I'd like to know whether it's okay to reveal the identity of a person in advance when having others judge his or her sentences for grammaticality. Will that affect the reliability of the judgments? If so, how do we avoid it? I'm talking about having people judge the grammaticality of written sentences.

  • I’m voting to close this question because it's asking about research methodology, and while there might not be a SE network for this topic I believe it to be outside of the purview of Linguistics SE – madprogramer Jan 21 at 15:19

If the question is whether speaker name influences listener reaction, you should include the speaker's name (otherwise you can't test the hypothesis). For instance if you had marginal utterances read by a speaker identified with a typical name in the language, the probability is greater that listeners will judge the utterances as grammatical, compared to if the name is extremely foreign (people will impute language incompetence to apparently-foreign people). There isn't any good reason to reveal a speaker's identity in a perception test, unless the speaker's identity is an effect that you're investigating.

  • If my purpose is to study whether a certain sentence by a famous author of one or two centuries ago is grammatical to modern speakers, concealing his identity is a sensible move, isn't it? – Apollyon Jan 20 at 2:27

I wish your question were more detailed. Is it about written or spoken sentences? Is it about the person who reads the sentence or who made it up? Anyhow, I'll give you an example when names do matter.

In languages with prescriptive grammar, like Russian, the norm has changed since the 19th century, that is, what is considered wrong grammar or wrong word usage nowadays was normal and correct back in the 1800s. It's a typical situation on the Internet when people see a sentence which is ungrammatical from the point of view of the Modern Standard Russian grammar, they all start pointing to the mistake and correcting it, but when thy learn it's a quote from a famous Russian 19th century writer, like Pushkin, Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky, they get silent at once. There are two reasons for that: firstly, the mere authority of those names makes every single sentence they wrote grammatically correct, since it was actually they who established the grammatical norm of the Russian language. And secondly, although many are well aware of the current norm, few know what norm was there in the 19th century.

That example is to illustrate how revealing the name can change attitude towards the grammaticality of a sentence. Depending on what those judges will investigate, the names can be revealed or concealed, but in any case the name can really mean much.

  • Yes, I was talking about written language. Have you observed the opposite side of the situation, where people who first see a sentence by a well-known yet "antique" author judge a similar sentence to be grammatical and acceptable even when it deviates from the grammar of the current language? – Apollyon Jan 20 at 2:21
  • @Apollyon - Yes, and it all depends on one's linguistic habits. For example, in Modern Russian the declinable 3rd p. pl possess. pron. ихний ‘their’ is considered “obsolete” and “dialectal”, the indeclinable их is used instead, grammar nazis will tear you apart for using ихний, although it was a norm in the 19th century, and it is a norm in the Modern Ukrainian. So if you're from Ukraine where you hear ихний every day, you'll find Dostoevsky's sentences with this word correct, while for a Russian prescriptivist who's not from Ukraine it sounds like a horrible unpardonable mistake. – Yellow Sky Jan 20 at 2:50
  • What about ordinary people, those who are not prescriptivists? Do they more readily accept a sentence (which doesn't conform to the grammar of the current language) and claim it is grammatical in the current language after seeing a similar one by a renowned writer of a long time ago? I suspect that's how they react, out of reverence for those literary masters. – Apollyon Jan 20 at 3:28
  • @Apollyon - Common people can discern difference in style and/or sociolect. If they are not good in grammar and in stylistics, they'll still notice it's not typical for the Standard Russian speech they hear on TV every day, “they don't speak that way, I've never heard it that way” would be a typical reaction. Note that those writers were real masters of fine speech and exquisite wording, of something you rarely encounter nowadays, it's hard not to notice that. – Yellow Sky Jan 20 at 4:10
  • What I was thinking about is, identify those unique and possibly outdated features of those masters' work and infuse them in a new sentence. Then have ordinary people judge it. Judgments might be different depending on whether we present them with the master's version and identity in advance. – Apollyon Jan 20 at 4:34

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