Many English Speakers Cannot Understand Basic GrammarSo, I figured, oh, another thing about how we don't know what a 'passive' is or maybe another peevologist ranting about 'between you and I'. Wrong. Dead wrong. Science Daily basically took the story from the Northumbria University website, where they announced the breakthrough of Ewa Dabrowska, on their faculty. Here's the core of the release (save for the part about how this shows that Chomsky is wrong about all native speakers having the same basic grammar):
I just cannot figure out how you'd end up with a study showing that a significant number of English speakers literally cannot understand the meaning of “The soldier was hit by the sailor.” That is, I'm finding it hard to imagine a native speaker of English who doesn't get that this is something about a seaman whacking an infantryman.
The project assumed that every adult native speaker of English would be able to understand the meaning of the sentence:
“The soldier was hit by the sailor.”
Dr Dabrowska and research student James Street then tested a range of adults, some of whom were postgraduate students, and others who had left school at the age of 16. All participants were asked to identify the meaning of a number of simple active and passive sentences, as well as sentences which contained the universal qualifier “every”.
As the test progressed, the two groups performed very differently. A high proportion of those who had left school at 16 began to make mistakes. Some speakers were not able to perform any better than chance, scoring no better than if they had been guessing.
Dr Dabrowska comments: “These findings are ground breaking, because for decades the theoretical and educational consensus has been solid. Regardless of educational attainment or dialect we are all supposed to be equally good at grammar, in the sense of being able to use grammatical cues to understand the meaning of sentences.
Here's where I need the help: How does the study actually work? What did they do? There's no reference at all to any publication that I saw, just mention of a conference presentation.
Oh wait, I guess the story IS about people not knowing what a passive is, just not in the sense I thought!
Image from here.