Building a Scholarly Vocabulary

        Now that you have read some Hawthorne, you probably have noticed that he uses an unusual vocabulary.   Some of those unusual usages are, perhaps, an affectation because he is uneasy about his artistic authority as an American in our first century of independence, especially when compared with the famous English, French, German, and Italian authors, both his contemporaries and those of the past.  However, you probably also are aware that your personal vocabulary is a very limited set of the total available to all English speakers, and some of H's unfamiliar terms are merely unfamiliar to you because of your limited regional or family dialect.  To start learning more about the English of your own era, you might want to check out the World Wide Words Homepage ("Investigating International English from a British Viewpoint").

        Every scholarly discipline assumes a basic command of an significantly enlarged version of the vocabulary common to most American speakers.   For all the slang words and clichés we give up, we must learn hundreds, even thousands more words that will take their place and that will be used in the liberal arts courses which are the foundation of your education.  Especially important will be those verbs for types of statements or questions which scholars make when reasoning carefully with each other, and the adjectives, adverbs, and nouns which describe kinds of reasoning.  Articles (a, an, the) sometimes will get confused in this process, but the prepositions are most likely to be the hardest for you to use correctly within this sudden torrent of new words. 

        Beyond the basic liberal arts core courses, you'll encounter the specialized world of your major.  Mastery of a discipline also requires us to master its specialized terms of art.  Those are the terms, and their grounding theories of knowledge, which people in your major use to create new knowledge and to learn what the discipline previously has discovered.  The best place to begin learning those words is to start reading the scholarly journals in your anticipated major.   Are you unsure what those journals are?  Ask someone in the department which journals s/he routinely reads.  There are also specialized dictionaries of professional vocabulary for all our majors.  You can buy paper copies in any well-stocked bookstore, but for literary studies, you also can use this online site which contains a searchable vocabulary list with examples and explanations.