A Guide to the GRE/Social Science Passages

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GRE passages are often about complicated social science topics.

Linguists are uncertain as to why languages change and modify the way they do - changes perhaps attributable to mere idiosyncratic factors. Whatever the case, 5 the diversity of languages occasioned by geographic dispersal is all too apparent, such as with the Latin-based languages of Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese - all of which trace their roots, at least in 10 part, to a uniform common ancestor. Curious, however, is the fact that Portuguese - geographically the furthest of any of the Romance languages from Rome - bears the closest resemblance to Latin, the language of the ancient Romans. The 15 Portugal example perhaps suggests that it is exchange and intermingling which change languages, not time or distance alone, and that Portugal, isolated in its corner of Europe, therefore saw the least of 20 such mingling. The example of Scandinavian languages is certainly consistent with this theory. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish all trace their roots to the Old Norse spoken by the 25 Vikings. Yet it is Icelandic - the furthest tongue from the Scandinavian peninsula - which bears the strongest resemblance to Old Norse, further supporting the notion that intermingling is a primary cause of 30 linguistic change. 1. What is strangely true about both Icelandic and Portuguese, based on the passage?

2. According to the author of the passage, why might it be the case that Portuguese and Icelandic both bear these characteristics discussed?


3.08 Social Science Passages

Answers to Practice Questions[edit]

1. According to the passage, both Icelandic and Portuguese are the closest to their linguistic ancestors - Old Norse and Latin, respectively - despite being furthest from the source of these languages.

2. This passage discusses the idea that it may be the interpersal and intermingling of people and cultures which produces a change in languages, not distance and time alone. The author is stating that the reason that Portuguese is most similar to Latin may be the fact that Portugal is more isolated from the rest of the world, while France, Spain, and Italy were much more subject to intermingling with other cultures. The author thinks it may be this “intermingling” which produces linguistic change, as new words and linguistic devices are exchanged, adopted, and substituted into a language.