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Language Exercise

Page history last edited by Eric Leonidas 4 years, 10 months ago


Language Exercise Assignment and Citation Guide


Language assignments (LE) are due periodically throughout the semester.  They are very specific assignments that call for precise following of directions and format.  In brief, the LE is an extensive investigation of words that you choose from a literary text.  For each exercise, you will choose a word  from the day’s reading that you think is important, for one reason or another, to the larger work’s meaning.  Try to pick a “key” word—a word that for some reason strike you as important.  Such a word well be relatively plain, or it may seem unusual, whether in context or by simply being an atypical world.  Be aware though, that not every word in a text will work for this assignment.  If you look up the definitions of a word and cannot find significant, meaningful variety among them, choose another word.  For each word you decide to use you will provide the following:


  1. A quotation of the full sentence (whether poetry or prose) from which the line comes, with an MLA parenthetical citation.  Use block format.
  2. At least two relevant definitions cut-and-pasted from the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED).  I will only accept the OED, no exceptions; there's a link to it on the main 298 page.  These should be somewhat distinct.  They will rarely be completely different, but often you will find subtle nuances of meaning that become important within the larger context of the work.  They need also be relevant to the passage; please do not use highly technical definitions, such as the name of a shrub or rare sailor's knot.
  3. A one-paragraph explanation of why the variation in definitions matters to the meaning of the larger work, why it's important that the word means both definitions.


Please Note:  I want you to number your sections (quotation, definition, explanation).


Also provide a “Works Cited” list containing the works you quote when presenting and discussing your words and the online OED.  Please provide only one Works Cited list at the end of the discussion of your second word.


Citation:  When you give the contextual quote for your word, use parenthetical citation.  For the quotes we’ll use block format, so indent, no quotation marks, and the parentheses come after the quotation’s punctuation.  Here is an example of two lines of poetry.


The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.

Then laps the bowl clean.  (Oliver lines 4-5)


Note that when citing poetry we use line numbers rather than page numbers (but only include the word “lines” in the first citation).  In prose (novels, short stories, etc.), the parentheses will contain only the authors name and the page numbers--without "p." or "pages."  Note, too, that there is no punctuation between the author’s name and page or line numbers.  For the LE exercise I’d like you to use the author’s name in your parentheses, since there isn’t any context for your quotations.  Typically, though, it should be clear from your signal phrase what author and text we’re dealing with, so in your parentheses only line or page numbers should appear.  Here’s a very simple website on MLA citation.


Here’s a complete guide to MLA style and citation:






LE Example:  Here’s an example of an LE (though only one word), beginning with the quotation from above:


Language Exercise




The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.

Then laps the bowl clean.  (Oliver lines 4-5)


[Here’s an alternative prose example:] The fisherman nodded, understanding that from beginning to end their situation was purely mathematical, like the ticking of the alarm clock in his silent bedroom.  Then he fired.  (Hall 379)


[After your quotation of the source text, you’ll follow with two quotations from the OED.  For example, two definitions of “gesture”:]


2.  gesture


1.  a. Manner of carrying the body; bearing, carriage, deportment (more fully, gesture of the body)


4.  a. A movement of the body or any part of it. Now only in restricted sense: A movement expressive of thought or feeling.



[Finally, write your explanation of why the variation in definitions matters to the meaning of the poem.  For example:]


3. Analysis: The variation in definitions of “gesture” in Oliver’s poem signals a movement from outer to inner dimensions of meaning, from an external appearance to a subjective experience of the world.   By the first definition, “gesture” simply applies to how we carry our bodies, the movements that we make.  In the poem, the “small” gesture is merely the act of putting down a bowl of milk (as I read it); but the poem is really about the meaning of small images, things, and moments.  The fourth definition specifically identifies gestures as expressive movements, movements that convey inner ideas or emotions.  In this case the gesture is small but “kind,” so conveying care or affection.  The whole poem seems to work just so: Oliver’s speaker searches for “wild words” (10) to express feelings of wonder, fascination, amazement, and contentment in the plain, the everyday ordinary.  Thus the poem itself becomes a double gesture, a pointing of the reader’s attention to little things so that we can value them both for their smallness, their everyday frequency, and for the opportunity they offer for more profound understanding.


[Please note that in the example above I have not merely explained the two definitions in the sequence: "using definition one, the passage means x; using definition two, the passage means y."  That is the most common way to do poorly at this assignment (well, that and not following the formatting instructions).  I want to know how your two definitions create simultaneous interpretations, and how those interpretations are linked, what the relationship is between them.  How does the movement from one definition to another suggest a more complex grasp of the subject, or a development of the idea, or a conflict that must be resolved, etc.  In my example, I have specified a relationship--the definitions together show a movement from outer to inner.  Multiple definitions can create ambiguity, intensification, reversal, anxiety, irony, and any number of other ideas or effects.  Your job is to find a way to describe or "name" the relationship between the definitions, and to consider the passage as relying on both definitions at the same time.  No, it isn't easy, but you'll get good at it.]



Works Cited


"gesture, n." OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 18 September 2014.


Hall, Lawrence Sargent.  “The Ledge.”  The Best American Short Stories of the Century.  Ed.  John Updike and Katrina Kenison.  New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.  369-83.


Oliver, Mary.  “Morning.”  The Norton Introduction to Poetry. Ed. J. Paul Hunter, Allison Booth and Kelly J. Mays.  9th ed.  New York: Norton, 2007.  148. 



             A couple of last things.  Don’t worry about parenthetically citing the OED, since it’s alphabetized and the complete entry will be in your works cited list.  To find the format for the OED word, while on the page click "cite" in the upper right corner and then select MLA format.  Also, in a real paper you wouldn’t have the quotations hanging there as I’ve asked you to put them.  Finally, citation of electronic sources hasn’t been settled yet, so you might find variations in how to do it.  Just make sure you’re consistent in whatever form you follow.

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