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What is an Escher Sentence?

Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch graphic artist who is known for his hyper-realistic artwork that often portrays a bizarre optical illusion. His work influenced many artists. But did you know he also influenced the world of semantics?

Escher sentences are sentences that sound and look grammatically correct, but when you take a closer look, there is no well-defined context. This is also called comparative illusions.

What is the Escher Sentence?

The Escher Sentence, also known as a comparative illusion, is defined in semantics as comparative sentences that are acceptable on the first look. Still, upon close observation, there seems to be no well thought meaning. This has been an exciting subject in linguistics for years, though it still lacks a thorough exploration. (Source: Deep Blue)

Why are Escher Sentences Ungrammatical?

The term; ungrammatical simply means grammatically incorrect. It does not conform to the principles of accepted usage. Ungrammatical sentences may be accepted by native speakers, although it is technically incorrect. These kinds of sentences are not a matter of degree but understandability and acceptability of the readers.

In the sentence More people have been to Russia than I have, may be acceptable, but what makes it incoherent is the use of plural subject on the first clause and singular on the second clause. To make sense of this sentence, the second clause must be in plural form. (Source: Semantics Archive)

Although comparative illusions are professedly acceptable to native English speakers because these sentences are understandable and the gist is there, semantics still conclude that this is ungrammatical. Understanding Escher sentences make us see the importance of semantics in sentence composition. (Source: Semantics Land)

Escher Sentences Examples

Here are a few examples of Escher sentences:

  • More people have gone to different countries than I have.
  • More houses were built on that side of the village than here.
  • More people have been to Berlin than I have
  • More people have analyzed it than I have

    (Source: Radio Public)

What is the Origin of the Escher sentence?

Mark Liberman first referred to the comparative illusion as an Escher sentence compared to the lithograph of MC Escher. This Dutch graphic artist was known for his realistic approach to peculiar optical effects. (Source: Language Log)

Who was Maurits Escher?

Maurits Cornelis Escher was born in the Netherlands on June 17, 1898. At an early age, he was interested in music and carpentry. He studied at the School of Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, Netherlands, where he became interested in graphics, specifically woodcuts.

Through his illustrations, Escher portrays natural forms in bizarre conflicting perspectives. His more serious style arose in 1937 through designs showing meticulous realism with enigmatic optical illusions. He used geometric grids to form intricate interlocking designs.

One of his famous lithographs was the Ascending and Descending. The Escher sentence was derived from its illusion of being seemingly okay and acceptable until you take a careful look before identifying that something is wrong. Penrose Stairs influenced this lithograph. (Source: Britannica)

Escher has not been entirely accepted in the world of art. Mathematicians and scientists mainly admired him because of his illustrations. His entire retrospective exhibition happened on his 70th birthday in the Netherlands. He was considered the pioneer of psychedelic art by the hippy counterculture in the 1960s. (Source: The Guardian)

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