Middle ratings rise regardless of grammatical construction

Jessica Brown
Universität Potsdam
Fri May 28th 2021, 1:30 - 3:00pm
Online (Zoom)

Please email for Zoom link.


People perceive sentences more favourably after hearing or reading them many times. A prominent approach in linguistic theory argues that these types of exposure effects (satiation effects) show direct evidence of a generative approach to linguistic knowledge: only some sentences improve under repeated exposure, and which sentences do improve can be predicted by a model of linguistic competence that yields natural syntactic classes. However, replications of the original findings have been inconsistent, and it remains unclear whether satiation effects can be reliably induced in an experimental setting at all. Here we report four findings regarding satiation effects in wh-questions across German and English. First, the effects pertain to zone of well-formedness rather than syntactic class: all intermediate ratings, including calibrated fillers, increase at the beginning of the experimental session regardless of syntactic construction. Second, though there is satiation, ratings asymptote below maximum acceptability. Third, these effects are consistent across judgments of superiority effects in English and German. Fourth, wh-questions appear to show similar profiles in English and German, despite these languages being traditionally considered to differ strongly in whether they show effects on movement: violations of the superiority condition can be modulated to a similar degree in both languages by manipulating subject-object initiality and animacy congruency of the wh-phrase. We improve on classic satiation methods by distinguishing between two crucial tests, namely whether exposure selectively targets certain grammatical constructions or whether there is a general repeated exposure effect. We conclude that exposure effects can be reliably induced in rating experiments but exposure does not appear to selectively target certain grammatical constructions. Instead, they appear to be a phenomenon of intermediate gradient judgments.