A language I thought I’d forgotten
Last week I wrote about my insecurities about my Chinese proficiency and my fear that my skills won’t hold up when I go back to China in the spring. People I’ve spoken to since, who have been in similar positions in the past, assure me that it tends to come back. As soon as you’re back in the environment, they tell me, your brain switches over. Well, I’ll let you know if that happens to me with Chinese. But earlier today it definitely happened to me with another language I used to use on a daily basis: the language of academic writing.
Academic writing gets a bad rap for being convoluted, full of passive voice and pretentious. This can be true. But it’s been my experience that, in the field of applied linguistics at least, academic writers are moving away from this style of writing. Passive voice is often frowned upon (ha!), and it’s okay to use “I” now—hooray! (Although I’ve been using first person in my essays since the last year of my undergrad, despite a TA telling me that I could only do that once I’d “earned” the right through several publications and at least ten years of teaching.) Since I finished my graduate degree, I’ve taken several writing courses and currently have the pleasure to copy write as part of my job. It’s been a few years since I wrote an “academic” paper, and I’m in love with non-academic writing. I’ve also been learning about the plain language movement, which I will write about in a future post.
But now I’m writing an article about my thesis research. I joked on Facebook that I’m excited about being able to use words like “problematize” again, but in all honestly I thought that I had left the world of academic lingo behind and was looking forward to applying my new writing skills. I sat down today to start the draft, and after reviewing a few pages I found this beautiful nugget: “no objective measurement of the participants’ proficiency was conducted”! Oh my. I read through the rest of my writing and found that I had slipped right back into passive voice overflowing with unnecessary words. All that old-school academic language came rushing to the surface as soon as I typed “methodology.”
I’m hoping my Mandarin comes back with the same force.