The Gettysburg Address: lessons for writers (and translators!)

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg address, delivered by Abraham Lincoln on 19 November 1863. Cordelia (aka Dilly or Dill) Ditton, a Glasgow-based actress, director and communication coach, wrote an interesting blog post about the Address back in February, entitled “Abraham Lincoln, the power of sound and maybe the greatest speech ever written“. Dilly’s post contains some good advice on writing (and translating, which is, after all, a form of writing): the power of the sound of the words, the importance of listening to what you’re writing.

Dilly also mentions another important element of good writing: brevity. Here she compares the speech given by Edward Everett, the “keynote speaker” at Gettysburg, and that given by Lincoln:

Edward Everett spoke for 2 hours, as was the custom at the time.  No-one remembers his speech.  Lincoln spoke for 2 minutes, his speech consisted of just 10 sentences and holds some of the most famous phrases in the English Language.

In speech-making, more is not necessarily more.

Other posts you might like:

The king’s speech (not to mention the queen and the presidents’)

The king’s speech — and how to translate it

When the Poet Died: on translating remembrance

By Marian Dougan


Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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