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Tutor profile: Robert L.

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Robert L.
Lifelong Tutor, Writer, Reader, and Humanities Nut
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Questions

Subject: Hebrew

TutorMe
Question:

Why does Hebrew have three different words for "because"?

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Robert L.
Answer:

כי (ki) is the ordinary Hebrew word for "because." But different terms exist of saying "because of"--that is, a thing or condition exists on account of or as a result of something else. If this cause is a noun, one would use בגלל (biglal); if a verb, one would use -מפני ש؜ (mi-pnei she-). The rule about using -מפני ש؜ with a verb, however, is exclusive to Modern Hebrew. מפני is sometimes used with nouns in older forms of Hebrew.

Subject: Writing

TutorMe
Question:

What is a good model for how to structure an academic essay?

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Robert L.
Answer:

I tell students to think of an academic essay as being shaped like a two-headed funnel. The introduction should begin with a statement about the general topic of the essay and its significance or relevance--why you are taking the time to write about it, and why your audience should read what you write. As the introduction proceeds, its focus should narrow until it reaches the thesis statement, the specific point about your topic that your essay devotes itself to arguing. The essay's body resembles the tube between the two funnel heads. Every paragraph of the body and every sentence within those paragraphs--every topic of your essay and every subtopic and detail supporting those topics--should proceed from the thesis and move toward your conclusion, what the reader should take away from your having proven your thesis. The concluding paragraph should begin with a statement of this conclusion and expand outward to show the significance of this finding to the larger world of your general topic--in other words, reversing the movement of the introductory paragraph.

Subject: English

TutorMe
Question:

Why does the English language have such an abundance of synonyms?

Inactive
Robert L.
Answer:

One major reason why English often has more than one word for the same thing is its dual heritage from Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. The salient point in choosing the best word from a list of synonyms is whether its connotation--its emotional resonance or shade of meaning--fits that of the context in which one uses it. This is where history comes in. After William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, conquered England in 1066, most of the English nobility consisted of his French-speaking Norman followers; conversely, most of the commoners, especially the peasantry, were Anglo-Saxon. As a result of this socio-linguistic stratification of English society, when the two languages spoken in England eventually blended into Middle English, words derived from French (or Latin by way of French) assumed a lofty, refined connotation, while words derived from Anglo-Saxon acquired a more base, crude connotation. Probably the greatest example of this difference in connotation lies in the differing use of the words "naked" (compare the German "nackt") and "nude" (compare the French "nu"). Throughout my undergraduate years, I worked in the campus art library. In our large photography section, I noticed--only by looking at the titles on the spines, of course--that we had many books of or about nude photographs. I never saw a single book with "naked photographs" in the title: that would sound too crass to describe an art form that extols the beauty of the human body. On the other hand, as newspaper columnist William Safire observed at the time, Saddam Hussein was roundly condemned for "naked aggression" when he invaded Kuwait in 1990, implying the attack was the act of a mere bully; no one accused Hussein of "nude aggression." Thus, choosing the right synonym requires sensitivity to English vocabulary's emotional tenor.

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