grammatical error

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Mon Aug 6 12:16:19 UTC 2001


This smells like a oncer or a slip to me. We've looked at (too many)
hours of folk linguistic comment on language and have never
encountered reference to "facts" as "grammatical," although, as Nancy
Niedzielski and I show in Chapter 4 of Folk Linguistics (Mouton de
Gruyter, 1999, shameless advertising) nonlinguists do not hesitate to
take considerable semantic liberties with sentences which they find
"grmmatical" fault with. That is, the preservation of the orgiinal
semantics seems less important to them than the grammatical repair. A
linguist, of course, would not count a correction as a correct
correction unless it preserved the original sense (or one of the
original senses if ambiguous).


>last week a friend of mine got a letter from the retirement office
>of a company she'd worked for, saying that there was "a grammatical
>error" in their previous mailing.  she was startled indeed to
>discover that financial offices were now issuing corrections for
>grammatical errors.
>the letter explained that where the previous mailing referred to the
>period october 1 through december 31, it should have referred to
>the period april 1 through june 31.
>"that's not a grammatical error," my friend complained, "that's an
>error of *fact*!"
>i observed that the letter writer had undoubtedly been instructed to
>refer to the last quarter of the year, and had picked the calendar
>year, when the company intended their fiscal year.
>my friend noted that that would make it some sort of linguistic
>error - having to do with word semantics - but not a *grammatical*
>error.  i could not dispute this.
>so, is "grammatical error" often used to cover any sort of error in
>language at all?
>arnold (zwicky at

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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