Two: Purpose of Paragraph

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RC Perfection Free Preview: Chapter 7 Part II​

We just saw questions that asked us for the purpose of the entire passage. Now, we go one step deeper. The second type of Purpose Questions will ask us what the purpose of a specific paragraph is in the passage as a whole.

Think back on Chapter 3, where we discussed how different paragraphs fit into the passage as a whole. We saw that just like how an LR argument can contain a main conclusion, supporting premises, background information, opposing viewpoints, and concessions; so different paragraphs can play similar roles in a passage.

For example, a paragraph can introduce background information and lay the groundwork for our subsequent understanding of the topic being discussed. A paragraph can introduce one side of the debate or compare the positions of two schools of thought. A paragraph can provide experimental evidence to back up the author’s main point. A paragraph can even be a concession the author gives to their opponent.

For these types of questions, it is essential to know what the passage’s main point is as a whole, as well as the role played by the paragraph in question vis a vis the passage’s main point.

Let’s look at a few such examples:

PT25 S1 Q17 (PT25 Passage 3)

Even in the midst of its resurgence as a vital tradition, many sociologists have viewed the current form of the powwow, a ceremonial gathering of native Americans, as a sign that tribal culture is in decline. Focusing on the dances and rituals that have recently come to be shared by most tribes, they suggest that an intertribal movement is now in ascension and claim the inevitable outcome of this tendency is the eventual dissolution of tribes and the complete assimilation of native Americans into Euro-American society. Proponents of this “Pan-Indian” theory point to the greater frequency of travel and communication between reservations, the greater urbanization of native Americans, and, most recently, their increasing politicization in response to common grievances as the chief causes of the shift toward inter-tribalism.

Indeed, the rapid diffusion of dance styles, outfits, and songs from one reservation to another offers compelling evidence that inter-tribalism has been increasing. However, these sociologists have failed to note the concurrent revitalization of many traditions unique to individual tribes. Among the Lakota, for instance, the Sun Dance was revived, after a forty-year hiatus, during the 1950’s. Similarly, the Black Legging Society of the Kiowa and the Hethuska Society of the Ponca—both traditional groups within their respective tribes—have gained new popularity. Obviously, a more complex societal shift is taking place than the theory of Pan-Indianism can account for.

An examination of the theory’s underpinnings may be critical at this point, especially given that native Americans themselves chafe most against the Pan- Indian classification. Like other assimilationist theories with which it is associated, the Pan-Indian view is predicated upon an a priori assumption about the nature of cultural contact: that upon contact minority societies immediately begin to succumb in every respect—biologically, linguistically, and culturally—to the majority society. However, there is no evidence that this is happening to native American groups.

Yet the fact remains that intertribal activities are a major facet of native American culture today. Certain dances at powwows, for instance, are announced as intertribal, other as traditional. Likewise, speeches given at the beginnings of powwows are often delivered in English, while the prayer that follows is usually spoken in a native language. Cultural borrowing is, of course, old news. What is important to note is the conscious distinction native Americans make between tribal and intertribal tendencies. Tribalism, although greatly altered by modern history, remains a potent force among native Americans: It forms a basis for tribal identity, and aligns music and dance with other social and cultural activities important to individual tribes. Intertribal activities, on the other hand, reinforce native American identity along a broader front, where this identity is directly threatened by outside influences.

The primary function of the third paragraph is to

A. Search for evidence to corroborate the basic assumption of the theory of Pan-Indianism

B. Demonstrate the incorrectness of the theory of Pan-Indianism by pointing out that native American groups themselves disagree with the theory

C. Explain the origin of the theory of Pan-Indianism by showing how it evolved from other assimilationist theories

D. Examine several assimilationist theories in order to demonstrate that they rest on a common assumption

E. Criticize the theory of Pan-Indianism by pointing out that it rests upon an assumption for which there is no supporting evidence

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Let’s look at the key questions that we should have answered upon finishing reading the passage:

What is the Author’s Purpose? I would say that the author is criticizing the Pan-Indian Theory and proposing an alternative way to look at the effects of inter-tribalism on tribal identity.

Main Point? I would propose something like this:

Contrary to the belief of Pan-Indian theorists, the rise of inter-tribalism will not weaken tribal identity and lead to complete assimilation; tribalism and intertribal activities both have their roles in reinforcing native American identity and defending its integrity.

Paragraph 1: Introduces the view of Pan-Indian theorists.

Paragraph 2: Pan theorists overlook the concurrent growth of tribal identity and inter-tribal activities. (Points out a weakness in the theory)

Paragraph 3: The theory is based upon a mistaken assumption, one that’s not backed by evidence.

Paragraph 4: Instead of the Pan-Indian theory. Here is a better alternative explanation of the roles and relationships of tribalism and inter-tribal activities. (Author’s own view)

***

Let’s go back to our question, which asks us, what is the primary function of the third paragraph?

A question that asks us for the “primary function” of a particular paragraph is the same as a question that asks us what role it plays. In other words, what is the paragraph’s relationship to the passage’s main point/central thesis?

From what we have gathered in the passage, we know that Paragraph 3 forms a part of the author’s attack upon the Pan-Indian Theory. The author points out a mistaken assumption underlying the Pan-Indian Theory.

With that in mind, let’s quickly look at the answer choices:

A. Search for evidence to corroborate the basic assumption of the theory of Pan-Indianism

Corroborate means to support. The author is not supporting this assumption but attacking it.

B. Demonstrate the incorrectness of the theory of Pan-Indianism by pointing out that native American groups themselves disagree with the theory

Nothing too terrible with the first part of the answer; maybe it’s a little stronger than I’d like. What’s messed up with this answer is in the second half. The author attacks the theory by pointing out its erroneous underlying assumption, not by suggesting that native Americans disagree with it.

C. Explain the origin of the theory of Pan-Indianism by showing how it evolved from other assimilationist theories

We are told in passing that this theory shares assumptions with other assimilationist theories. But that doesn’t mean this theory evolved from other assimilationist theories.

I’ll give an example: Let’s say that Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution both share the assumption that the scientific method is the best way to arrive at the truth.

But this doesn’t mean one theory evolved from the other.

D. Examine several assimilationist theories in order to demonstrate that they rest on a common assumption

The author does state that the several assimilationist theories (we weren’t told what they are, besides the Pan-Indian Theory) rest on a common assumption.

But they never examine these theories in detail to show that they rest on a common assumption.

Again, this answer choice describes something that didn’t happen in the passage.

E. Criticize the theory of Pan-Indianism by pointing out that it rests upon an assumption for which there is no supporting evidence

Does the author do everything this answer choice says they did? Yes, the author is attacking Pan-Indianism. The author highlights its mistaken assumption and tells us that “there is no evidence” at the very end of the paragraph.

This answer is also the closest match we have to our anticipated answer. E is the correct answer.

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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 a passage that we have encountered many times previously, this time with a new question:

PT27 S3 Q11 (PT27 Passage 2)

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 primary function of the second paragraph is to

A. Present reasons why Hopi personal names can be treated as poetic compositions

B. Support the claim that Hopi personal names make reference to events in the recipient’s life

C. Argue that the fact that Hopis receive many names throughout life refutes European theories about naming

D. Illustrate ways in which Hopi personal names may have semantic content

E. Demonstrate that the literal translation of Hopi personal names often obscures their true meaning

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

Remember how this passage is about how the European theories of names (Mill/Levi-Strauss) overlook that names can have semantic content. The author then uses the example of Hopi names as a counter-example.

Let’s take a look at paragraph 2.

There are three key features of Hopi names that are discussed in the second paragraph. One, names are given during key events of a person’s life. Two, the name itself will demonstrate a connection to the name-giver. Three, the name will also describe the child’s characteristics.

Let’s take a look at the answer choices:

A. Present reasons why Hopi personal names can be treated as poetic compositions

The author talks about this, but in a later paragraph.

B. Support the claim that Hopi personal names make reference to events in the recipient’s life

Very tricky! Names are given during events in the recipient’s life. But they don’t make reference to these events! They reference the name giver’s tribe and a characteristic of the child.

Be especially careful of answer choices that take an idea that is semi-related to what was described in the passage and then subverts it.

C. Argue that the fact that Hopis receive many names throughout life refutes European theories about naming

Think carefully about this answer choice. Now think back on the content of the passage.

We know that the author’s issue with European theories is that those theories don’t account for the semantic content in names.

Why would Hopis receiving many names refute the European theories? Only if the European theories held that a person can only receive one name in their lifetime, then showing that Hopis receive many names would refute that theory.

The European theories didn’t care how many names a person had; they simply held that names were tools and had no inherent meaning.

D. Illustrate ways in which Hopi personal names may have semantic content

This answer doesn’t really stand out to us initially. So it’s important to dig deeper into the exact wording of the answer choice. What does it mean to have “semantic content?”

Semantic content means having inherent meaning in the words of the names. That is what the majority of the second paragraph is telling us. We are told that the name giver’s tribal affiliation can be expressed in the name; as well as a personal characteristic of the person being named.

In other words, Hopi names have meaning/semantic content.

E. Demonstrate that the literal translation of Hopi personal names often obscures their true meaning

Again, one of the ways in which we eliminate purpose answer choices is by asking ourselves whether this truly happens in the passage. A great way to do this is by trying to match up the keywords in the AC with what actually happened in the passage.

Does Paragraph 2 talk about the “true meaning” behind Hopi names? If so, where? What is the “literal translation” of these names? The author gives an example, “little rabbit.” Does “little rabbit” obscure the true meaning of the name? No, it doesn’t. Because the name is representative of the child’s size and the clan totem animal. Nothing is “obscured.”

The correct answer is D.

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. 

Ultimately, when it comes to questions asking you for a paragraph’s function/purpose/role, even before looking at the answer choices, we should already know the answers to the following three questions:

What that specific paragraph talked about

What is the main point/central thesis of the passage

The role the paragraph plays relative to the main point.

Use these three questions to anticipate the correct answer choice; it is crucial to have at least a general idea of the correct answer before we start to go over the answer choices. This way, we are less likely to be subverted by trap answers.

Regarding tricky trap answers, beware of answer choices describing something that didn’t happen; answer choices that are subverting the passage’s original meaning; or even a partially correct answer. We will discuss the art of answer choice comparison in greater detail in Part III of the book. But for now, get into the habit of nitpicking answer choices for flaws and ranking them in order of preference.