Mandarin vs English grammaticality
Every learner of Mandarin has, at some point in time, been stymied in their attempt to ask: Is the sentence I just uttered grammatical? The stymying* response is usually along the lines of this: “Welllll, you could say it that way, but maybe you should say it like this.”
You: “But is it grammatical?”
B: “Or you could say it like this…”
You: “Suàn le” (算了 = fuggedaboutit)
Before you start thinking that this is somehow unique to this language community, though, consider that you might just be at the point of trying to ascertain the unknowable. Check out these Chomsky sentences and then visit Jabal Al-Lughat‘s followup post on them to see how fully you agree with Chomsky’s grammaticality judgements vs that of Jabal Al-Lughat readers:
- That’s the boy who they intercepted John’s message to.
- That’s the boy who he believed the claim that John tricked.
- That was a lecture that for him to understand was difficult.
- Which book did John wonder why Bill had read?
- Which book did John think that Bill had read?
- What would you approve of John’s drinking?
- What would you approve of John’s excessive drinking of?
Sometimes, English can be pretty loosey-goosey too.
*Boy, spell-checker doesn’t like that no matter how I try to flip Ys and Is, but once I put on the asterisk, it’s fine.