LINGUIST List 2.872

Wed 18 Dec 1991

Disc: Grammaticality Judgments

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  1. Henry Churchyard, Re: 2.856 African American English, Response
  2. Alison Henry, Grammaticality judgments on non-standard dialects
  3. thomas maxfield, E. Contini-Morava

Message 1: Re: 2.856 African American English, Response

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 1991 16:29 CST
From: Henry Churchyard <>
Subject: Re: 2.856 African American English, Response
 Re: Ellen Contini-Morava's comments on the simplistic nature of the idea
of "grammaticality judgments of native speakers of African-American English".
 More careful linguists have been aware for quite some time (ever since the
generativist response to Archibald Hill's "grammaticality" experiment?) that
there are no such things as raw "grammaticaltiy judgements". Rather, there
are _ACCEPTABILITY_ judgements, and it is then up to the experimenter to decide
how or whether such acceptability judgments reflect grammatical competence.
Various distracting factors include the desire of the subjects to tell the
experimenter what they think the experimenter wants to hear, inerference from
prescriptive grammar and/or prestige dialects (note that these two are not
necessarily the same), as well as performance factors, subject fatigue, and
the subject giving a random answer because he wants to get the experiment over
with quickly and go eat. If any linguist says that they are collecting
"grammaticality judgements", they are committing a major methodological error
that can lead them astray right off. (And all this is not even mentioning
the perils of collecting intuitions from linguistically-educated sunjects in
their native language.) It's more complicated than some people realize; I
think Newmeyer discusses some of these problems in his _Grammatical_Theory_
 --Henry Churchyard
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Message 2: Grammaticality judgments on non-standard dialects

Date: Mon, 16 Dec 91 14:45 GMT
From: Alison Henry <>
Subject: Grammaticality judgments on non-standard dialects
A recent linguist entry raises the problem of getting grammaticality
judgments on non-standard dialects. I don't have anything to say specifically
on the African-American case, but on the basis of working on non-standard
Hiberno-English dialects I can say that obtaining reliable judgments is not
nearly as problematic as Labov suggests. First, because non-standard speakers
without higher level education are just as capable of making such judgments,
and distinguishing 'grammatical in a dialect' from 'standard' as educated
 speakers once it is explained to them that what is required; there is a
problem of reporting highly stigmatized non-standard forms as ungrammatical,
but this only applies to certain forms and errors are always in one direction
(ie claiming that something which can be said in the dialect is ungrammatical,
but not vice versa). Secondly, because, at least in Ireland, it is not the
case that educated speakers necessarily lose their non-standard usage, at least
in informal speech, so that it is perfectly possible to get reliable judgments
on many constructions from students in higher education, for example. Again,
caution must be exercised; speakers who do not themselves use a form, but have
heard others doing so, may be prepared to give a judgment which is not
based on their own grammar but on what they think other people would say.
However, with these problems in mind it is quite possible to get judgments on
non-standard dialects.
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Message 3: E. Contini-Morava

Date: Tue, 17 Dec 91 14:14:14 EST
From: thomas maxfield <>
Subject: E. Contini-Morava
Contini-Morava says "the prospects of getting useful native
intuition about a non-standrd variety of English froma a
highly educated, elite population throuh the meduim of e-mail
are plead". There are, however, at least a few of us out here
who are counterexamples to this claim. The dialect of my home
and community was/is a "stigmatized, non-standard variety" while
my entire education has been in the "socially approved, standardized
variety". It seems to me that this simply means that I am in some
sense bi-dialectal the same way that some people are bilingual.
This does not mean, as Contini-Morava implies, that I cannot give
grammaticality judgements about my first dialect. If anything,
my intuitions there are better - as i study more and more of the
'periphery', I am frequently surprised by whay you all can't say.
In fact, I would think that as a trained linguist I should be
more aware of the social problems and therefore could more
easily avoid them. Granted, if you come to my community as an
unknown, speaking standard English, you won't find out much
about the grammar of our dialect, but as a local, I can (and have)
elicit grammaticality judgements from other (less educated)
speakers. Thus, it seems to me that Prince's attempt to get
information over e-mail was right on track. I (and others like
me) can get her judgements that she could not.
-Thomas Maxfield
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