LINGUIST List 6.1045

Thu Aug 3 1995

Sum: Judgment Fatigue: Part II

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Barbara Luka, Judgment Fatigue, Summary Part II: Stromswold, Ross, Tang Boyland, Be

Message 1: Judgment Fatigue, Summary Part II: Stromswold, Ross, Tang Boyland, Be

Date: Thu, 03 Aug 1995 15:39:00 Judgment Fatigue, Summary Part II: Stromswold, Ross, Tang Boyland, Be
From: Barbara Luka <>
Subject: Judgment Fatigue, Summary Part II: Stromswold, Ross, Tang Boyland, Be

The following are what I found to be especially informative quotes from
four individual respondents who gave specific comments regarding the types
of stimuli which tend to induce judgment fatigue. Kimberly Barskaitiki
also sent a long, specific, detailed response with many interesting
examples. (Thank you!) Her response is not included here because it
presented fewer strong, testable, theoretical claims. (I must note here
that Ross and Beasley are quoted without their expressed permission, for
which I hereby beseech the authors' belated dispensations. I post all
comments here in only the most charitable light, with the hope of sharing
the author's experience and information.)


>As a graduate student at MIT in 1986, I wrote a paper on the
>phenomenon you described for a course I took with Merrill Garrett. I
>dubbed the phenomenon "syntactic satiation" as a nod to work on
>semantic satiation (the widely studied phenomenon that words loose
>their 'meaning' on repeated presentation. e.g.., repeat the word
>"snow" 20 times and it starts sounding funny. and you can't come up
>with as many semantically associated words like "ice" and "cold").
>The study wasn't rigorously done and I never attempted to publish the
>paper (which was called "Syntactic Satiation), but what I discovered
>1) with repeated judgments, subjects' judgments got less certain and
>reliable (some subjects explicitly said they weren't sure anymore).
>But even before subjects' lost confidence in their judgments/made
>mistakes, they got much slower in making judgments.
>2) syntactic satiation seems to be relatively specific. For example,
>I had my subjects make repeated judgments of wh-questions (e.g.,
>that-t, long distance, island etc.) and I found that their ability to
>judge wh-questiosn was impaired, but not their ability to judge other
>stimuli (e.g., double object datives)
>3) Satiation did *not* occur when subjects were asked to make
>judgments about semantic plausibility (where implausible
>sentences involved violations of animacy restrictions, e.g.,
>The juice spilled the child that stained the rug)
>4) I also didn't get any clear evidence of satiation at the
>morphological level (e.g., asking subjects to judge sentences
>with case/tense violations, e.g., I gave it to he; she give him a book)
>5) Rate of presentation seemed to be an important factor in inducing
>satiation. If subjects are urged to go quickly, they satiate faster.
>This goes along with findings in the semantic satiation where whether
>semantic priming or satiation occurs seems to depend on rate of
>presentation (at least in part).
>6) Being forced to make ungraded judgments (i.e., good vs. bad with no
>intermediate judgments allowed) also seemed to induce faster satiation
>7) Satiation seems to be temporary, although I can't say what the
>refractory period is. It is probably less than 1 month (the interval
>I retested at)
>8) I didn't detect satiation when I gave subjects mixtures of sentences
>to judge (in my case, datives, passives, wh-questions, and tense/case).
>When I did the lit review for the paper, I found a few other studies
>that looked at things related to syntactic satiation/syntactic priming.
>I will see if I can dig up the paper and find the references for you.
>Also, William Snyder at MIT presented a poster (?) at the LSA conference
>in 1994 (?) where he looked at this phenomenon.

>From John Robert (Haj) Ross (

>...The term I remember
>being in on the birth of was actually "to scant out", the term being
>proposed by Arnold Zwicky and me, and doubltless others, in the summer of
>1963, while we were working at MITRE Corporation in Bedford Mass, and
>scanting out was a common hazard.


>From Joyce Tang Boyland:

>Much of the information I have comes from responses I received to a
>query I posted to Linguist List about 4 years ago.
>...One of the refs was for Carson Schutze's MA thesis. The others
>I think were only old cognitive psych papers on semantic not syntactic
>satiation. I can dig them up if you are still interested. Basically
>I don't think there has been much actual research on the subject;
>Schutze's lit review was very thorough but he only mentioned one or two
>not very conclusive pieces of research on satiation. I'm very glad you
>are planning to research this experimentally. I used to have stronger
>opinions on this than I do now, but I do think that syntactic satiation
>does happen. I think that knowing about it ought to have an effect on the
>practice of linguistics, and I would also say that it has some implications
>for theories of acquisition and of historical language change, which I can
>expound on further if you are interested.
>Another thought is that there are at least two different things going on in
>syntactic and semantic satiation. From the Linguist query I posted several
>years ago, I gathered that Haj Ross some time ago coined the phrase "scanting
>out" to describe the experience of losing one's intuition on what the word
>"scant" means and can be used for after thinking about it overtly for too long
>I think this is a case of excessive meta-linguistic attention interfering with
>what one would normally know, like the millipede in the fable being asked how
>it could possibly walk and then it couldn't walk anymore. When I was little I
>used to play with saying a word over and over to myself until it became only a
>sequence of sounds without meaning; this might have been a similar phenomenon.
>I see this as a sort of evaporating of subconscious associations or constraint
>(for lack of better terminology) when under the spotlight of consciousness.
>I think a second process, in syntactic satiation in particular, is similar
>to something that's being studied in social psychology, which is that the
>frequency of your witnessing something may affect how acceptable you think
>it is, if you didn't have an opinion on it in the first place (which people
>often don't have on linguistic constructions). (Having an opinion in the
>first place, if I remember correctly, is something that the researcher whom
>Schutze cites did not control for. My copy of S is in another building at the
>moment.) (I am reconstructing vague memories very freely here, so I may not
>be reflecting the literature faithfully, but these are the lines along which
>I am thinking.) So in this case people won't be *losing*all* the
>associations or constraints that a word or construction would normally have,
>but rather, a *particular* type of use they hear which violates a particular
>constraint may become *more*acceptable*. The gross effect of certain uses
>becoming more acceptable may appear to be the same as the millipede effect,
>since one's intuitions are changing, but more careful inspection should show
>a different fine structure.
>I suppose I might as well add here that the degree to which a construction
>is susceptible to satiation effects (this latter one esp.) might well be a
>measure of its susceptibility to (or even progress towards) grammaticalization


>From Tim Beasley (

>A few things cause my intuition to crash and burn.
>The most frustrating and reliable is judging individual items in a list of
>sentences, and ranking them from ok to ? to ?* to *. If I start from the ok
>side, I will over-accept sentences. If I start from the * side, I will
>over-reject sentences. It's worst when the sentences proceed stepwise,
>changing one lexical or syntactic feature (especially small ones). And when
>the person asking me to rank them interacts, asking me if I'm sure.
>I.e., I become muddled if, in comparing sentences, I accept one, and then
>realize that the second is some sort of extension of or analogical to the
>first. If the first is right, then the second _must_ be right. And then the
>third must be ok. Er, well, no, but that doesn't stop me.
>Similarly, comparing two quasi-homonymous structures or lexemes in a battery
>of sentences designed to elicit the differences between them usually results
>in really, really bad results. One such test posted to Linguist caused me
>to alter my own usage for several weeks.
>Lexical items that cause me to stumble regularly: any, all. Often there
>will be one very blatant reading of a sentence; if somebody suggests a
>second interpretation, my intuition curls up to hibernate for the duration.
>In a word: s-c-o-p-e. Other problems with scope crop up, too (negation,
>adjectives, etc.).

[...reference to interference from experience with different languages...]

>I've come to assume that the linguistic muddle (apart from inter-language
>problems) results from attempting to find a coherent, rational meaning for
>the sentences. Agreement and other such grammatical errors are trivial to
>spot, usually. Otherwise, if the task succeeds, I assume the sentence must
>be ok, unless there is some clear, overwhelming error in word choice, focus,
>government, etc. Lists of marginal sentences weaken my sense of what a
>clear error is as I move my ok/not-ok boundary marker (my perception of the
>norm) to allow for marginalia and enable me to interpret the next in a
>series of increasingly aberrant sentences.
[...another reference to experience with different dialects of English...]

>In any case, it takes a leap of humility to realize when I can no longer
>judge sentences in my native language....


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