Language in Culture
Response Paper #1 Prompt
Respond to both of the following two prompts. Each response should be around 2 pages, for a total
length of 3-5 pages (double spaced, 1” margins, size 12 font). Responses should be turned in as hard
copies in your discussion section on Friday, February 12th.
Responses will be graded based on how well they incorporate the concepts discussed so far in the
course and on the thoughtfulness of their analysis. You don’t have to avoid writing in the first person
(especially for prompt #2) and your introductions and conclusions to each response can be brief. If you
have any questions feel free to stop by Professor Kramer’s office hours and/or contact your TA to
arrange a meeting!
1. Consider the following excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:
Humpty Dumpty took the book and looked at it carefully. ‘That seems to be done right —’
‘You’re holding it upside down!’ Alice interrupted.
‘To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. ‘I thought it
looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right — though I haven’t time to
look it over thoroughly just now — and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four
days when you might get un-birthday presents —’
‘Certainly,’ said Alice.
‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’
‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant
“there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘
‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I
choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
Why is Humpty Dumpty’s position on language use — “When I use a word, it means just what I
choose it to mean” — absurd? Use at least one of the authors we have read so far to explain the flaws
in Mr. Dumpty’s language philosophy.
2. Imagine the following scenario: You would like to sit down, but there is a coat (not yours) on the
only unoccupied seat. You think the coat probably belongs to the person in the adjacent seat. Come up
with four different things you might say to the person that would (hopefully) make them move the
coat. Compare the four potential utterances: How do they differ from one another? How do the
contexts in which you would say each differ from one another? How is your choice of utterance shaped
by changes in the setting, the person you’re addressing, and any other factors you think would be
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