Four: Purpose of a Word

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We now come to the last type of Purpose Questions. We have looked at questions that asked us for the purpose of a passage, paragraph, and sentence. This last type of purpose questions will ask us what is the purpose of a specific word that appears in the passage.

When the question asks us “what is the reason why the author uses word X in the last paragraph?” or “the author uses the term X most probably to do which one of the following?” We need to think of the following things:

In the first place, we must examine the actual word itself. What does the word mean? Does it have any special connotations? What are some synonyms for this word, and why did the author pick this specific word and not one of its synonyms?

Second, we need to expand our horizons and look at the sentence in which the word itself is found. What idea is the sentence trying to convey, and does the word have a special role in conveying that idea?

Lastly, an optional step that may enhance our understanding if we are stuck: we can also examine the issue on an even broader level, and take a look at that paragraph as a whole. What is the main idea of that paragraph? What about the main point of the passage? Does the author choosing to use a specific word help advance their argument in any way? If so, how?

Take a look at the following passages and questions and try to come up with some potential answers before looking at the ACs.

 

PT31 S4 Q20 (PT31 Passage 3)

Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions is the most ambitious book on the history of science yet written from a feminist perspective, embracing not only the scientific construction of gender but also the interplay of race, class, and colonial and postcolonial culture with the “Western” construction of the very concept of nature itself. Primatology is a particularly apt vehicle for such themes because primates seem so much like ourselves that they provide ready material for scientists’ conscious and unconscious projections of their beliefs about nature and culture.

Haraway’s most radical departure is to challenge the traditional disjunction between the active knower (scientist/historian) and the passive object (nature/history). In Haraway’s view, the desire to understand nature, whether in order to tame it or to preserve it as a place of wild innocence, is based on a troublingly masculinist and colonialist view of nature as an entity distinct from us and subject to our control. She argues that it is a view that is no longer politically, ecologically, or even scientifically viable. She proposes an approach that not only recognizes diverse human actors (scientists, government officials, laborers, science fiction writers) as contributing to our knowledge of nature, but that also recognizes the creatures usually subsumed under nature (such as primates) as active participants in creating that knowledge as well. Finally, she insists that the perspectives afforded by these different agents cannot be reduced to a single, coherent reality—there are necessarily only multiple, interlinked, partial realities.

This iconoclastic view is reflected in Haraway’s unorthodox writing style. Haraway does not weave the many different elements of her work into one unified, overarching Story of Primatology; they remain distinct voices that will not succumb to a master narrative. This fragmented approach to historiography is familiar enough in historiographical theorizing but has rarely been put into practice by historians of science. It presents a complex alternative to traditional history, whether strictly narrative or narrative with emphasis on a causal argument.

Haraway is equally innovative in the way she incorporates broad cultural issues into her analysis. Despite decades of rhetoric from historians of science about the need to unite issues deemed “internal” to science (scientific theory and practice) and those considered “external” to it (social issues, structures, and beliefs), that dichotomy has proven difficult to set aside. Haraway simply ignores it. The many readers in whom this separation is deeply ingrained may find her discussions of such popular sources as science fiction, movies, and television distracting, and her statements concerning such issues as nuclear war bewildering and digressive. To accept her approach one must shed a great many assumptions about what properly belongs to the study of science.

The author uses the term “rhetoric” most probably in order to do which one of the following?

A. Underscore the importance of clear and effective writing in historiographical works

B. Highlight the need for historians of science to study modes of language

C. Emphasize the fact that historians of science have been unable to put innovative ideas into practice

D. Criticize the excessive concern for form over content in the writing of historians of science

E. Characterize the writing style and analytical approach employed by Haraway

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

This is a passage that we haven’t encountered before, so let’s read through it together for clarity.

Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions is the most ambitious book on the history of science yet written from a feminist perspective, embracing not only the scientific construction of gender but also the interplay of race, class, and colonial and postcolonial culture with the “Western” construction of the very concept of nature itself. Primatology is a particularly apt vehicle for such themes because primates seem so much like ourselves that they provide ready material for scientists’ conscious and unconscious projections of their beliefs about nature and culture. 

There’s a lot of information in the first paragraph, and it gets a little confusing. The author has a very favorable impression of DH’s new book, Primate Visions. What do we know about the book?

It’s a book on the history of science written from the feminist perspective. But it’s also a book about primatology. That’s the study of apes and gorillas, etc. So how is a book about monkeys also a book about the history of science written from the feminist perspective? I am not too sure, but I guess we shall find out.

The first paragraph also tells us that scientists project their beliefs about nature and culture unto the primates.

Haraway’s most radical departure is to challenge the traditional disjunction between the active knower (scientist/historian) and the passive object (nature/history). In Haraway’s view, the desire to understand nature, whether in order to tame it or to preserve it as a place of wild innocence, is based on a troublingly masculinist and colonialist view of nature as an entity distinct from us and subject to our control. She argues that it is a view that is no longer politically, ecologically, or even scientifically viable. She proposes an approach that not only recognizes diverse human actors (scientists, government officials, laborers, science fiction writers) as contributing to our knowledge of nature, but that also recognizes the creatures usually subsumed under nature (such as primates) as active participants in creating that knowledge as well. Finally, she insists that the perspectives afforded by these different agents cannot be reduced to a single, coherent reality—there are necessarily only multiple, interlinked, partial realities.  

DH believes the separation of student and subject, knower and object, is inappropriate. It thinks of nature as something distinct and subject to our control.

DH proposes an alternative where not only human actors but even monkeys and gorillas will create knowledge; and that there isn’t a standard version of reality; but multiple versions of reality depending on whose perspective we are taking.

This iconoclastic view is reflected in Haraway’s unorthodox writing style. Haraway does not weave the many different elements of her work into one unified, overarching Story of Primatology; they remain distinct voices that will not succumb to a master narrative. This fragmented approach to historiography is familiar enough in historiographical theorizing but has rarely been put into practice by historians of science. It presents a complex alternative to traditional history, whether strictly narrative or narrative with emphasis on a causal argument.  

DH’s views are seen in her writing style, which is distinct and fragmented, having many voices speak rather than having a unified master narrative.

Haraway is equally innovative in the way she incorporates broad cultural issues into her analysis. Despite decades of rhetoric from historians of science about the need to unite issues deemed “internal” to science (scientific theory and practice) and those considered “external” to it (social issues, structures, and beliefs), that dichotomy has proven difficult to set aside. Haraway simply ignores it. The many readers in whom this separation is deeply ingrained may find her discussions of such popular sources as science fiction, movies, and television distracting, and her statements concerning such issues as nuclear war bewildering and digressive. To accept her approach one must shed a great many assumptions about what properly belongs to the study of science.  

More praise for Haraway’s unorthodox approach. The author calls her “innovative.” There’s been the goal of uniting scientific theory and practice with social issues and beliefs in the scientific community, but it has been difficult. Haraway ignores this distinction. Finally, the author says that readers may find Haraway’s work “bewildering,” and we must keep an open mind.

***

The Author’s Purpose in writing this passage is fairly straightforward. A favorable review is provided for Haraway’s book.

The Main Point of the passage can be derived from the Author’s Purpose, but with more content from the passages: Haraway’s new book, Primate Visions, offers us not only an innovative view exemplified by an unorthodox writing style; but also an ambitious presentation of the history of science from the feminist perspective.

The first paragraph introduces DH’s book Primate Visions, tells us what’s special about it, and why the topic chosen is especially suitable.

The second paragraph highlights the most unique feature of DH’s book. DH sees knowledge as being created by both humans and primates; and that there are different versions of reality.

The third paragraph tells us that DH’s unique views are reflected in her writing style.

The last paragraph tells us that DH ignores the distinction between the science and its social impacts, being able to write about both in her book (incorporating broad cultural issues). We are also told that we must keep an open mind.

Let’s take a look at the question:

The author uses the term “rhetoric” most probably in order to do which one of the following?

The word “rhetoric” appears in the last paragraph. The author is talking about historians of science who want to unite science with the associated social policies/impacts. We also know that the word “rhetoric” can have multiple meanings. It can mean oration or speeches given in public; or it can mean something that is expressed but not put into practice, such as empty talk.

What do we know about these historians from the paragraph? We know that they have been trying to unite the two distinct issues; but have been unable to do so. In that sense, the word “rhetoric” seems to mean that the historians have been talking the talk, but have not been able to walk the walk.

A potentially correct answer would probably say that the author uses the term “rhetoric” in order to show that the historians of science have been unable to execute their goals in reality.

Let’s look at the answer choices:

A. Underscore the importance of clear and effective writing in historiographical works

How would using a word like “rhetoric” stress the importance of clear and effective writing? We know that the historians of science spoke of the need to combine scientific theory and science’s social impacts; although they were unable to do so. We do not know if the writing of historians is clear and effective. This answer choice is out of scope.

B. Highlight the need for historians of science to study modes of language

 I am unclear as to what the “modes of language” are. Perhaps DH’s writing style constitutes one of them. But the author never really calls on historians to study certain subjects, either explicitly or implied.

C. Emphasize the fact that historians of science have been unable to put innovative ideas into practice

This answer touches upon the dichotomy between theory and practice. I like that. We know that our goal answer choice would discuss the historians unable to overcome the distinction between science and its implications.

So the first part of the answer choice looks good.

One thing that we have to double check are the keywords “innovative ideas.” If the answer had read that it “emphasized the fact that historians of science have been unable to unite the issues internal to science and external to it,” then it would have been perfect.

So what we have to figure out now is what is meant by “putting innovative ideas into practice.” Does that mean the same thing as “uniting the issues internal and external to science?”

I’m not too sure at this point, so I’ll keep this answer choice and move on.

D. Criticize the excessive concern for form over content in the writing of historians of science

Are the historians overly concerned with form, at the expense of content? Are these historians sacrificing the quality of their essays and books because they want to write the most structured or most beautifully formatted works? This is never mentioned in the paragraph/passage.

The historians would like to unite distinct issues but have not been able to do so. Do not get carried away by answer choices that are talking about issues that seem related, but are wholly separate. This is why it’s crucial to have an anticipated answer that you can compare the answer choices to; rather than blindly reading through the ACs and trying to pick one that works.

E. Characterize the writing style and analytical approach employed by Haraway

Again, we are talking about the historians of science, not Haraway. This answer is out of scope.

So all that remains is to double-check answer choice C. If I was pressed for time I would probably have gone with it and hoped for the best. But let’s take a closer look at it.

Historians have not been able to set aside the differences between internal and external scientific issues. But Haraway has been able to do so. How did she do it? She ignores it. This is the “innovative approach” mentioned by the author. So when we say that the historians have been unable to “put innovative ideas into practice,” what we are really saying is that the historians have not been able to do what Haraway did. They have not been able to set aside the distinction, they have not been able to ignore it. The historians have been talking about uniting these issues, but despite all their rhetoric, they have been unable to do so, failing to come up with an innovative solution, as Haraway did.

In the end, we made answer choice C work. But be really careful about what we did here. We made additional inferences based entirely on the content of the paragraph, rather than throwing in assumptions of our own.

We were not sure what “innovative ideas” meant, but we know that the paragraph also calls Haraway’s approach “innovative.” So based on the paragraph, we can safely argue that these are referring to the same thing.

So in other words, what this AC is really saying is this:

Emphasize the fact that historians of science have been unable to put ideas that sidestep the distinction between internal and external scientific issues into practice.

This may seem overly complicated and too nuanced to grasp at the moment, but there’s a specific set of drills and tricks to apply when it comes to comparing and ranking vague answer choices. In fact, it will be the primary focus of Part III of this book. Just progress through the book at a steady pace for now.

C is the correct answer.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices: 

 

A. Draws a conclusion about the population in general based only on a sample of that population

 

What the test makers are describing here is a sampling bias fallacy. The previous question where the author concludes anyone fishing for trout based on how the best fishermen felt about the best selling bait would be such a flaw. Here, even though a survey and sampling are involved, we simply do not have enough information to know whether such a flaw is committed. On the real test, I would keep this answer and move on. 

 

B. Confuses a sufficient condition with a required condition

 

This is the flaw we are looking for, the conditional logic flaw. 

 

C. Is based on an ambiguity of one of its terms

 

The flaw this answer is talking about is called Equivocation, where one word has two meanings and the meaning of the word shifts through the argument. 

 

D. Draws a conclusion about a specific belief based on responses to queries about two different specific beliefs

 

This answer is tricky because it’s half wrong half right. The author drew a conclusion about two specific beliefs (more people believe Indicted → Resign than Convicted → Resign) based upon two specific beliefs, one of which is the same (Indicted → Resign), and one of which is different. (Resign → Convicted)

 

E.. Contains premises that cannot all be true

 

This is the Self Contradiction flaw, it does not appear here. 

Let’s look at one more Purpose of a Word question, this time, from a passage with which we are already very familiar:

PT27 S3 Q9 (PT27 Passage 3)

Personal names are generally regarded by European thinkers in two major ways, both of which deny that names have any significant semantic content. In philosophy and linguistics, John Stuart Mill’s formulation that “proper names are meaningless marks set upon…persons to distinguish them from one another” retains currency; in anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss’s characterization of names as being primarily instruments of social classification has been very influential. Consequently, interpretation of personal names in societies were names have other functions and meanings has been neglected. Among the Hopi of the southwestern United States, names often refer to historical or ritual events in order both to place individuals within society and to confer an identity upon them. Furthermore, the images used to evoke these events suggest that Hopi names can be seen as a type of poetic composition.

Throughout life, Hopis receive several names in a sequence of ritual initiations. Birth, entry into one of the ritual societies during childhood, and puberty are among the name-giving occasions. Names are conferred by an adult member of a clan other than the child’s clan, and names refer to that name giver’s clan, sometimes combining characteristics of the clan’s totem animal with the child’s characteristics. Thus, a name might translate to something as simple as “little rabbit,” which reflects both the child’s size and the representative animal.

More often, though, the name giver has in mind a specific event that is not apparent in a name’s literal translation. One Lizard clan member from the village of Oraibi is named Lomayayva, “beautifully ascended.” This translation, however, tells nothing about either the event referred to—who or what ascended—or the name giver’s clan. The name giver in this case is from Badger clan. Badger clan is responsible for an annual ceremony featuring a procession in which masked representations of spirits climb the mesa on which Oraibi sits. Combining the name giver’s clan association with the receiver’s home village, “beautifully ascended” refers to the splendid colors and movements of the procession up the mesa. The condensed image this name evokes—a typical feature of Hopi personal names—displays the same quality of Western Apache place names that led one commentator to call them “tiny imagist poems.”

Hopi personal names do several things simultaneously. They indicate social relationships—but only indirectly—and they individuate persons. Equally important, though, is their poetic quality; in a sense they can be understood as oral texts that produce aesthetic delight. This view of Hopi names is thus opposed not only to Mill’s claim that personal names are without inherent meaning but also to Lévi-Strauss’s purely functional characterization. Interpreters must understand Hopi clan structures and linguistic practices in order to discern the beauty and significance of Hopi names.

The author most likely refers to Western Apache place names in order to

A. Offer an example of how names can contain references not evident in their literal translations

B. Apply a commentator’s characterization of Western Apache place names to Hopi personal names

C. Contrast Western Apache naming practices with Hopi naming practices

D. Demonstrate that other names besides Hopi names may have some semantic content

E. Explain how a specific Hopi name refers subtly to a particular Western Apache site

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

As we are no doubt intimately familiar with the content of this passage, let’s go straight to the question:

The author most likely refers to Western Apache place names in order to

Let’s take a look at the paragraph where the author refers to Western Apache place names:

More often, though, the name giver has in mind a specific event that is not apparent in a name’s literal translation. One Lizard clan member from the village of Oraibi is named Lomayayva, “beautifully ascended.” This translation, however, tells nothing about either the event referred to—who or what ascended—or the name giver’s clan. The name giver in this case is from Badger clan. Badger clan is responsible for an annual ceremony featuring a procession in which masked representations of spirits climb the mesa on which Oraibi sits. Combining the name giver’s clan association with the receiver’s home village, “beautifully ascended” refers to the splendid colors and movements of the procession up the mesa. The condensed image this name evokes—a typical feature of Hopi personal names—displays the same quality of Western Apache place names that led one commentator to call them “tiny imagist poems.”

We know that in this paragraph, the author is going into detail about the content of Hopi names. Hopi names have meaning in themselves, contrary to the theories proposed by Mill and Levi-Strauss.

Let’s take a look at the exact sentence where the quoted words appear:

The condensed image this name evokes—a typical feature of Hopi personal names—displays the same quality of Western Apache place names that led one commentator to call them “tiny imagist poems.”

Hopi names contain beautiful imagery. Western Apache place names also contain beautiful imagery. This is rather straightforward.

Now for a slightly trickier question: what is the commentator calling “tiny imagist poems?” Hopi names or Western Apache place names?

The commentator is calling Western Apache place names “tiny imagist poems.”

So if we arrange the information in this sentence, what we get is this:

Western Apache place names contain beautiful imagery, one commentator calls them “tiny imagist poems.” Hopi personal names, similar to Western Apache place names, also evoke condensed images.

So why is the author referring to Western Apache place names in this paragraph?

Remember the main point of this paragraph. The author is trying to demonstrate that the Hopi names contain meaning and imagery. So by quoting a commentator’s views on Apache names, and by demonstrating the similarity between Apache names and Hopi names, the author is trying to legitimize their own observations. It is a form of support for the author’s main point in this paragraph.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices:

A. Offer an example of how names can contain references not evident in their literal translations

 The paragraph does talk about references not evident in their literal translations in the very first sentence. But we must remember that the purpose of this paragraph is to describe in detail how Hopi names can contain beautiful imagery. The statement about Apache names is used to support this view.

While what answer choice A describes is something that appears in the paragraph, it is not why the author has mentioned Apache place names.

Remember that the correct answer choice must satisfy two requirements. It must truly describe something that actually occurred in the paragraph or passage, and it must be the real purpose behind the author’s use of the specific word/sentence. 

B. Apply a commentator’s characterization of Western Apache place names to Hopi personal names

 So the author is definitely trying to suggest that a commentator’s characterization of Western Apache names is also an apt description of Hopi names. Is “apply” too strong a word? The author definitely thinks there are similarities between the two (Apache and Hopi). I suppose you can say that in the author’s mind, the commentator’s characterization of Apache names is also applicable to Hopi names. If we look at it that way, this answer choice could work.

Let’s see if there are better answers first.

C. Contrast Western Apache naming practices with Hopi naming practices

 This is the opposite of what we want. To “contrast” two things is to discover how they are different. If we were “comparing” Apache place names with Hopi personal names, that would be a great choice.

But we are not trying to figure out the differences between how the Apache come up with names, and how the Hopi come up with their names. We know enough about Hopi naming practices; but nothing about Apache naming practices. 

D. Demonstrate that other names besides Hopi names may have some semantic content

 This answer is certainly true. We know that Apache names have semantic content. But is this why the author is referring to Apache names?

Remember that in our initial anticipation of what the correct answer might look like, we are hoping to find an answer that tells us the author mentioned Apache names because Apache names are like tiny imagist poems, and since they are similar to Hopi names, that’s what Hopi names are, too.

So the author’s primary purpose is to strengthen their view of Hopi names; rather than to show the non-exclusivity of Hopi names as image-filled words.

E. Explain how a specific Hopi name refers subtly to a particular Western Apache site

This answer is basically saying that a Hopi name is named after an Apache location.

The correct answer is B. We deliberated for a bit about whether it’s too strong a characterization of the author’s intent. But the use of the word “apply” is justifiable. It is also the closest to what we had anticipated, and as a result, the best available answer.