Often when I talk in English, I create ungrammatical or non-canonical sentences.

Question is: Does this happen equally often among all languages? What influences the occurrence of ungrammatical sentences? Is it cultural?

  • Well, my guess is that it's because of English having many dialects, and that those ungrammatical sentences would be grammatical in your dialect. "Native" speakers of Arabic probably make a lot of grammar mistakes. – FlatAssembler Apr 13 '20 at 7:36
  • One might surmise that speakers of languages with very complex morphology would be more likely to accidentally slip up and create ungrammatical sentences, whereas simpler morphology would reduce the possible ways to be ungrammatical. I have no idea if this is actually so, though. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 13 '20 at 8:36
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    Are you talking about speech errors by native speakers, mistakes by non-native learners, or something else? If it's the second, you're unlikely to get a concrete answer because it must vary by the speaker's proficiency. – Nardog Apr 13 '20 at 11:53

"Ungrammatical" has two meanings. One is the popular one, a social concept, that not everybody speaks the same dialect and register, any any deviation from the prescribed norm is "ungrammatical". Linguists have a very specialized meaning for "ungrammatical", related to the idea that a language is produced by a set of mental rules, so we generally say that "could of" and "ain't" are grammatical in some dialects, but not my dialect. But in my dialect, and the dialect of everybody that I know, you cannot say "book the my table from fell" – that would be ungrammatical, i.e. the rules simply do not permit such a construction. That doesn't mean that it is physically impossible for a person so say such a thing.

In generative theory, mental rules of grammar (the reference point for saying that such-and-such is ungrammatical) are a part of what determines human language behavior and not the whole thing: the former being known as "competence" and the latter being "performance". The fact is that people do sometimes utter things that do not follow the rules of their grammar. But in order to properly catalog an utterance as "grammatical" versus "ungrammatical", you actually have to know what the rules of that person's grammar are. It is extremely difficult to do that, though if you work with a person for years to study the structure of their language, you can encounter actual errors which will be rejected by the speaker, if it is brought to their attention. One very problematic reason is that speakers may have familiarity with dialects that they don't speak, and may partially adopt competing rules from other dialects, which leads to inconsistent judgments on what is acceptable. (Linguists have to estimate grammaticality based on speaker acceptance of sample utterances, we can't directly determine that A is or is not produced by the grammar, since hte grammar is a hypothesis, not a directly inspectable fact).

The distribution of the social sense of "ungrammatical" is very uneven across societies, that is, in some societies there is a very strong sense of what "The King's English" is and little tolerance for deviation; in some languages, people just talk the way they talk and it would be rude to react to a person using "mø" instead of "vi" for the first plural pronoun. The crosslinguistic distribution of the linguistic sense of ungrammatical (rate of deviation from competence) is presently unknown. If we had a real universal corpus of everything anyone ever said, we might start to answer the question scientifically, if we also had a details analysis of each person's mental rules. We don't, so the answer is, we have no idea.

  • ? I’ve never heard that; where do people say that? I’m familiar with me, but not . – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 13 '20 at 15:15
  • Valdres, in Norway. – user6726 Apr 13 '20 at 15:20

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