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The Problem with Grammar

Two people talking past each other. @courtesy ImpactBnd.
Grammar is strange because we all think we know it well in our chosen language, and yet in spoken conversation we break the rules of grammar relentlessly. The weirdest part about these transgressions is that we (speaker and listener) often do not even notice.
Here at VQ Voice we transcribe lots and lots of audio content (it’s our job), and we constantly run across examples of where a user might think they say a sentence exactly as the might write it, like so:
“Yesterday morning, I hopped a flight from LAX to New York to see about an apartment.”
When what they actually say may be closer to:
“Today no no yesterday I tried to…I hopped a flight from what’s it called LAX to get to to go to New York to see an…see about an apartment.”
Technically, the second sentence is grammatical (sort of), if you count some of the weirder parts as the speaker correcting themselves (“…to get to go to New York”). In any case, not quite what the speaker would think they had said. Often times not even in the same ballpark. I can’t count the number of times we thought we had a transcription error because of a terrible sentence such as that above, only to find that our algorithms had transcribed the audio word-for-word.
In fact, the strangest thing about this is that the listener doesn’t notice it either. If you asked this listener which of these sentences had been uttered, overwhelmingly people would select the first one. Most likely, their brains auto-corrected the words in their memories, and they would literally remember hearing the first sentence. I don’t think most of us realize how strongly our brains filter the things we hear.
If you’re curious, go to vqvoice.com and make a transcription for free. Record a few minutes of you and your friends talking naturally, and let us know if you’re surprised at the results (and PLEASE leave funny examples in the comments, if you have them).
- Jack Connor