Sample Exam Questions
These are reproductions of questions asked on past examinations:
- One of the central terms of our discussion of language and its influence has been "motive."
Discuss the concept of motive as we have talked about it. What is a motive? Why is it central
to the perspective of language we have discussed? How does the concept differ from your
previous understanding of the term? How does the term comment on the epistemological, the
sociological, and the behavioral dimensions of language?
- Several of your books (particularly Gusfield, but the others as well) and at least one lecture
talked about the sense in which "problems" which our society addresses are shaped in
language. The sense of "problem" frames some "reality" in terms which guide our response
to it. This is the sense of problems as social rituals. Discuss the role which communication
plays in addressing problems socially.
- When you were a child you were told lots of fairy tales (for example, Sleeping Beauty),
parables (for example, the father's concern for the prodigal son), proverbs (for example, a
stitch in time saves nine), and stories (for example, A Man Without a Country). Select a fairy
tale, a parable, a proverb, or a story which has been particularly critical in your life. Discuss
the communication taking place as this item becomes central to your life. Discuss its
motivational quality, where you acquired it, how it has shaped your life at key point(s), and
the force of continuity in your behavior. Your answer will be evaluated on the degree to
which your discussion shows an understanding of the process of communication of this
- Explain the relationship between motivation and action in the framework we have been
studying it this semester. You may find questions useful such as: How does our concept of
motive explain human action? Does this change the character of action? of motive? What
does this perspective allows us to explain about action that we might not be able to explain
otherwise? Your answer will be graded on the fullness of understanding of the concept of
motive and importance of the concept in explaining human social action (and not simply on
your answering of the stimulus questions listed here).
- Mayor Marion Barry of Washington was sentenced to six months in jail after his conviction
for a drug offense. Analyze the social significance of the sentence from the perspective of our
course. I am, of course, not primarily interested in your personal opinion about whether the
sentence is, or is not, a good idea (although you might find that positions for, or against, the
sentence are one way to answer the question). I am interested in your analysis of the symbolic
importance of this sentence on social action. What is the symbolic place of prison sentences?
How does this place relate to this case specifically? Your answer will be evaluated on your
demonstrated ability to discuss the social implications of the sentence in the perspective of the
- Attached is an excerpt from an essay which appeared in the Washington Post (29 October
1990, p. C3). The essay discusses an alternative to our current criminal justice system.
Compare the symbolic process in which our current criminal justice system socializes our
experience of crime with the symbolic process implied in this alternative. What does your
analysis imply about the workings and wisdom of such an alternative? Your answer will be
evaluated on your ability to employ the perspective of the course to illuminate the issue.
- We discussed three functions performed with a motive: to describe, to evaluate, and to
coordinate response. Explain how a motive performs each of these functions. Explain how
these three functions are united in the performance of a motive. Illustrate your answer with an
- Bronislaw Malinowski said: That humans eat every day is not very interesting; that some eat
with their fingers and others with knives and forks, now that's interesting. We have taken
Malinowski's idea and said that we seek to explain "the variety of human behavior." What
does this mean? Explain what language has to do with the variety of human behavior. What
is it about our method that permits us to understand that variety?
- Select a group with which you associate. Tell me a bit about the group. Then describe the
ways in which communication shapes the group. What rituals, stories, and/or repetitive day-to-day communication patterns are important to the group? What work do those rituals,
stories, and communication patterns do for the group? How do they hold the group together?
How do they coordinate the actions of the group? Your answer will be evaluated on how fully
you can deploy the material from the class to discuss your group.
- The attached flyer was posted on bulletin boards around campus. The incident addressed in
this flyer followed Bill White's posting a notice on a child welfare usernet sight on the
internet informing the readers that a high school student was being abused by her parents.
Included in the notice was the phone number of the parents with a suggestion that the readers
phone the parents with demands that they stop their behavior. Phone calls began pouring in to
the parents who deny that they abuse their daughter, and the Post published their story
wondering how much right someone has to publish such accusations on the internet. Using
the perspective of the course, discuss the various definitions of situation, the various
perspectives on the events, framed in this flyer. What are the different motives invoked by the
disputants? What ideographs are invoked? How do those different motives enact the
- We have indicated that our task this semester is to understand the variety of response to human events, the critical role of language forms in selecting and coordinating that variety, and the way in which this linguistic process shapes the coalition and conflict of human activity. You are to demonstrate your understanding of these processes by dealing with the "Clinton/Lewinsky/Impeachment" complex of events (the behavior of Lewinsky and Clinton, the Starr investigation and the testimony within, and the impeachment inquiry). Describe 2 or 3 different motives that you find in discourse framing the talk about these events. What vocabulary is characteristic of each motive? How do the motives describe different realities of the same events? How does each strategically accomplish its evaluation of various characters, events, and actions? What action is appropriate within the view of each motive and how does the dramatistic process frame this appropriateness?
- Deborah Tannen’s The Argument Culture and Cappella and Jamieson’s Spiral of Cynicism both find fault with the style and texture of discourse in contemporary American political life. Compare their positions. Where does each find fault? Are they talking about the same or different problems? How would each change political discourse? Do you agree with one more than the other? Which? and Why?
- What are the similarities and differences between Capella and Jamieson’s notion of “framing” and the notion of “symbolic motivation” that we have studied this semester? Do you think that their ideas would be changed by substituting motive for their term frame? Would their notion of framing change how we talked about motivation? Defend your answer in such a way that you show you understand how the book and the lectures used their respective notions.
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