No subject

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Sat Jun 9 14:32:52 UTC 2001

A very tough question (although one might ask how one keeps
well-educated speakers from recognizing as grammatical constructions
which they have learned in their "post-vernacular," albeit first
language, acquisition period and perhpas have nothing but assessments
of them which stem from their linguistic security (and not their
underlying linguistic competence, but, oddly, we never seem to worry
about that.)

Go back and have alook at the several elicitation devices suggested
in the fieldwork and methodology section of Wolfram and Fasold's The
Study of Social Dialects in American English (Prentice-Hall 1974);
you'll find some surprisngly interesting suggestions there, -
surprising becuase they haven't so often been taken up in work since

You might also think about laboratory "reaction time" experiments, in
which underlying grammars might be elicited - not categorically but
with different response time reactions to sentences presented for
"evaluation," presumbely not allowing the social overlay you decribe
to come into play. These are tough to design but, it seems to me, are
very promising.


>For those of you who elicit grammaticality judgements
>from speakers of non-standard varieties, what measures
>do you take to encourage valid answers? In my so far
>limited experience, linguistic insecurity and
>preconceptions about what the researcher is 'looking
>for' interfere with intuitions to the point of
>For example, when presented with the following two
>sentences (mixed in with others, of course, and
>introduced with "Tell me if each sentence sonds okay
>or not"), one person judged them both ungrammatical:
>Lucy handed Mary the comb
>Lucy handed the comb to Mary
>Is this problem common, and how do you deal with it?
>What do you do when they insist they 'don't know', or
>start recalling high school English lessons to help
>them decide?
>Thanks in advance,
>Joanna Taylor
>Do You Yahoo!?
>Get personalized email addresses from Yahoo! Mail - only $35
>a year!

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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