The Grammars of English

The Survey How it works

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English is spoken different ways in different parts of the world -- not just in terms of the words used but in terms of grammar itself. For instance, while "Throw me down the stairs my coat" is a perfectly fine sentence in places like Newfoundland, it is ungrammatical in other parts of the world.

The "Grammars of English" project visualizes the results of an online survey of English grammar conducted by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By comparing the answers to different questions, we can map out the relationships between the grammars of different world Englishes.

We are also looking at the Englishes spoken by people whose first language is something else (these are actually the majority of English-speakers worldwide!). We treat all the people whose native language is the same (such as Spanish) as if they were their own dialect, so we can see how the way they speak English compares with the various traditional English dialects and also the Englishes spoken by people with some other native language (like German). By toggling the buttons on the left, you can explore the native English speakers or the non-native English speakers or both.

As more people complete the quiz, we will be updating these charts with cleaner results and with more dialects.

To calculate the distance between two English dialects, we calculate the percentage of speakers of that dialect who find a given sentence grammatical. For example:

SentenceDialect ADialect BDialect C
Sent. 10%0%0%
Sent. 20%100%100%
Sent. 3100%0%0%
Sent. 450%50%100%

The distance is the Euclidean distance between the results for the two languages. The actual number is not especially meaningful -- the more questions in the survey, the larger the distances are going to be. What is meaningful is the difference in the distance between Dialect A and Dialect B on the one hand and between Dialect B and Dialect C on the other. Dialects B and C are much closer (distance = 0.5) than are Dialects A and B (distance = 4.7) or Dialects A and C (4.2).

As more people from around take the survey, we will be able to:

  • more accurately measure distances
  • add more dialects (Welsh English, Ebonics, etc.)
  • map more fine-grained differences (Newfoundland vs. Texas)
  • look at Englishes in non-traditional English-speaking countries (Netherlands, Mexico, Russia, etc.)
  • This work has been possible thanks to:

    and liberal reuse of the code at the stupendous LanguageNetwork by

    Participate in the Grammar Quiz More Quizzes