In Defense of Academic Writing: A Response to @sapinker (Part 1)

In Steven Pinker’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” Pinker argues that academic writing suffers from a number maladies, including self-conscious stylistics, a “curse of knowledge,” and a lack of “incentives to write well.” I want to address each of Pinker’s points in detail. This first post will focus on the “self-conscious style” argument.

“Self-Conscious Style” Features Serve Functions Other Than Indexing The Author’s Membership in Academe

Pinker, drawing from Thomas and Turner’s style typology, asserts that academic writing is “self-conscious.” Academic writers, Pinker argues, are marked by a goal of “not so much communication as self-presentation—an overriding defensiveness against any impression that they may be slacker than their peers in hewing to the norms of the guild.” Pinker favors an alternative style, which Thomas & Turner call the “classic style.” In describing this style, Pinker says, though not explicitly, that the style has as its underlying ideology a correspondence theory of truth: a statement is true if it ‘corresponds’ to or matches something in reality. This theory of truth is not consistent with  many schools of thought in the humanities, such as Reader-Response theory, or the philosophical paradigms informing some social sciences, such as Social Constructivism or Critical theory. It’s not even consistent, as Pinker later notes, with post-positivism, which many physical and biological scientists espouse. But, according to Pinker, it doesn’t matter: classic style is clearer than the self-conscious, and that is why academic writing stinks. (more…)

The Prime Directive in Linguistics: Problems with Non-Interference

In the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness, *SPOILER ALERT* Kirk and Spock debate the Prime Directive, which is the principle of non-interference with people who have not become interstellar space-faring civilizations. In the process of saving a non-Industrialized culture from a volcano, Kirk reveals the Starship Enterprise to the people he is trying to save. As a result, they draw an icon in the dirt that represents the ship, implying that the Enterprise will now become a symbol in their culture–either for good or for ill. The point is: Kirk violated the Prime Directive. Because of this, he is stripped of his command and demoted by Starfleet brass. *END SPOILERS*

I see a principle like the Prime Directive operating in descriptive linguistics. (more…)

Traditional Academic Feuds in Literacy Studies Part 6: Power and Weak Grammar

Note: This is the sixth part of a multi-part series which (eventually) will become a term paper for a class seminar on literacy.

After my last post, I started discussing the issue of Integration with some colleagues in linguistics via Twitter (in case you haven’t heard, we’re trying to start #lingchat). There are three Tweets I would like to respond to because they raise problems and objections to my analysis that are productive. Thankfully, Purdue’s OWL has already provided a resource on how to cite Tweets. Unfortunately, they’ve only done it for MLA, so I’m extrapolating an APA citation below.

Aside: I want to personally thank my Twitter colleagues @grvsmth, @NemaVeze, and @wgi_pr31ea for raising questions on this matter. Our discussions have been both productive and instructive for me. And while I argue against some of their claims here, I have great respect for their views and scholarship.


The Linguistics of Formative Assessment

We know from research how important formative assessment is to instruction and student learning. But sometimes questions and statements we make as teachers fail to elicit a verbal response from students. When this happens, we can try to use non-verbal cues to gauge student understanding for a response. We might also consider how the kinds of language choices we make may not function in ways we intend. Perhaps one of the most notorious phrases that fails to adequately assess students’ formative knowledge is:

(1) Does that make sense?


4C13 from afar: Twitter & Collaboration

In lieu of a more complete, short essay (coming soon), I offer today a few thoughts on the 2013 Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Twitter is my CCCC News Wire

I get all my news on the conference from the 4C13 hashtag on Twitter. I also have been browsingthe resources uploaded onto the NCTE site for the convention. I’m indebted to the fellow scholars tweeting about it, especially @webbsusa, who tweeted a fascinating talk by Dr. Victor Villanueva entitled: “Toward a Political Economy of Basic Writing Programs.”

Collaboration between Rhet Comp and Education

Villanueva discussed the need for Basic Writing (and Rhet Comp) to engage in more collaboration with other disciplines. While it seems Villanueva may have seen this need as a way to legitimize the course and empower its students, I contend that this collaboration needs to happen because related disciplines have a lot to offer Rhet Comp and vice versa. Education and Linguistics are the first places where more collaboration needs to happen. (more…)