Grammatical voice



linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. It is called a scientific study because it entails a comprehensive, systematic, objective, and precise analysis of all aspects of language, particularly its nature and structure. Linguis ...
, grammaticality is determined by the conformity to language usage as derived by the
grammar In linguistics, the grammar of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause (linguistics), clauses, phrases, and words. The term can also refer to the study of such constraint ...
of a particular speech variety. The notion of grammaticality rose alongside the theory of
generative grammar Generative grammar, or generativism , is a linguistic theory that regards linguistics as the study of a hypothesised innate grammatical structure. It is a biological or biologistic modification of earlier structuralist theories of linguisti ...
, the goal of which is to formulate rules that define well-formed, grammatical, sentences. These rules of grammaticality also provide explanations of ill-formed, ungrammatical sentences. In
theoretical linguistics Theoretical linguistics is a term in linguistics which, like the related term general linguistics, can be understood in different ways. Both can be taken as a reference to theory of language, or the branch of linguistics which inquires into the n ...
, a speaker's judgement on the well-formedness of a linguistic 'string'—called a grammaticality judgement—is based on whether the sentence is interpreted in accordance with the rules and constraints of the relevant grammar. If the rules and constraints of the particular
lect In sociolinguistics, a variety, also called an isolect or lect, is a specific form of a language or language cluster. This may include languages, dialects, registers, styles, or other forms of language, as well as a standard variety.Meecham ...
are followed, then the sentence is judged to be grammatical. In contrast, an ungrammatical sentence is one that violates the rules of the given language variety. Linguists use grammaticality judgements to investigate the syntactic structure of sentences. Generative linguists are largely of the opinion that for
native speaker Native Speaker may refer to: * ''Native Speaker'' (novel), a 1995 novel by Chang-Rae Lee * ''Native Speaker'' (album), a 2011 album by Canadian band Braids * Native speaker, a person using their first language or mother tongue {{disambigua ...
s of natural languages, grammaticality is a matter of linguistic
intuition Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning. Different fields use the word "intuition" in very different ways, including but not limited to: direct access to unconscious knowledge; unconscious cognition; ...
, and reflects the innate
linguistic competence In linguistics, linguistic competence is the system of unconscious knowledge that one knows when they know a language. It is distinguished from linguistic performance, which includes all other factors that allow one to use one's language in practi ...
of speakers. Therefore, generative linguists attempt to predict grammaticality judgements exhaustively. Grammaticality judgements are largely based on an individual's linguistic intuition, and it has been pointed out that humans have the ability to understand as well as produce an infinitely large number of new sentences that have never been seen before. This allows us to accurately judge a sentence as grammatical or ungrammatical, even if it is a completely novel sentence.


Criteria that determine grammaticality

According to Chomsky, a speaker's grammaticality judgement is based on two factors: # A native speaker's ''linguistic competence'', which is the knowledge that they have of their language, allows them to easily judge whether a sentence is grammatical or ungrammatical based on
intuitive Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning. Different fields use the word "intuition" in very different ways, including but not limited to: direct access to unconscious knowledge; unconscious cognition; ...
introspection. For this reason, such judgements are sometimes called ''introspective grammaticality judgements''. # The ''
context Context may refer to: * Context (language use), the relevant constraints of the communicative situation that influence language use, language variation, and discourse summary Computing * Context (computing), the virtual environment required to su ...
'' in which the sentence was uttered.

Criteria that don't determine grammaticality

In his study of grammaticality in the 1950s, Chomsky identified three criteria which cannot be used to determine whether a sentence is grammatical: # Whether the sentence is included in a
corpus Corpus is Latin for "body". It may refer to: Linguistics * Text corpus, in linguistics, a large and structured set of texts * Speech corpus, in linguistics, a large set of speech audio files * Corpus linguistics, a branch of linguistics Music * ...
, # Whether the sentence is meaningful, # Whether the sentence is statistically probable. To illustrate this point, Chomsky created the nonsensical sentence in (1), which does not occur in any corpus, is not meaningful, and is not statistically probable. However, the form of this sentence is judged to be grammatical by many native speakers of English. Such grammaticality judgements reflect the fact that the structure of sentence (1) obeys the rules of English grammar. This can be seen by comparing sentence (1) with sentence (2). Both sentences have the same structure, and both are grammatically well-formed. (1) ''Colorless green ideas sleep furiously. ''(Chomsky 1957: 17) (2) ''Harmless young children sleep quietly.'' A grammatical string is not necessarily meaningful, as exemplified by Chomsky's famous sentence ‘ Colorless green ideas sleep furiously’. However, language speakers can still understand nonsensical strings by means of natural intonation. Speakers are also able to recall them more easily than ungrammatical sentences.Chapman, Siobhan, and Routledge, Christopher
"Key Ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language", 2009
/ref> Sentence (1) is grammatical yet infelicitous, because the pragmatics of the verb 'sleep' cannot be expressed as an action carried out in a furious manner. Hence, a native speaker would rate this sentence as odd, or unacceptable, because the meaning does not make sense according to the English lexicon.

Grammaticality versus acceptability

When Chomsky introduced the concept of grammaticality, he also introduced the concept of acceptability. Chomsky has emphasized that "the notion of 'acceptable' is not to be confused with 'grammatical.'" For linguists who stress the role of social learning, in contrast to innate knowledge of language, such as Hopper, there has been a gradual abandonment of talk about grammaticality in favour of acceptability. Acceptability is:Bauer
"Grammaticality, acceptability, possible words and large corpora", 2014
/ref> #A sentence that is consciously considered acceptable by both the speaker and hearer, # A natural, appropriate, and meaningful sentence within a context, #Related to a speaker's ''performance'', and based on how a language would actually be used in a real situation, #Speaker-oriented, depending on what speakers consider appropriate. On the other hand, grammaticality is: # A linguistic ‘string’ that follows a set of given rules, # A grammatical utterance that is not necessarily meaningful, # Based on a native speaker's ''competence'' or knowledge of a language, #Defined by the possible outputs a particular grammar can generate. In experiments, grammaticality and acceptability are often confused, but speakers may be asked to give their 'grammatical judgments' instead of 'acceptability judgments'. The general assumption is that a native speaker's grammar produces ''grammatical'' strings and that the speaker can also judge whether the strings are ''acceptable'' in their language.

Gradience in acceptability

The traditional categorical interpretation of grammaticality is that a sentence is either grammatical or ungrammatical. Many modern linguists, including Sprouse, support this idea. Acceptability judgments, on the other hand, fall in a continuous spectrum. Sentences may either be clearly acceptable or clearly unacceptable, but there are also sentences that are partially acceptable. Hence, according to Sprouse, the difference between grammaticality and acceptability is that grammatical knowledge is categorical, but acceptability is a gradient scale. Linguists may use words, numbers, or
typographical Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable and appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, point sizes, line lengths, line-spacing ( leading), and ...
symbols such as question marks (?) or asterisks (*) to represent the judged acceptability of a linguistic string. During a judgment task, the speaker may report the acceptability of a sentence as acceptable, marginally acceptable, unacceptable, terrible, good, etc. Degrees of acceptability can also be represented by symbols such as ?, ??, *, **, or on a scale of 0-?-*-**, with 0 being acceptable and ** being unacceptable. On a seven-point scale, speakers can rate sentences from 1 (least acceptable) to 7 (most acceptable). (3) *** The Sally hugged him the Thomas (4) ** The Sally hugged him Thomas (5) * The Sally hugged Thomas (6) ??? Which the friend Thomas has painted a picture of? (7) ?? Which friend Thomas had painted a picture of? (8) ? Which friend has Thomas painted the picture of? Note that examples (3)-(8) are open to interpretation as judgement is based entirely on intuition, and determination of grammaticality is dependent on one's theory of what the grammar is. Therefore, different individuals may assign the same sentence different degrees of acceptability. Some linguists believe that the informal use of these symbols is problematic because the exact meaning of the symbols have never been properly defined, and their usage is riddled with inconsistencies.

Frequency affects acceptability

Acceptability is about the actual use of a speaker's language in concrete situations. Since it is speaker-oriented, it is possible to find instances of sentences that are assumed to be acceptable but ungrammatical. Example (9) is ungrammatical, because the preposition ''in'' is copied. The rules of English prepositions only allow sentences such as (10a) and (10b), which show preposition
pied-piping In linguistics, pied-piping is a phenomenon of syntax whereby a given focused expression brings along an encompassing phrase with it when it is moved. The term was introduced by John Robert Ross in 1967. It references the legend of the Pied Piper ...
structure in (10a), and
preposition stranding Historically, grammarians have described preposition stranding or p-stranding as the syntactic construction in which a so-called ''stranded'', ''hanging'' or ''dangling'' preposition occurs somewhere other than immediately before its corresponding o ...
structure in (10b). Sentences (9) and (11c) are ungrammatical but acceptable because of the frequency with which people hear the structure. (10) a. This world ''in whichwe live __ ... b. This world
hich Ij ( fa, ايج, also Romanized as Īj; also known as Hich and Īch) is a village in Golabar Rural District, in the Central District of Ijrud County, Zanjan Province, Iran Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also ...
we live in __ ... c. *This world ''in whichwe live in __ ... Although (10c) is acceptable due to a frequency affect, sentences with preposition copying are judged to be ungrammatical, as shown in (11c). (11) a. This table ''on whichI put the book __ ... b. This table
hich Ij ( fa, ايج, also Romanized as Īj; also known as Hich and Īch) is a village in Golabar Rural District, in the Central District of Ijrud County, Zanjan Province, Iran Iran, officially the Islamic Republic of Iran, and also ...
I put the book on __ ... c. *This table ''on whichI put the book on __ ...

Other factors that determine acceptability

The prevailing models on grammaticality since Chomsky postulated that the acceptability of sentences is a scale, with clearly acceptable on one side, clearly unacceptable on the other, and all manner of ranges of partial acceptability in between. To explain the scale of partial acceptability, linguists have said that phenomena other than grammatical knowledge—such as semantic plausibility, working memory limitations, etc.—account for speakers reporting acceptability on a scale. However, there are a few exceptions to this trend, including those who claim that "strength of violation" plays a role in grammaticality judgements. Examples of linguistsSprouse
"Continuous Acceptability, Categorical Grammaticality, and Experimental Syntax", 2007
/ref> of this persuasion include Huang's proposal that ECP violations are stronger than
Subjacency Subjacency is a general syntactic locality constraint on movement. It specifies restrictions placed on movement and regards it as a strictly local process. This term was first defined by Noam Chomsky in 1973 and constitutes the main concept of th ...
violations, Chomsky's proposal that each barrier crossed leads to lower acceptability, and
Optimality Theory In linguistics, Optimality Theory (frequently abbreviated OT) is a linguistic model proposing that the observed forms of language arise from the optimal satisfaction of conflicting constraints. OT differs from other approaches to phonological ...
(esp. Keller). (12) Subjacency * P_What_does_[_TP_Sue_wonder_[CP_when_I_broke____.html" ;"title="TP_Sue_wonder_[CP_when_I_broke____.html" ;"title="P What does [ TP Sue wonder [CP when I broke ___">P What does [ TP Sue wonder [CP when I broke ___">TP_Sue_wonder_[CP_when_I_broke____.html" ;"title="P What does [ TP Sue wonder [CP when I broke ___">P What does [ TP Sue wonder [CP when I broke ___ (Sportiche 2014: 287) (13) Barrier *Herself likes Mary's mother Subjacency says that you cannot relate two positions across two bounding nodes. In (12), we see that the movement of the wh-expression 'what' was moved past a Complementizer Phrase (CP) and a Tense Phrase (TP) to get to the Specifier (linguistics), specifier position of CP, thus this phrase is ungrammatical. Within the past twenty years however, there has been a major shift in linguists' understanding of intermediate levels of acceptability. This is due to the increasing use of experimental methods to measure acceptability, making it possible to detect subtle differences along a scale of acceptability.

Norm-based evaluation

Prescriptive grammar Linguistic prescription, or prescriptive grammar, is the establishment of rules defining preferred usage of language. These rules may address such linguistic aspects as spelling, pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax, and semantics. Sometimes info ...
controlled natural language Controlled natural languages (CNLs) are subsets of natural languages that are obtained by restricting the grammar and vocabulary in order to reduce or eliminate ambiguity and complexity. Traditionally, controlled languages fall into two major types ...
s defines grammaticality as a matter of explicit consensus. On this view, to consider a string as grammatical, it should conform with a set of norms. These norms are usually based on conventional rules that form a part of a higher or literary register for a given language. For some languages, a group of experts are appointed to define and regularly update these rules.

Use of grammaticality judgments

Research methods of sentence processing

There are several methods that successfully investigate
sentence processing Sentence processing takes place whenever a reader or listener processes a language utterance, either in isolation or in the context of a conversation or a text. Many studies of the human language comprehension process have focused on reading of s ...
, some of which include
eye tracking Eye tracking is the process of measuring either the point of gaze (where one is looking) or the motion of an eye relative to the head. An eye tracker is a device for measuring eye positions and eye movement. Eye trackers are used in research ...
, self-paced listening and reading, or cross-modal priming. The most productive method however, is real-time grammaticality judgements. A grammaticality judgement is a test which involves showing participants sentences that are either grammatical or ungrammatical. The participant must decide whether or not they find the sentences to be grammatical as quickly as possible. Grammaticality is cross-linguistic, so this method has therefore been used on a wide variety of languages.

Computer-assisted language instruction

Catt and Catt & Hirst created a model of grammaticality based around a computer program developed for computer-assisted language instruction which was designed to perform automatic error diagnosis and correction of ungrammaticalities produced by second-language learners. The program classified errors made by language-learners in their sentences as being due to errors in phrase structure, transformations, morphology, verb subcategorization, or by the languages-learners translating their primary language directly into the language they are learning. The program worked primarily by utilizing a parser which consisted of constraints which, if a first parsing attempt failed, could be selectively relaxed. Thus, for a given parse, the constraints which were relaxed indicated the precise nature and location of ungrammaticality.Schütze, C. T., (2016). ''The empirical base of linguistics: Grammaticality judgments and linguistic methodology''. Language Science Press.
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Assessing first language (L1) competence

There have been experiments conducted in order to test how early speakers gain the ability to judge grammaticality in their
native language A first language, native tongue, native language, mother tongue or L1 is the first language or dialect that a person has been exposed to from birth or within the critical period. In some countries, the term ''native language'' or ''mother tongu ...
. In an experiment by Cairns et al., preschool children aged 4–6 were presented sentences such as (14) and (15) orally. (To make sure that the meaning of the sentences was clear to the children, sentences were enacted with toys.) While sentence (14) is well-formed in the adult grammar, sentence (15) is not, as indicated by the asterisk (*). The source of the ill-formedness is that the verb ''hug'' is a transitive verb and so must have a direct object, namely something or someone who receives the action of the verb. Sentence (15) is missing the receiver of ''hug''. (14) ''The kitten hugged the pig.'' arin 2006: 215 (15) *''The zebra hugged.'' arin 2006: 215 The results of this study show that the earliest age at which children can discriminate well-formed from ill-formed sentences, as well as correct these, is at 6 years. During the critical period between 4 and 6 years old, there is a significant increase in the accuracy of grammaticality judgments, since
metalinguistic Metalinguistics is the branch of linguistics that studies language and its relationship to other cultural behaviors. It is the study of dialogue relationships between units of speech communication as manifestations and enactments of co-existence. ...
skill is in critical development; the judgment relies on the
psycholinguistic Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the interrelation between linguistic factors and psychological aspects. The discipline is mainly concerned with the mechanisms by which language is processed and represented in the mind ...
ability of the child to access their internalized grammar and to compute whether it can or cannot generate the target sentence. This ability to judge the grammaticality of sentences seems to develop in children well after basic grammar skills have been established, and is related to early reading acquisition—acquisitionists generally believe that the ability to make grammaticality judgments is a measure of
syntactic In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), ...

Assessing second language (L2) competence

Grammaticality judgment tasks can also be used to assess the competence of language learners. Late learners of L2 perform worse on grammaticality judgment tasks or tests than native speakers or early acquirers, in that L2 learners are more likely to accept a sentence that is ungrammatical as grammatical. After the
critical period In developmental psychology and developmental biology, a critical period is a maturational stage in the lifespan of an organism during which the nervous system is especially sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. If, for some reason, the org ...
, age of acquisition is no longer supposed to have an effect, and native-like performance is no longer supposed to be achievable. However, the idea that there is a critical period for the acquisition of
syntactic In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), ...
competence, which is reflected by the ability to assess the well-formedness of a sentence, is controversial. On one view, biological or language-specific mechanisms become nonfunctional after a certain age. On another view, decreased L2 learning ability with age is not inevitable, and can be explained by factors such as motivation, learning environment, pressure, and time commitment. Although there is evidence that supports the claim that speakers outside the L2 mastery age range are not capable of acquiring native-like mastery of a language, there is also evidence supporting the opposite, as well as evidence for young learners not mastering an L2.

Performance-related factors

General processing problems, rather than a deficit in some syntax specific process or module, offer a viable explanation for populations that exhibit poor grammatical performance. Performance on L2 grammaticality judgments might be partially due to variable accessibility to and use of relevant grammatical knowledge. Difficulties in basic level
cognitive processing Cognition refers to "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". It encompasses all aspects of Intellect, intellectual functions and processes such as: perception, attentio ...
are due to: * low L2 memory capacity * poor L2 decoding ability * slow L2 processing speed These issues have been tied to grammatical processing performance by testing native speakers of English on the same tasks under stressful conditions: there is shown to be difficulty in grammatical agreement when memory capacity is curtailed, important cues in the language when given noisy input, and processing important structures when not given enough time to process input. This shows that knowledge cannot always be automatically and consistently applied under stressful situations without having processing difficulties. However, these issues are not necessarily independent of each other, as low decoding ability of structure could affect processing speed. Overall, individual differences in L2 working memory and decoding ability are correlated to grammaticality judgment accuracy and latencies. However, there is no correlation between speed of processing measure and grammaticality judgment performance, age of arrival correlates with syntactic mastery, and knowledge of vocabulary probably drives grammaticality performance.

Age-related factors

Age for decrease of L2 grammaticality performance varies from early childhood to late adolescence, depending on the combinations of the speaker's first and second language. The age of acquisition at which L2 learners are worse than native speakers depends on how dissimilar the L1 and L2 are on phonological and grammatical level. For example, Chinese/English bilinguals at 7 years old perform just as well as Spanish/English bilinguals at 16 years old. This is due to the fact that a grammatical construction on an L2 that has a parallel structure in an L1 would impose less processing demand than one that does not have a parallel, causing a poorer performance on language structure. There is evidence for late L2 learners generally having issues with plurals and past tense, and not so many issues with Subject-Verb-Object testing, in which they show native-like results; there is better performance on Yes/No as well as Wh- questions than on
articles Article often refers to: * Article (grammar), a grammatical element used to indicate definiteness or indefiniteness * Article (publishing), a piece of nonfictional prose that is an independent part of a publication Article may also refer to: G ...
and past tense. There is data supporting high-performing late learners well beyond the critical period: in an experiment testing grammaticality by J. L. McDonald, 7 out of 50 L2 English late-learner subjects had scores within range of native speakers. The results are linked to how individual differences in L2 memory capacity, decoding, or processing speed affect processing resources to automatically apply the relevant grammatical knowledge.

Reliability of L2 grammaticality judgments

The matter of reliability of L2 grammaticality judgments is an ongoing issue in the research field of
second language acquisition Second-language acquisition (SLA), sometimes called second-language learning — otherwise referred to as L2 (language 2) acquisition, is the process by which people learn a second language. Second-language acquisition is also the scientific dis ...
. Undeniably, the case of second-language judgments involves participants to make judgments concerning their knowledge of a language system that is not necessarily complete compared to the knowledge of their first language. In an experiment, participants may encounter sentences beyond their current knowledge, resulting in guesswork. To minimize guessing, it is up to the linguists and researchers to select sentences that would better reflect a learner's knowledge of L2.

Confounding factors in grammaticality judgements

Subject-related factors


Studies have been conducted which explored the degree to which left or right
handedness In human biology, handedness is an individual's preferential use of one hand, known as the dominant hand, due to it being stronger, faster or more Fine motor skill, dextrous. The other hand, comparatively often the weaker, less dextrous or sim ...
plays a role in
idiolect Idiolect is an individual's unique use of language, including speech. This unique usage encompasses vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. This differs from a dialect, a common set of linguistic characteristics shared among a group of people. Th ...
al variation of grammaticality judgements, and have found that those with left-handed immediate family members, also referred to as familial sinistrality, perform differently than participants with only right handed family members. They suggest that those with familial sinistrality are less sensitive to violations of sentence structure likely due to a correlation between this group and a less localized language module in the brain. Cowart conducted a study specifically testing for the effects of familial sinistrality in grammatical judgement tasks. Using a 4-point scale, the experiment asked participants to judge sentences that followed the following model: (17) a. What did the scientist criticize Max's proof of? b. What did the scientist criticize a proof of? c. What did the scientist criticize the proof of? d. Why did the scientist criticize Max's proof of the theorem? Examples (17a-c) are structural violations, (17a) violates the
Specified Subject Condition The Specified Subject Condition (SSC) is a condition proposed in Chomsky (1973) which restricts the application of certain syntactic transformational grammar rules. In many ways it is a counterpart to the Tensed-S Condition (TSC) (proposed in the ...
, and (17b-c) violate Subjacency, while (17d) is a grammatical control sentence. It was found that since the violations were structural in nature, participants with familial sinistrality were less sensitive to violations in such as the ones found(17a-c) while (17d) showed no variation between participant groups. In a similar study Bever, Carrithers, & Townsend found evidence that support Cowart's findings, also showing that no judgement differences were found when comparing groups across variables such as age, sex, and verbal
SAT The SAT ( ) is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. Since its debut in 1926, its name and scoring have changed several times; originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, it was later called the Schol ...

Task-related factors


There have been numerous studies addressing the effect of repetition on grammaticality judgements in experimental contexts. Repetition experiments are conducted by asking participants to give scaled ratings of sentences on their level of grammaticality. In the first phase, sentences are rated one at a time as a baseline measure of grammaticality level. In the repetition phase, participants rate each sentence after it has been displayed numerous times continuously, with short pauses between each repetition. They have generally found that repetition of a string significantly decreases participants grammaticality ratings of both grammatical and ungrammatical sentences. Two possible factors have been speculated to cause this affect, the first attributes this phenomenon to satiation, the phenomenon of prolonged repetition leading to illusory changes in perception. The second is that changes in participants’ judgement process occurred as a result of repetitions. Repetition effects have been shown to not be present when sentences are displayed along with a preceding sentence to give the string context.

Yes/no responses

When researchers interpret a yes/no response on grammaticality, they need to take into account of what the participants are responding to. The speaker could be rejecting the sentence for reasons other than its grammaticality, including the context or meaning of the sentence, a particular word choice, or other factors. For example, consider this ungrammatical sentence: (16) The elephant are jumping. A participant, whether an adult or a child, may reject this sentence because elephants do not jump. To avoid this misinterpretation, researchers need to clarify with the participants regarding the meaning of yes and no responses.

Grammaticality illusion

Studies have shown that when native speakers judge ungrammatical sentences to be more acceptable than their grammatical counterpart, grammaticality illusion has occurred. Consider Frazier's example:
(18) The apartment that the maid who the service had sent over was cleaning every week was well decorated.
(19) *The apartment that the maid who the service had sent over was well decorated.
The English grammar allows structures such as sentence (18), while sentence (19) is not allowed. Notice that sentence (19) is missing the
verb phrase In linguistics, a verb phrase (VP) is a syntactic unit composed of a verb and its arguments except the subject of an independent clause or coordinate clause. Thus, in the sentence ''A fat man quickly put the money into the box'', the words ''quic ...
"was cleaning every week." In several studies, participants carried out offline and online tasks. In the offline task, the participants rated their comprehension of sentences on a five-point scale in a
questionnaire A questionnaire is a research Research is "creativity, creative and systematic work undertaken to increase the stock of knowledge". It involves the collection, organization and analysis of evidence to increase understanding of a topic, ...
. The result revealed that the ungrammatical sentences were rated as good as or even better than grammatical sentences. In the online study, participants did a self-paced reading (SPR) task. The sentence appears on a computer monitor word-by-word. After each word, participants were asked to choose if the sentence is still grammatical so far. Then they would go on to rate the sentence from 1 "perfectly good English" to 7 "really bad English." The result showed that ungrammatical sentences were rated to be better than the grammatical ones.

Cross-linguistic differences

To find out if grammaticality illusion also occurs in other languages, linguists have carried out similar experiments with different languages. Vasishth hypothesized that different
word order In linguistics, word order (also known as linear order) is the order of the syntactic constituents of a language. Word order typology studies it from a cross-linguistic perspective, and examines how different languages employ different orders. C ...
could be a factor of grammaticality illusion. English sentences follow the order of subject, verb, object (SVO) while both German and Dutch have the subject, object, verb (SOV) order. Based on the results, German and Dutch participants do not show the effect of the illusion. However, if they were shown the sentences in English, they also show the illusion. Examples of grammatical and ungrammatical sentences in German:
(20) Der Anwalt, den der Zeuge, den der Spion betrachtete, schnitt, überzeugte den Richter.
(21) *Der Anwalt, den der Zeuge, den der Spion betrachtete, überzeugte den Richter.
Sentence (20) is grammatical, whereas sentence (21) is ungrammatical.

Possible causes

Gibson and Thomas concludes from their offline acceptability ratings that working-memory overload causes native speakers to prefer the ungrammatical sentence. The shorter, ungrammatical sentences were easier to process and made more sense. The grammatical sentence with several embedded clauses, such as "was cleaning every week", may require high-memory load, making it difficult for the participants to comprehend the sentence. Studies of grammaticality illusion in other languages such as Dutch and German suggest that different language structures prevent participants from making incorrect judgments. For example, a three-verb sequence in
subordinate clauses A subordinate clause, dependent clause, subclause, or embedded clause is a clause that is embedded within a complex sentence. For instance, in the English sentence "I know that Bette is a dolphin", the clause "that Bette is a dolphin" occurs as th ...
is more common in German or Dutch than in English. As a result, German or Dutch participants are well able to correctly rule out the ungrammatical sentences with the missing verb phrase.

See also

Common English usage misconceptions This list comprises widespread modern beliefs about English language usage that are documented by a reliable source to be misconceptions. With no authoritative language academy, guidance on English language usage can come from many sources. Thi ...
Constituent (linguistics) In syntactic analysis, a constituent is a word or a group of words that function as a single unit within a hierarchical structure. The constituent structure of sentences is identified using ''tests for constituents''. These tests apply to a portio ...
Error (linguistics) In applied linguistics, an error is an unintended deviation from the immanent rules of a language variety made by a second language learner. Such errors result from the learner's lack of knowledge of the correct rules of the target language variety ...
List of linguistic example sentences A ''list'' is any set of items in a row. List or lists may also refer to: People * List (surname) Organizations * List College, an undergraduate division of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America * SC Germania List, German rugby unio ...
Universal grammar Universal grammar (UG), in modern linguistics, is the theory of the genetic component of the language faculty, usually credited to Noam Chomsky. The basic postulate of UG is that there are innate constraints on what the grammar of a possible hum ...
Transformational grammar In linguistics, transformational grammar (TG) or transformational-generative grammar (TGG) is part of the theory of generative grammar, especially of natural languages. It considers grammar to be a system of rules that generate exactly those combin ...


Further reading

* * Bross, F. (2019)
Acceptability Ratings in Linguistics: A Practical Guide to Grammaticality Judgments, Data Collection, and Statistical Analysis
Version 1.0. Mimeo. * * Champman, Siobhan, and Routledge, Christoper. (2009)
Key ideas in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Language
Edinburgh, GBR: Edinburgh University Press. * Chomsky, (1957): "
Syntactic Structures ''Syntactic Structures'' is an influential work in linguistics by American linguist Noam Chomsky, originally published in 1957. It is an elaboration of his teacher Zellig Harris's model of transformational generative grammar. A short monograph ...
", The Hague/Paris:Mouton * Fetzer, A. (2004)
Recontextualizing context: Grammaticality meets appropriateness
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External links

* {{Wiktionary inline, grammaticality Generative linguistics Grammar Philosophy of logic