LINGUIST List 6.1044

Thu Aug 3 1995

Sum: Judgment Fatigue: Part I

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Barbara Luka, Judgment Fatigue: summary, Part I

Message 1: Judgment Fatigue: summary, Part I

Date: Thu, 03 Aug 1995 15:21:58 Judgment Fatigue: summary, Part I
From: Barbara Luka <>
Subject: Judgment Fatigue: summary, Part I

Summary of responses to request for information on Judgment Fatigue (Also
called Syntactic Satiation)

Original post: LINGUIST List: Vol-6-974. Mon Jul 17 1995. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Special thanks to the following respondents:

Kimberly Barskaitiki, Tim Beasley, Elizabeth Bergman, Michael Bernstein,
Vivian Cook, Joseph Davis, Rianne Doeleman, Karen Emmorey, Suzette Haden
Elgin, Ted Harding, Stephen Helmreich, Erika L. Konrad, John E. Limber,
Bruce Nevin, John Robert Ross, Carson T Schutze, Linda Shockey, William
Snyder, Karin Stromswold, Joyce Tang Boyland, anyone I may have missed, and
anyone who thought about responding but hasn't yet.

Karin Stromswold and William Snyder have actually investigated this
phenomenon. I have not read either of their papers yet, but I look forward
to doing so. William Snyder ( presented a poster on
this topic at LSA 1994, which was mentioned in Rick Hudson's summary post
of July 29, 1994. Individual's interested in Dr. Snyder's poster should
contact him directly.

Hudson's post (LINGUIST List: Vol-5-855. Fri 29 Jul 1994. ISSN:
1068-4875.) summarized the literature available which addresses the
difference between linguists' and non-linguists' intuitions. Hudson also
mentions (but does not cite) four references provided by Joyce Tang Boyland
regarding satiation effects (both syntactic and semantic). Hudson's
original post is available from Linguist List archives. Joyce Tang
Boyland's response is included below (in Part II of post, following).

Karin Stromswold's response ( was my connection to
Snyder, Hudson, and Boyland. Her post is most relevant to my original
query and is included in its entirety below (in Part II of post,

Most responses mentioned the influence of continual or repeated exposure
over a period of time, either mentioning examples similar to perceptual or
semantic satiation such as a word-repetition effect. (Bergman, Cook, Davis,
Doeleman, Haden Elgin, Harding, Helmreich, Limber, Schutze, Snyder,
Stromswold, Tang Boyland). There are many differences, however, between
the effects of semantic satiation and "syntactic satiation" or judgment

First, semantic satiation is the detachment of form and meaning which
occurs as you continuously repeat some lexical item (see also Stromswold's
post below). Judgment fatigue, in contrast, cannot be induced by the
repeated presentation of any sentence. In fact, published experiments by
Nagata show that raters' intuitions only become more stringent on repeated

Second, the loss of the meaning of a sentence is not an effect of judgment
fatigue. The meaning of the sentence may be quite lucid to the individual
reading it, but that individual's attention is focused upon some aspect of
the grammatical acceptability of the sentence, and it is the ability to
judge grammatical acceptability which is lost, not the ability to make
sense of the utterance.

Third, while the particular characteristics of the stimuli which induce
judgment fatigue are not yet fully established, it appears that different
types of sentences induce the effect to different degrees (Stromswold,
Snyder as cited in Hudson's post). This is not the case for semantic
satiation, where the repetition of any lexical item can induce the effect.

Fourth, the "scanting out" effect as noted by Haj Ross points out that the
loss of intuition can be triggered by one single stimuli, not necessarily
the repeated presentation of numerous stimuli (relevant quote posted
below). Conversely, subjects can rate hundreds of stimuli on the basis of
grammaticality, with no fatigue effect (beyond boredom), even if the
stimuli contain permutation of the same lexical items, be they open or
closed class items.

Note that point four is definitely true in the case that the stimuli are
all dichotomously "great--grammatical" or "horrible--ungrammatical". There
is a definite influence of marginality, an effect which, to date, I believe
no one has explained.

Fifth, semantic satiation (as well as perceptual fatigue effects) is often
attributed to some type of neurological fatigue at the cortical level.
This could not be the (only) reason for judgment fatigue, however, because
there may not be any single word or syntactic structure which is repeated
in all of the stimuli (such as could be the case for judgment fatigue
induced by the scope of negation or negative polarity items). For this
reason, it would be quite implausible to claim that judgment fatigue is the
result of some type of physiological / chemical / neurological saturation
which has occurred at the cortical level.

At this point, I do not believe judgment fatigue and semantic satiation
have much in common as behavioral disturbances. (Incidently, while I am
not an expert on semantic satiation, I have not yet been forced by the
evidence to believe that semantic satiation is the result of a low-level
neurological fatigue. Perceptual fatigue is a neurological phenomenon, but
I attribute semantic satiation to other conceptual strategies.)

Many linguists (Beasley, Nevin, Konrad, and one anonymous) also observed
'that the longer you stay in linguistics, the less you speak English.' To
quote from Bruce Nevin's response: << A student was once asked, in my
hearing, if a certain famous linguist was a native speaker of English. The
reply: 'I think he used to be.' >> Hudson's previous summation further
confirms that linguists and non-linguists do demonstrate significantly
different abilities in discriminating grammatical and ungrammatical
sentences. This type of long-term "drift" of linguists' judgments may be
of interest in its own regard, but this type of "judgment drift" is not
identical to the temporary loss of linguistic intuition which I intended to
address. As noted by Beasley and Konrad, it may indeed be the case that
exposure to second languages, exposure to dialects different from ones
native dialect, or exposure to a large number of perhaps marginal sentences
which occur rarely in natural spoken or written contexts (such as sentences
demonstrating violations of theoretical principals such as "weak crossover"
or "island constraints", for example) may actually alter an individual's
criteria for grammatical acceptability. If one understands judgments of
grammatical acceptability to be metalinguistic type-categorizations, then
one may expect that an individual's discriminative ability will be altered
based upon that individual's personal experiences with exemplars of the

Others commented that judgment fatigue does not happen if the stimuli are
contextualized (Davis, Nevin) or if the referential situation is more
concrete rather than abstract (Davis, Doeleman, Nevin). This is not the
case. A loss of linguistic intuition of grammatical acceptability
definitely can happen spontaneously, such as while one is listening to a
conversation or reading texts, regardless of the concreteness of the topic,
with the following qualifications: judgment fatigue is inspired only by
particular types of stimuli (which have not yet been clearly defined, but
see Part II of post, following) and by the listener's / reader's focus upon
the grammar of the utterance or sentence.

Other individuals related hard-to-comprehend sentences as examples inducing
judgment fatigue. Some such sentences, notably sentences involving scope
ambiguity, may induce confusion, but confusion is not synonymous with the
loss of ones own linguistic intuitions. For ambiguous or confusing
stimuli, we say, "Someone should rewrite this sentence. It is ambiguous
(or anomalous)." When we have judgment fatigue, we say, "I'm a monoglot,
but damned if I can decide whether this sentence is grammatical. I sure
don't FEEL like a native English speaker!"

Lastly, some responses or general expressions of empathy or encouragement,
and actual examples (Barskaitiki, Emmorey, Shockey). Thank you again to
all who responded. If you are interested in the current proposal for my
experiments, or if you would like to hear more about the results and
conclusions from the experiments when I am finished running them, please
contact me.

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