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Observable as a tendency of our culture is a withdrawal of belief in psychoanalysis: we no longer feel that it can solve our emotional problems.

This is from GRE verbal tests.

From what I guess the author want to say, I parse it like this:

Observable as a tendency (of our culture is a withdrawal (of belief in psychoanalysis)): we no longer feel that it can solve our emotional problems.

But in that way, the part before the colon ("Observable as a tendency") lacks a verb. How do you guys think?

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2 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The sentence is structured like this:

Subject clause: a withdrawal of belief in psychoanalysis

Verb: is

Predicate phrase: observable as a tendency of our culture ("observable" is an adjective modifying the subject, and the rest of the phrase modifies "observable")

"We no longer feel that it can solve our emotional problems" is a second, complete clause that can stand alone as a separate sentence. The whole sentence could be written as such:

A withdrawal of belief in psychoanalysis is observable as a tendency of our culture. We no longer feel that it can solve our emotional problems.

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The whole sentence should have been written that way. The topic isn't what is 'observable', or 'tendency', or 'our culture', it is 'withdrawal of belief in psychoanalysis', which is buried deep at the end of the first clause, way after everything that is being said about it. In fact, 'as a tendency of our culture' could be blue-pencilled entirely, just say 'is observable' or more concretely 'can be observed' or 'exists' or 'belief in psychoanalysis is being withdrawn'. I would also have used a colon rather than a semicolon. Was this written by a psychoanalyst? ;-) –  EJP Sep 29 '11 at 10:22
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You can't truly tell whether this sentence should have been written this way without seeing the context. It is good writing practice to reorder sentence structure to better connect with the previous sentence. On the other hand, this ordering of the clauses makes the sentence so impenetrable that I'm not sure that any improvement in connectivity justifies it. –  Peter Shor Sep 29 '11 at 15:22
    
@Peter: I didn't originally register the significance of GRE verbal tests cited as the source. Didn't know what GRE was, to be honest. But having noted that your own MIT says GRE is one of only three acceptable language qualifications for non-native speakers, they're obviously credible. OP's text probably isn't hard to actually understand for most competent native speakers, just a bit convoluted. Which I guess is quite reasonable, given GRE's context and purpose here. –  FumbleFingers Sep 29 '11 at 16:44
    
@Peter Shor I can take a good guess at the context, and indeed I did so. The original sentence is certainly completely impenetrable. Which 'this' in 'this ordering of the clauses' are you referring to? –  EJP Sep 30 '11 at 1:44
    
@EJP: by "this", I meant the original one. –  Peter Shor Oct 2 '11 at 21:01
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The sentence uses "non-standard" word order, IMHO in a misplaced attempt to seem more academic and authoritative. The natural order would be...

A withdrawal of belief in psychoanalysis is observable as a tendency of our culture.

...wherein is is the Verb, preceded by Subject, followed by Predicate. The part after the semicolon can effectively be treated as another sentence, as @spotlightdev notes.

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This kind of inversion is quite common in academic writing, and serves a pragmatic function (though it can make the writing harder to understand, as here). It is a stylistic variant of the cleft sentence "What is observable as a tendency in our culture is ...". Cleft sentences are often used in everyday speech as well, and serve to make prominent the focus (here, "observable ... ") as opposed to the topic ("Withdrawal ... ") –  Colin Fine Sep 29 '11 at 11:51
    
@Colin: In retrospect my first sentence is a bit snarky. I don't object to the inversion (or the "passive voice") as such. But given the superfluous "observable as" to boot, I do think the whole sentence is unnecessarily verbose. –  FumbleFingers Sep 29 '11 at 15:05
    
@Colin: one pragmatic function of odd order in sentence structure is to better connect with the previous sentence. Reordering sentence structure can make a dramatic improvement in the readability of paragraphs. On the other hand, I'm not sure it could justify this particular convoluted sentence. –  Peter Shor Sep 29 '11 at 15:27
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