the third one as a link between two implies balanced equivalent ideas.


February 2nd – 13 ways to use a comma

I am a pretty disorganized person.

I love making plans, writing list of things to do and organizing my work. I can spend hours drawing a perfectly clear timetable, then sticking it on the wall next to my desk, and finally contemplating it, full of pride and motivation. Yet, my problem is that I am not good at all to respect it. This is why I am currently finishing my homework for the “writing with style” class, on a Monday night, while my planning explicitly says I should have already done it, since last Friday afternoon, between 2pm. and 3pm.

And that’s not all: I obviously still have things to do after that. I was supposed to do them yesterday, or the day before; I don’t really remember. Here are a few of them: reading the books for my other class, writing postcards for my family, sliding them into envelops so I can mail them tomorrow, doing my laundry, and ironing my shirts.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I definitely need to tidy my room. My roommate, Marie, is going to come back in the middle of the night, and I don’t want her to find out that I used her bed as a place to store all my clothes…


February 2nd – 2 4 6 8 

It was 7pm. We had been sitting there for more than two hours now. Everybody had finished eating, leaving a bunch of plates, cutlery and empty glasses on the table. Everyone was laughing out loud; everyone was having a good moment. Everyone, except from me. They were reeling off their English too quickly for me to understand anything. Sometimes, I could catch a word or two in their conversation; but, most of the time, I would just pretend to know what they were talking about. Pretending is one of the most important quality every foreign student must have: it was clear from the beginning that I was not going to ask them to repeat each of their sentences.

So I laughed; I laughed just as they were doing. The main difficulty was to not to look into someone’s eyes. Otherwise, they would have asked me what I thought about it, or try to involve me in their joke. And as I actually didn’t understand it, this is what I would look like: a perfect idiot.


January 31st – Varying Punctuations

These are extracts from Under the Sea Wind: A Naturalist’s Picture of Ocean Life (1941), the first book published by Rachel Carson. We took them without any punctuations and added comas and periods to see how rhythm and style can vary according to them.

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

“Before sunset, the skies lightened and the wind abated. While it was yet light, the sanderlings left the barrier island and set out across the sound. Beneath them, as they wheeled over the inlet, was the deep green ribbon of the channel that wound, with many curvings, across the lighter shallows of the sound. They followed the channel, passing between the leaning red spar buoys, past the tide rips where the water streamed, broken into swirls and eddies, over a sunken reef of oyster shell, and came at last to the island. There, they joined a company of several hundred white-rumped sandpipers, least sandpipers, and ring-necked plovers that were resting on the sand”

“While the tide was still ebbing, the sanderlings fed on the island beach. As they slept, and as the earth rolled from darkness toward light, birds from many feeding places along the coast were hurrying along the flyways that led to the north.  For with the passing of the storm, the air currents came fresh again, and the wind blew clean and steady from the southwest. All through the night, the cries of curlews and plovers and knots, of sandpipers and turnstones and yellowlegs, drifted down from the sky. The mockingbirds who lived on the island listened to the cries. The next day, they would have many new notes in their rippling, chuckling songs to charm their mates and delight themselves.”


January 29th – Varying sentences

“Into the Wild” is an American adventure and dramatic film about a young man who decides to give up everything to travel and experience life into the wild. The film is directed by Sean Penn, who also wrote the screenplay and the main role is played by Emile Hirsh. It is an adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name, written by Jon Krakauer and published in 1996. The story is based on the travels of Christopher McCandless across North America in the early 1990’s. The film premiere took place in 2007 at the Rome Film Festival, distributed by Paramount Vantage. The setting is various American spots such as Arizona desert or Grand Canyon. However, most of the scenes take place in Alaska as the film focus on his stay over there. »

This is the introduction of a movie review I wrote last semester. My sentences are all “subject-verb-object” which make this paragraph very boring and monotonous. I should have vary the style of the sentences. The first sentence seems also too long to me, and I should have added more punctuations.


January 29th – Practice p191

  1. Separate long, participial, or potentially ambiguous introductory phrases or clauses
  2. Separate final nonrestrictive modifier
  3. Separate long, participial, or potentially ambiguous introductory phrases or clauses
  4. Separate long, participial, or potentially ambiguous introductory phrases or clauses
  5. Unambiguous introductory phrases
  6. Separate independent clauses
  7. Separate long, participial, or potentially ambiguous introductory phrases or clauses
  8. Before and after restrictive elements
  9. Before and after restrictive elements
  10. Unambiguous introductory phrases
  11. Separate long, participial, or potentially ambiguous introductory phrases or clauses
  12. Enclose nonrestrictive interruptions
  13. Separate quotations

January 27th – Periods

Here is an excerpt of something I had to write for my English as a Second Language class:

When I got off the plane, I was immediately struck by the whiteness of the landscape. The Boston Logan Airport is definitely not the most amazing spot I have visited, and the view on the landing strips was not the most exciting either, but the sun had gone down, the sky was dark, and the snow was lighting it up.

After passing the immigration office, and picking up my luggage, I walked towards the big window that gave onto the outside of the airport. I sat down on the seats that were in front of it and watched the flakes slowly building up on the ground. It had been a while since it snowed like this in France.

Here is a reviewed version of the same text. I corrected it after learning about the use of periods in A Dash of Style: 

When I got off the plane, I was immediately struck by the whiteness of the landscape. The Boston Logan Airport is definitely not the most amazing spot I have visited. The view on the landing strips was not the most exciting either. But the sun had gone down, the sky was dark, and the snow was lighting it up.

After passing the immigration office; after picking up my luggage, I walked towards the big window that gave onto the outside of the airport. I sat down on the seats in front of it and started to watch. The flakes were slowly building up on the ground. It had been a while since it snowed like this in France.


January 22nd – What is style ? 

This is how Holden Caulfield introduces himself in The Catcher in the Rye, written by J.D. Salinger :

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.

This is how Anna, Ikea’s automated online assistant, introduces herself on Ikea’s website :

Welcome to IKEA. I’m Anna, IKEA’s Automated Online Assistant. In order to help you more efficiently, please tell me your nearest store, if you do not have a store close to you please say ecommerce.


January 22nd – Style and Substance 

I believe that style and substance are tightly connected. As Donna Gorrell says in the Introduction of her book, Style and Difference, the choice of the writer’s words affects the way the reader will interpret the sentence. The words used are a part of one writer’s style. As a result, subjective adjectives, for example, or nouns and verbs that convey a certain nuance, shape the message of the writer, or in other words, the content. Changing these words, so, modifying one’s style, can also alter the message and its meaning as the nuances may not be conveyed anymore. The interpretation of the sentence will, then, be different.

To change style is always to change meaning

– Monroe C.Bearsley

Moreover, I believe that style and substance should not be separated. If you think about a poem for example : its style (words that are used, punctuations, verses, rythm…) usually help you to understand more deeply the content and sometimes, hidden meaning. Without it, it would be meaningless or incomplete. On the contrary, a style without a content is useless and doesn’t bring you much information about what the writer is talking about. Therefore, I think style is actually used to make the content understood by the reader.

Publicités

Laisser un commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Google+

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Google+. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s