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In this article we will be looking at a cognitive tool known as GAMSAT vocabulary, or in the context of GAMSAT Section 1, a “lexical field” we want to develop. The objective of learning this tool is to

  • be able to to convey ideas with greater complexity
  • identify the subtle difference between terms
  • be able to choose the appropriate word
  • understand contextual cues

Conveying ideas with complexity

A famous philosopher once quipped said, “Language is the house of being.” and in relation to that statement:

“to the degree that your language is rich, exacting and meaningful, so too is the degree to which your “house of being”, the richness of your world and the world that it is you want to convey to your reader is going to be.”

What we mean essentially by this is that – our language is intimately bound up with our concepts of the world. So we have both words (or terms), which are linked up with concepts. There is a whole debate in philosophy where a person can’t really have a grassroots concept without knowing the requisite terms.

For example, “when I open my eyes, and I see the world around me, do I have some immediate intuitive of knowledge of what’s going on around me or do I need to have language to be able to describe what’s happening around me before I can even understand?”

There is this whole debate that goes on there but for this purpose of understanding vocabulary, Let’s understand that the way that language in its various formulations and its various diverse manifestations in different cultures and peoples, all captures in a way, not only certain concepts, but in a way you just think about them as meta concepts or world views or cognitive frameworks, ways of seeing the world, the ways of being in the world. It’s for this reason that we see that, for example, the geographic placement of certain people to certain cultures affects the words that they develop in their particular language.

So you might find in certain Arab tribes, they would have many words to describe horses, camel and certain livestock because these animals are very much intimately part of their everyday experience. These tribes would have observed many things about these creatures, and they would have a term, name, word or the appropriate concept in order to talk about a particular state that the horse might have been in. You know, when they talk about a particular state that a horse might have being in, when it was at this age, when it was at that age, when it was doing that particular thing, when it was running around at that speed, when it was walking at a slow speed and so on and so forth.

The concepts developed in line with the development of the terms and the source of that usually is a human observation of a particular thing. Whether it’s observing with one’s eyes, observing with one’s ears, hearing something or with one’s senses in general or you can sort of think about it like an internal observation.

A broad lexical field

The second thing we are going to look at is the drawbacks of not developing or broadening one’s lexical field to a sufficient degree. Diminished vocabularies will not be able to express nor comprehend the range of meanings required and manifested in the different sections of the exam. As ideas develop to a greater tier of complexity, they give rise to concepts and conceptual schemas that are in need of a suitable means of expression. This is where words form and take on varying shades and hues of meanings. What do we mean here by the ‘varying shades and hues of meaning? It is interesting that according to some philosophers of language, there aren’t such things as synonyms. It is not that synonyms don’t exist. Of course you can look up synonyms of a particular word. However according to some philosophers, no two words are exactly the same.

Contexts

Here it might be useful to introduce two concepts. We have the concept of sense, and we have the concept of reference. A common example is given with the planet Venus, that we see in the morning and evening. So this planet, in the morning is called the morning star, and in the evening it’s referred to as the evening star. The reference is the same though its has two separate senses: one in the morning; one in the evening. This is where synonyms or the varying shades and hues of meaning come into play.

Now then, when we want to speak about thing, we can give it a particular name (e.g Water Bottle). But then we might want to say “I have observed the water bottle in a particular kind of context and that context is interesting for varying reasons, therefore I want to give a new kind of name to this water bottle.” Hence it’s the same reference; the same thing is being denoted though it has different connotations. So you might what to describe that a water bottle is a half-full water bottle. The “half-full” that is here is useful because of certain contexts in which you are speaking.

Or you can think of any else and give it a name. It has a reference point, and then you think, “hey, it’s coming to a new context,” and if I don’t add to this new context, this new sense, we are going to lose some meaning even though we are talking about the same thing. For example, if we are to lose our sense of the morning star and evening star, it’s not like we are no longer can point at the morning star or the evening star. However we are no longer going to point at the Venus and refer to it. We have lost some meaning because we can’t convey the concepts of why we call it the morning or evening star.

That’s what is meant by the shades of meaning that lie in between or lie within one particular word and in different contexts. So you have to choose your words wisely. Two statements or paragraphs may convey the same or a very similar content, and yet have a drastically very different effect on the audience.

For all purposes, building vocabulary and grasping the meaning of words is best done within a context, wherein that word is used. Generally, people tend to learn words, especially how to use a word, within a particular context. For that reason you kind of now sees certain online applications like dictionary apps showing you how to use words in context, instead of reading the word and it’s definition.

Words can have similar meanings that are then only sufficiently differentiated within a larger context. This larger context makes clear the particular connotations the word in relation to its syntactic placement and what it is called on to describe. Syntactic placement is essentially the awareness of where a word is placed in a sentence or paragraph. So you can imagine, placing a word before or after another word affect that particular syntactic structure. Here are you example sentences:

Descriptive Sentence
“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot, and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade.” – Charles Dickens

There isn’t a lot of words that are any difficult to comprehend in the sentence. The structure is very simple. The words are your everyday commonalities but the way they are put together, creates or conveys a subtle sense of meaning.

  • “The sun shines hot”. This is a fact of existence but when contrasted with another idea, creates a certain mood or feeling.
  • “It is summer in the light and winter in the shades”. Dickens is taking two broad concepts of summer and winter and localising them into immediate spatial happenings. These are expressions and emotive contents that can express certain concepts in a logically and conceptually air-tight manner.

Expository Writing
“The aim of philosophy abstractly formulated is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” – Wilfred Sellars

Let’s look at Expository writing, which can also be understood in a very similar form. The philosopher Wilfrid Sellars says: You can see that the use of repetition is rhetorically effective and is used in reference to strengthening or talking about two particular kind of things. First being the aim of philosophy is to understand things and then what about those things, how they hang together and both the things that hang together taking the broadest possible sense of the term. It’s a very neat, succinct and eloquent expression of a very profound concept. Lots of philosophers like that because it  captures the aim of philosophy in a nutshell.

To wrap up very quickly, a few common mistakes people make when we are building up the lexical field is:
• Verbosity, the pretentious kind. E.g The explicans of the resulting argument demonstrates the prior necessity of substantiating the explicandum, albeit only superfluously
• Verbosity, the clunky kind. E.g I want to make this point by saying three things so that I can connect my points to the final point which will appear in my conclusion.
• Using the wrong word. Some might keep using the wrong word. If you do not know what a word means don’t use it. Use words that you are familiar and confident with.

So our process for GAMSAT Vocabulary is very easy:

1. Some thoughts and ideas
2. Find a suitable vehicle – the right words – to convey these thoughts
3. New thoughts and ideas