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One might master the grammar rules of a second language and still go misunderstood with an utterance. My gut feeling would say that is caused by the employment of unusual constituents. So the degree of how intelligible an utterance sounds could be schematically laid out as follows:

  1. Grammatical/Usual (natural) - e.g. "English is not my first language."
  2. Ungrammatical/Usual (solecism) - as in the double negative in "Ain't nobody got time for that."
  3. Grammatical/Unusual (weird) - as in a literally translated idiom. In (Brazilian) Portuguese, one can say "I had to swallow that toad" if someone else went off on that one and the latter had to take it -- for whatever reason -- without getting back. It's a perfectly grammatical sentence, comprised of very common words, yet no English speaker would understand that without an explanation like this (I think).
  4. Ungrammatical/Unusual (unintelligible) - e.g. "The arguably potatoes consider I."

(Bear with me, it would be better readable if a table was possible)

I wonder how valid that is from a linguistics perspective. I've been struggling to tame English and learning other languages as well and that schema occured to me as a potential instrument to real language acquisition.

  • I do not understand the question. Part of the problem may lie with the notion "unusual constituent". Perhaps you should clarify what you mean with that term. – Tim Osborne May 22 at 1:40
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    The double negative example isn't ungrammatical in the varieties of English it is used in (and in our modern globalist world, that probably means broad familiarity with it in all English varieties, even if it's only productive in a few). – curiousdannii May 22 at 3:28
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    @jlawler I think it means that if someone goes off on [=shouts at] someone else, and that person, for whatever reason, has to just sit there and take it, unable to defend themselves, then they would ‘have to swallow the toad’; sort of like holding your tongue. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 22 at 18:49
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    Learning a language by learning its grammar and then trying to parse and produce utterances according to the grammar, is an aberration that has only been available since people started writing grammars around two thousand years ago. The way most people who need to learn a new language have always done it is by absorbing utterances and learning the patterns. – Colin Fine May 22 at 19:09
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    @TimOsborne due to the lack of a better word, I decided to borrow "constituent" from the generative grammar and use it loosely as "a meaning unit in a sentence". By "unusual" I mean, for example, an archaic word or a jargon used outside the group that originated it. – João Pedro Costa May 22 at 21:30

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