LINGUIST List 15.2361

Tue Aug 24 2004

Disc: Re: Sum: Survey Results, Hibino

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>


  1. Thomas Hoffmann, Disc: Re: 15.2332, Sum: 'Who' & 'What' in Subject-verb Concord

Message 1: Disc: Re: 15.2332, Sum: 'Who' & 'What' in Subject-verb Concord

Date: Fri, 20 Aug 2004 16:31:39 +0200
From: Thomas Hoffmann <>
Subject: Disc: Re: 15.2332, Sum: 'Who' & 'What' in Subject-verb Concord

Re: Linguist 15.2343

Concerning the corpora vs. judgments debate, I completely agree with
Mike Maxwell: it's not a question of only using one OR the other but
the choice should always depend on what aspect of language you are
interested in.

I also think that part of the problem is that many corpus linguists
still believe that judgments are elicited in an unreflected, fairly
unscientific way with experimenters just asking other linguists
whether a sentence is grammatical or not. This, however, is a view
which ignores a considerable body of work on the topic that has been
published over the last seven or eight years. 

Furthermore, various studies using Magnitude Estimation (cf. Bard et
al. 1996) have shown that informants can make fine-grained, continuous
(i.e. not just "yes" or "no" decisions but "more" or "less
grammatical"), intra- and inter- subjectively consistent judgments
when given the possiblity. [A software implementation of the
experiment was developed at the University of Edinburgh and is
available from].

Returning to the information that a linguist can gain from corpora
and judgements, Featherston (2004) points out that while corpora data
are categorical (a phenomenon can either be found in a corpus or it
can't), in judgement studies informants will give continous ratings
[even for so-called negative data, i.e. there are better and worse
representatives of "ungrammatical" sentences].

Whatever this might mean for our theory of language as a mental
phenomenon, corpus linguists should be aware that many researchers
conducting linguistic judgement experiments are trying to design
their experiments in accordance with rigid scientific standards and
that, furthermore, results from corpus and judgement studies should
be seen as valuable, complementary information.

Thomas Hoffmann
University of Regensburg 


Bard, Ellen Gurman, Dan Robertson, and Antonella Sorace. 1996. 
Magnitude Estimation of Linguistic Acceptability.. Language 
72(1): 32-68.

Cowart, Wayne. 1997. Experimental Syntax: Applying Objective Methods
to Sentence Judgments. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

Featherston S. 2004 .The Decathlon Model: Design features for an
empirical syntax.. To appear in Reis M. & Kepser S. Linguistic
Evidence:Empirical, Theoretical, and Computational Perspectives
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter [source:]

Sch�tze, Carson T. 1996. The empirical base of linguistics:
Grammaticality judgments and linguistic methodology. University of
Chicago Press.
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