Broken Grammar and Beyond
“Every day texts is full with grammatically anomalies”. Grammatical anomalies are defined as cases of atypical convention-breaking grammar, e.g. atypical usage of word order, grammatical words, derivations and inflections. Grammatical anomalies both occur in texts produced by native speakers and by second language learners. In some cases, grammatical anomalies result in miscomprehension of the text, in some cases they impact the recipient’s reading speed, and in other cases they are not even noticed.
The research project Broken Grammar and Beyond (BGB) investigates what types of grammatical anomalies we produce in texts and how these texts are read and understood by others. Which grammatical anomalies are the most frequent, which affect reading speed, and which cause the most problems when it comes to understanding the message?
The project Broken Grammar & Beyond runs from 2018-2021 and is funded by Independent Research Fund Denmark, the Sapere Aude-programme. Read IRFD's description of the project (in Danish).
We compare the types and frequencies of grammatical anomalies in texts produced by native speakers of Danish to those produced by second language learners of Danish. By means of controlled reading experiments, we investigate how language users understand texts with different types of grammatical anomalies – and by means of neuroimaging we investigate the neural underpinnings of understanding language. This research is, among other things, relevant to language teachers and language professionals. It increases awareness of what makes a text readable, and it points to types of grammar that are challenging to language learners.
Broken Grammar and Beyond aims to develop a usage-based and neurocognitively grounded language processing model. The model will take into account that grammar is a complex phenomenon expressed through e.g. word order, case and gender of nouns, and that not all of these affect comprehension in the same way.
We ask questions relevant to everyday language users: When is a message understood despite atypical grammar, and when is it miscomprehended? What does it take to be understood?
BGB will adress three overall research questions:
- What types of grammatical anomalies occur in Danish as a first language vs. Danish as a second language?
- How are these different types of naturalistic grammatical anomalies processed and comprehended by native speakers of Danish?
- What are the neural underpinnings of these comprehension processes?
What is a grammatical anomaly?
We investigate a multitude of different types of convention-breaking grammar, for example:
- Atypical use of inflectional endings
- Atypical use of word order
- Atypical use of gender
- Omitted grammatical word
Studies of texts from language schools
As part of the project Broken Grammar and Beyond, we analyze the grammar of texts produced by second language learners of Danish. We collaborate with teachers and students at the language school Copenhagen Language Center [www.kbh-sprogcenter.dk] and have collected essays from hundreds of adult students with different languages and different cultural backgrounds. The essays are written by hand with no access to electronic remedies such as Google Translate.
We first anonymise and digitalise the students’ texts. Then, we tag the texts manually for anomalies in four categories: orthography, morphology, syntax, and lexis. Finally, we do a fine-grained classification of the types of grammatical anomalies.
The studies will show what types of Danish grammar are particularly challenging when learning Danish.
Studies of texts from Danish high school students
Broken Grammar and Beyond also examines grammar in texts written by Danish high school students. The texts are tagged and analysed in collaboration with The Danish Language Council [www.dsn.dk] who also collected these texts from Danish high schools. All texts are anonymised, and consent forms have been signed. The texts are tagged manually, following the same procedure as for texts from language schools.
The studies of grammar in high school essays contribute with a quantitative view on grammatical anomalies in texts produced by native speakers of Danish. Furthermore, the studies of high school essays may increase high school teachers’ awareness of their students’ specific challenges.
Line Burholt Kristensen is PI (principal investigator) of BGB and Associate Professor in Linguistics at Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen. Her research focuses on grammar processing. From 2013-2017 Line was a postdoc at ProGram (a research project lead by Associate Professor Kasper Boye, University of Copenhagen) where she investigated grammar processing through reading and listening experiments as well as neuroimaging studies (fMRI).
Katrine Falcon Søby is a PhD fellow in BGB. She holds an MA in Linguistics and Danish as a Second Language and has previously taught Danish at Copenhagen Language Center. In her PhD project, she investigates the types and frequencies of grammatical anomalies that occur in texts from speakers of Danish as a second language. She also investigates how native speakers process different types of grammatical anomalies – i.e. which parts of Danish grammar are the most important to master as a learner if you want to be comprehensible.
Julie Johanna Hansen is an MA student of Linguistics at University of Copenhagen and worked as a student assistant on the BGB project from January 2019. She annotated data and helped with experiments. In the fall of 2018 Julie was a BGB intern working with anomalies in verbal inflections.
Kasper Rud Jensen was a student assistant on BGB in the fall of 2018. Kasper primarily worked with typing and data annotation. Kasper is studying linguistics at University of Copenhagen, and in his BA-project he conducted a contrastive analysis of definiteness markers in nominal phrases from learners who have Polish, Russian or Spanish as their first language.
Katrine Ursbak was an intern at BGB in the Spring of 2019. Katrine has an MA in Psychology of Language from University of Copenhagen. Her main assignments were data annotation and dissemination of the project.
Peter Hagoort is Professor in cognitive neuroscience, director of Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and of Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. In his research, he uses neuroscientific techniques such as ERP, MEG, PET and fMRI in order to investigate language disorders such as aphasia, dyslexia and autism.
Peter is an advisory board member of BGB and is collaborating with BGB on neuroscientific studies.
Mila Dimitrova Vulchanova is Professor at Department of Language and Literature, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). She is head of the NTNU’s Language Acquisition and Language processing Lab. Mila’s research interests are, among others, language and cognition, language learning and language comprehension. She is involved in several research projects, e.g. as PI in the Horizon 2020 project DCOMM (Deictic Communication).
Mila is an advisory board member of BGB and is collaborating with BGB on psycholinguistic reading studies.
Mikkel Wallentin is Associate Professor in Cognitive Science at School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University. Since 2002, he has conducted neuroscientific research at the Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience, CFIN, at Aarhus University, and at Center for Semiotics at Aarhus University. His research focuses on neuroscientific aspects of language processing.
Mikkel is an advisory board member of BGB and is collaborating with BGB on neuroscientific studies.
Kasper Boye is Associate Professor at Department of Nordic Languages and Linguistics, University of Copenhagen and PI in the research project ProGram [https://program.ku.dk/english/]. His research focuses on grammar, grammaticalization and semantics. With Professor Peter Harder, he has developed the ProGram theory of grammar (Boye & Harder 2012).
Jørgen Schack is Senior Research Associate in The Danish Language Council where he primarily edits the official dictionary of Danish standard orthography (Retskrivningsordbogen). His research interests are word-formation and lexical semantics.
In BGB, Jørgen is involved in the principles for the tagging of anomalies in texts from the Danish high schools.
You can read more about Jørgen and his research here (in Danish).
Furthermore, former Research Associate at The Danish Language Council Philip Diderichsen has been involved in the principles for the tagging of anomalies in the texts from the Danish high schools. Former research assistant at The Danish Language Council Katrine Lund Støiholm and former student assistant Amalie Arleth Møller have assisted with the error tagging of texts from Danish high school students.
Copenhagen Language Center collaborates with BGB on the collection of texts from second language learners of Danish.
Related scientific publications
- Søby, K. F., & Kristensen, L.B. (2019). Hjælp! Jeg har mistede min yndlings rød taske: Et studie af grammatikafvigelser. Ny forskning i grammatik. 26. 89-104. (In Danish)
- Boye, K. & Harder, P. 2012. "A usage-based theory of grammatical status and grammaticalization". 88. 1-44.
- Kristensen, L.B., & Wallentin, M. (2015). Putting Broca's region into context: fMRI evidence for a role in predictive language processing. Willems, R.M. (ed.). Cognitive Neuroscience of Natural Language Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 160-181.
- Article from the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten from the 3rd of February 2020 about being annoyed by language errors (requires a login and is in Norwegian)
If you are a student of e.g. Linguistics, Danish or Cognitive Science and if you are interested in the BGB project, you are welcome to contact us regarding e.g. an internship or supervision of university projects (e.g. your BA project or MA thesis).