Changes to Meaning (Introduce the Quote)

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Quotes)

Changes to Meaning

It is important to give attention to the quote you want to use in your paper. Examine it. Analyze it. Pay attention to time markers such as “before,” “after,” and “since.” Time markers are not the only words that can change the meaning of a quote. Using ellipses for the purpose of omitting material from an original quote could also change the meaning of the author’s original intention or change how the reader perceives the information.

In other words, the potential for error is always present. When you leave out certain material, you place a gap in the reader’s comprehension of the material you have presented. In Example 1, the writer (student) applies an ellipsis to omit elements that are parts of an original quote.  In Example 2, we see how much of a difference it makes when the student omits important material from a quote.

 Example 1

In “The Souls of Black Folk,” the nineteenth-century Negro “. . . is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world” (Du Bois  ).

The writer has placed an ellipsis within the sentence. Whenever you see an ellipsis or ellipses within a sentence, it is obvious that something is missing; so in the above excerpt, what is missing? Why is it missing? Was the original part of this excerpt necessary to keep? Can we bring it back and use it for any purpose? In order to answer this question, we have to explore Example 2 first. Let’s examine the original quote, without an ellipsis.

Example 2

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.  It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  On ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (Du Bois)

The phrases before “the Negro is a sort of seventh son . . .” are missing from the excerpt of Example 1. Before we can begin to address this fact, we still have to ask one more question: Are these group of phrases necessary for the reader to understand the material as a whole? To a great extent, yes, the phrases are necessary because the quoted material clearly claims that the “Negro” is a sort of seventh son. . . .” If the “Negro” is number seven in line, then who are the other six?

In addition, who are the “previous six”? In other words, you may ask the question by just asking who the other six are; however, you must also make a clear distinction when asking your question and highlight the fact that the other six are really the previous six. Don’t forget what the quote suggests. The “Negro” is seventh in line. Du Bois positions the “Negro” in his discussion within certain classes of peoples, genealogically and socially.

Therefore, the application of the ellipsis in Example 1 is misleading because it disturbs the meaning as a whole. We need the phrases at the beginning of the excerpt in Example 2 in Example 1. In Example 1, the writer starts off with a few phrases before adding the quote. As presented to the reader, the information appears to conform to normal MLA standards; and it, in fact, does.

However, you must not merely just conform in terms of meeting your professor’s requirements or to the requirements of MLA just for the sake of meeting the requirement. You must also examine the information you want to add to your analysis to see if what you want to add (one sock) matches to something within your analysis you have already added (another sock).

In other words, you match meanings, viewpoints, perspectives, ideas, and writers and authors who think alike. Wherever your viewpoint also agrees with other meanings, viewpoints, perspectives, ideas, and writers and authors, you match your sock to their sock(s).

Always make sure that the change you make to a quote doesn’t completely change the nature of your analysis. In addition, make sure that the change doesn’t completely change the meaning of the material from which you are quoting. Your presentation should stay close and/or represent fully the author’s original intention.

Click here for “Changes to Grammar.”

Click here to return to “What’s the Change?”

Click here to return to “Introduce the Quote.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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