Introduction

Module Four: Using Language and Definition to Advance an Argument

Module Introduction

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.

~ Noam Chomsky, Language and Mind

At this stage in the course, we now have a stronger understanding of some of the formal approaches to argumentation. We have a better grasp of the critical skills necessary to analyze and respond to written, verbal, visual, and multimodal arguments. We can identify the elements of basic logic, and we have a feel for which arguments are flawed through our understanding of the logical fallacies. Another important aspect of developing effective arguments exists in our manipulation of language and definition in shaping the rhetorical qualities of our work.

As influential linguist Chomsky notes in the epigraph above, language represents a bit of a paradox in the sense that it is simultaneously fixed and fluid. Language is fixed in the sense that words, through our study of their historical usage, have a definitive meaning within their given languages. But language is also fluid in the sense that we can shape it to instill certain subjects with new or different meanings through artistic comparisons, creative phrasing, and clear applications of definition. While there is a formal structure to many of the systems of rhetoric and logic that we have encountered thus far in this course, our personal approaches to using language and applying the principles of definition can infuse our arguments with a more nuanced, artistic, or memorable quality.

Essentially, the ability to use language imaginatively and effectively is the soul of creative nonfiction. A purely informative paper has some value—particularly if it is well-researched and competently written. But successful writers must also infuse their work with an engaging prose style, clear definitions, and an element of critical commentary. When it comes to composing a research argument, it’s not enough to merely present the audience with the history of a subject or a series of interesting facts and figures; writers must take the next step in the writing process into forming conclusions, inferring predictions, and offering alternatives as they work through a research problem. Working through this process is the engine of critical thinking, and it is often deeply influenced by the writer’s ability to use language effectively and define the terms of his or her arguments.

The following sections of this module provide insights into some of the strategies that writers utilize to breathe life and personality into their work. They offer theories on the various ways in which definition can be used to shape the direction of our writing, and they provide instruction on how to compose a definition paper. Finally, the module concludes with an opportunity for students to practice these concepts by composing a piece of timed writing on an abstract concept that would benefit from a specific, personal definition. (1)

Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

  • Compose an organized, coherent, and personal definition for an abstract concept in a piece of timed writing. (1)

Readings

  • Online Learning Unit