grammaticality judgments

Mai Kuha mkuha at BSUVC.BSU.EDU
Sat Jun 9 17:59:16 UTC 2001

Carson Schütze reviews research on syntactic grammaticality judgments of
adult native speakers in his 1996 book "The Empirical Base of Linguistics:
Grammaticality Judgments and Linguistic Methodology". I don't have a copy
on hand, but I'll append some notes I took once upon a time:

I was particularly interested in his summary of Cowart 1993 (an
unpublished manuscript), where "two different sets of directions" were
use. "One set appealed to their prescriptive sense by invoking English
professors marking term papers, the other emphasized the absence of right
or wrong answers and appealed to personal reactions. This manipulation
turned out to have almost no effect on the pattern of responses" (133).

He also reports Greenbaum's (1973, 1976) finding that the first sentence
"was rated significantly lower than the others" (134).

Schütze concludes: "Serial order, repeated presentation, deliberate
judgment strategies, modality, register, preparation, and judgment speed
are all features of the elicitation task that might contribute
systematically to variation in judgments. So might stimulus features,
including the various types of contextual material, the meaningfulness of
the sentence, the perceived frequency of the sentence structure, and
idiosyncratic properties of its lexical items" (169).

He proposes "methodological guidelines for eliciting grammaticality
judgments" (202) including: control the order of items (184), do not
ignore the importance of context (185)...

Clearly, there is no quick fix. Mauybe we tend not to be clear enough
about what we really want to find out-- what are we getting at when we
gather these things we call grammaticality judgments? Lately, I've been
toying with asking "can you imagine overhearing people say this sentence
in informal conversation?"  ...but what does an affirmative answer mean? I
don't know.


On Sat, 9 Jun 2001, taylor j wrote:

> 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
> contradiction.
> 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
> __________________________________________________
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Mai Kuha                  mkuha at
Department of English     (765) 285-8410
Ball State University

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