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Historicization or Systemization?
A University of Chicago sentence-making website celebrates academic writing, and might prompt a chuckle.
The linguistic construction of civil society carries with it the authentication of pedagogical institutions.
The sentence vaguely makes sense, 6 of its 14 words contain at least three syllables and many high school graduates would struggle to pronounce all the words. And it would look strangely at home in an academic journal.
A University of Chicago Web page offers academics a tongue-in-cheek way to finish their papers with jargon-laden but smart-sounding sentences – sort of like Mad Libs for people with Ph.D.s.
Or, if you prefer: A pedagogical institution in the Prairie State affords educators a flippant instrument to terminate their articles with argot but intellectual-seeming discourse – not unlike a popular children’s pastime for those with doctoral degrees.
The concept is simple enough: choose four words or phrases and let the sentence-making machine do its thing. If the result is incoherent, or you’re one word away from satirical gold, you can go back in and edit.
And then, instead of getting back to work on that journal article due Monday, you can debate whether to include “the nation-state” or “the public sphere” in your fake sentence. Or, if you’re really desperate, would anyone really notice if you stuck, “The politics of the public sphere invests itself in the emergence of the nation-state” on the bottom of page 122 in your next book?
But that’s not the point, said Kathryn Cochran, associate director of writing programs at Chicago. The site is a toy, nothing more, developed about 10 years ago by fellow associate director Tracy Weiner to celebrate the quirks of academic writing.
Weiner examined academic articles, found oft-used phrases and developed an algorithm that consistently churns out understandable, if not always eloquent, sentences that would make any thesaurus enthusiast proud.
But the goal isn’t to make fun, Cochran said. Far from it. “We’re in a sense enjoying the play of the language,” Cochran said.
That play of language comes as gifted researchers develop a sort of “cognitive shorthand” to express their ideas. In fact, she said there’s often good reason academics write the way they do.
“The point is not that academic writing is good or bad per se,” Cochran said. “The point is that academics tend to express their complex thinking in ways that have a lot to do with the ways they have learned to process those complexities.”
But, for the love of God, don’t use the sentence-maker in a real article. “That would be not unlike opening the cupboard while blindfolded and putting together ingredients to make a meal,” Cochran said. “This is just a toy.”
Because no one ever deserves to read this: The epistemology of post-capitalist hegemony gestures toward the engendering of linguistic transparency.
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