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In linguistics or usage, hypercorrection is a non-standard usage that results from the over-application of a perceived rule of grammar or a usage prescription. A speaker or writer who produces a hypercorrection generally believes that the form is correct through misunderstanding of these rules, often combined with a desire to seem formal or educated.
Linguistic hypercorrection occurs when a real or imagined grammatical rule is applied in an inappropriate context, so that an attempt to be "correct" leads to an incorrect result.
Hypercorrection is sometimes found among speakers of less prestigious language varieties who produce forms associated with high-prestige varieties, even in situations where speakers of those varieties would not. Some commentators call such production hyperurbanism.
Studies in sociolinguistics and applied linguistics have noted the over-application of rules of phonology, syntax, or morphology, resulting either from different rules in varieties of the same language or second language learning.
Sociolinguists often note hypercorrection in terms of pronunciation (phonology). For example, William Labov noted that all of the English speakers he studied in New York city in the 1960s tended to pronounce words such as hard as rhotic (that is, // rather than *//) more often when speaking carefully. Furthermore, middle class speakers had more rhotic pronunciation than working class speakers did. However, lower-middle class speakers had more rhotic pronunciation than upper-middle class speakers. Labov suggested that these lower-middle class speakers were attempting to emulate the pronunciation of upper-middle class speakers, but were actually over-producing the very noticeable R-sound.
Hypercorrection can also occur when learners of a second or foreign language try to avoid applying grammatical rules from their native language to the new language (a situation known as language transfer). The effect can occur, for example, when a student of a new language has learned that certain sounds of his or her original language must usually be replaced by another in the studied language, but has not learned when not to replace them.
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Hypercorrection is not peculiar to English. It can occur wherever multiple languages or language varieties are in contact.
English has no authoritative body governing "correct" usage, unlike some other languages, such as French (Académie française), Italian (Accademia della Crusca), Icelandic (Íslensk málstöð), and Spanish (Real Academia Española). Nonetheless, within groups of users of English, certain usages are considered unduly elaborate adherences to "formal" rules.
Such speech or writing is sometimes called hyperurbanism, defined by Kingsley Amis as an "indulged desire to be posher than posh".
Preposition at the end of a clause
That an English clause should not end with a preposition – that a preposition should not be "stranded" – was a "rule" long propounded by prescriptivist grammarians. It was routinely shown up as a fiction not only in conversation but also in literature; it appears to have been invented in 1672 by John Dryden and uncritically repeated thereafter.
Winston Churchill is often attributed with some variant of the phrase, "this is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put", in response to a hypercorrective memo. However, it is probably apocryphal, as The Churchill Centre describes the attribution as "an invented phrase put in Churchill's mouth." The remark is a parody: the writer went beyond grammatical correctness to mock the refusal to end a clause in a preposition; he treated not only with but also up as a preposition, an analysis accepted by linguists in the 21st century but not accepted in the 1940s. Both up and with would at that time have been considered part of the "phrasal verb" put up with; whether they are adverbs/particles or prepositions, their placement before the verb "does not demonstrate the absurdity of using [prepositional phrase] fronting instead of stranding; it merely illustrates the ungrammaticality resulting from fronting something that is not a constituent."
Jack Lynch, assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, claims that correction of "me and you" to "you and I" as subject leads people to "internalize the rule that 'you and I' is somehow more proper, and they end up using it in places where they shouldn't – such as 'he gave it to you and I' when it should be 'he gave it to you and me.'"
On the other hand, the linguists Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum claim that utterances such as "They invited Sandy and I" are "heard constantly in the conversation of people whose status as speakers of Standard English is clear"; and that "Those who condemn it simply assume that the case of a pronoun in a coordination must be the same as when it stands alone. Actual usage is in conflict with this assumption."
A controversial rule in English recommends favoring "that" over "which" in restrictive relative clauses. A hypercorrection may result when a spell checker suggests the addition of a comma before "which" in a restrictive relative clause. This addition changes the meaning from restrictive to non-restrictive.[better source needed]
In English, "nor" has the meaning of "and not", and follows "not" or "neither" in sentences such as:
- Neither the landlord nor the tenant was present.
- It is not helpful to explain too fully, nor should one use vocabulary too sophisticated for the audience.
This is sometimes generalised into a rule that "or" following a negative expression should always be corrected to "nor", leading to hypercorrect usages such as:
- Neither the landlord nor the tenant was present nor represented.
- It is not helpful to explain too fully nor to use vocabulary too sophisticated for the audience.
Some British accents, such as Cockney, drop the initial "h" from words, e.g. have becomes 'ave. A hypercorrection associated with this is H-adding, adding an "h" to a word which would not normally have an initial "h". An example of this can be found in the speech of the character Parker in Thunderbirds, e.g. "We'll 'ave the h'aristocrats 'ere soon" (from the episode "Vault of Death"). Parker's speech was based on a real person the creators encountered at a restaurant in Cookham.
In Cantonese, some speakers omit the initial [ŋ]. For instance, the character 牙 (Jyutping: ngaa4, meaning "tooth"), ends up being pronounced "aa4." Prescriptivists tend to consider these changes as substandard and denounce them for being "lazy sounds" (Chinese: 懶音; Jyutping: laan5 jam1). However, in a case of hypercorrection, some speakers have started pronouncing words that should have a null initial using an initial [ŋ], even though according to historical Chinese phonology, only words with light tones (which correspond to tones 4, 5, and 6 in Jyutping) had voiced initials (which includes [ŋ]).
Idiomatically, some words such as 溝 (gau1, communication) has evolved to the sound kau1 to avoid embarrassment because gau1 can mean penis in Cantonese, but some speakers insist on using the 'correct pronunciation' and it may cause ridicule. Words with dark tones (1, 2, and 3 in Jyutping) historically should have unvoiced or null initials. Because of this hypercorrection, words such as 愛 (Jyutping: oi3, meaning "love"), which has a dark tone, are pronounced by speakers with an [ŋ] initial, "ngoi3."
Speakers of some accents of Mandarin, particularly in the south of China and in Taiwan, pronounce the retroflex initials [tʂ], [tʂʰ] and [ʂ] as the alveolar initials [ts], [tsʰ], and [s]. Such speakers may hypercorrect by pronouncing words that should start with [ts], [tsʰ] and [s] as if they started with their retroflex counterparts.
In Taiwan, under the influence of Taiwanese (Min Nan), many people pronounce the initial [f] as [x], and often hypercorrect by pronouncing the initial [x] as [f]. This is also noticeable in the Hakka population, where many words that begin in [x] in Mandarin and Taiwanese begin in [f] in Hakka. (Examples: 火, 花)
Erhua hypercorrection may occur among non-native speakers of rhotic Chinese.
In standard Bulgarian and in the eastern dialects, the old yat letter is pronounced as я ("ya") when stressed and the following syllable does not contain the vowels и ("i") or е ("e"), and pronounced as е in all other cases. But in the western dialects it is always pronounced as е. Attempting to speak the standard Bulgarian dialect, some speakers from Western Bulgaria mispronounce many words containing the yat letter – голями ("golyami"), желязни ("zhelyazni"), бяли ("byali"), видяли ("vidyali"), спряни ("spryani"), живяли ("zhivyali") instead of големи ("golemi"), железни ("zhelezni"), бели ("beli"), видели ("videli"), спрени ("spreni"), живели ("zhiveli"). This trend is especially common with past participles such as видяли.
Russian speakers sometimes palatalize consonants in loanwords that had never been palatized (as [mɐˈdʲern] instead of [mɐˈdɛrn] for модерн) under the influence of the spelling. Russian has five so-called hard vowels (а, э, ы, у, о), which follow hard or unpalatized consonants, each with a corresponding soft vowel (я, е, и, ю, ё respectively), which follow soft or palatized consonants. However, the hard vowel э has orthographic limits allowing it to be written only at the beginning of a word or after a vowel (as in the Cyrillic spelling of Aeroflot). So in many loanwords, the soft vowel e is written but read as if it was э.
The syllables je and ije appear in the western standard of Serbo-Croatian (spoken in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and south-western parts of Serbia) where the eastern standard (spoken in most of Serbia) has only variation in quantity (length of the vowel) of e. Not every eastern standard e becomes je or ije like in the western. Eastern standard speakers may hypercorrect their dialect by either undersupplying or oversupplying the jes and the ijes.
Düsseldorf dialect versus Standard German
In German, the dialect spoken in the city of Düsseldorf and its surroundings heavily features the front 'ch' sound (aka the "ich sound", [ç]) where standard German calls for the 'sch' [ʃ] sound. Speakers with this accent would say 'Fich' [fɪç] instead of 'Fisch' [fɪʃ] (fish), and 'Tich' [tɪç] instead of 'Tisch' [tɪʃ] (table). This is due to a hypercorrection of the Rhineland accent prevalent in that area of Germany, an accent that often replaces the front 'ch' [ç] sound with the 'sch' [ʃ] sound. Attempting to avoid this error, speakers of the Düsseldorf accent hypercorrect it to an abundance of 'ch' [ç].
Genitive versus dative
Another example is use of the genitive case where the dative case is required. Colloquially, the genitive is often dropped in favor of the dative even if correct grammatical usage demands the genitive. Because language critics deride such substitution, some German speakers use the genitive even with prepositions that actually demand the dative (e.g., entgegen, gegenüber), seemingly under the false impression that the genitive is always right and the dative is always wrong, or at least that the genitive is a better form than the dative.
V / W
The German letter W is pronounced the same as the English letter V (i) [ v ] and the English W sound (i) [ w ] does not exist in German, causing some Germans to hypercorrect Vs in English and say wodka (vodka), willage (village) or wery (very).
The same phenomenon occurs with speakers of the Nordic languages, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian.
The French terms "entrecôte" and "pommes frites" are frequently pronounced without the final "t"-sound. (/antrɛkʰoː/ or /aŋtrɛkʰoː/ and /pʰom.friː/ or /pʰom.fri/).
As the /w/-sound does not exist in Norwegian, and the letter W is pronounced /v/, Norwegians speaking English may often hypercorrect by pronouncing both V and W as /w/.
An example of a hypercorrection in Swedish is the spelling "åtminstonde" for standard Swedish åtminstone ("at least"), where the pleonastic "d" can be explained as a hypercorrection among speakers who normally reduce the complex "-nd" to /nː/.
Dutch versus West-Flemish
The local dialects of the West-Flanders region do not use the Dutch "ch" /x/ (Northern Dutch pronunciation) or /ç/ (Southern Dutch pronunciation). Instead they pronounce both 'g' and 'ch' as a soft 'h', whereas the Standard Dutch way to pronounce it would respectively in /ç/ and /ʝ/ in Southern Dutch or both /x/ in Northern Dutch. For example, a West-Fleming would pronounce the phrase 'een gouden hart' (a golden heart) as 'een Houden hart'. Some older people, who grew up speaking nothing but their dialect, are unaware that there is a difference between 'g', 'ch' and 'h' altogether and trying to 'mimic' Dutch, they often overcompensate and pronounce every word they would normally pronounce with a 'h'-sound as a 'g'. This includes words actually pronounced 'h'. In the example above, they would go overboard and pronounce the phrase 'een gouden hart' as 'een gouden Gart'.
In a continuing folk tale an unspecified pastor of some unspecified West Flemish church wants to impress his flock by celebrating mass in flawless 'civilized' AN Dutch. His 'civilized' Dutch consists of pronouncing a 'ch' and 'g' as the Northern Dutch /x/ (instead of the 'h' as West-Flemish dialect does). However to be absolutely sure, he also starts pronouncing the 'h' as /x/ even though he should keep pronouncing it as a 'h'. The effects are hilarious: Instead of praying for "De hele kerk" (the whole church) he ends up praying for "de gele kerk" (the yellow church) and the holy virgin ("de heilige maagd") becomes "de geilige maagd" (The virgin in heat). Finally, he ends his sermon in asking what should be "de goede hulp van de Heer" (the good help of the Lord). Instead he asks for "de goede gulp van de geer" (the good trouser opening of the manure).
In the Middle Ages, the spelling of Latin was simplified in various respects: for example, æ and oe became e, and ch became c. Occasionally these changes were reversed, and e and c were sometimes expanded to æ (or oe) and ch, even when such spelling contradicted Classical Latin. For example, caelum was contracted to celum and re-expanded to coelum. These spellings are often preserved in English derivatives, including et cætera and et coetera (occasionally found as variants for et cetera); foetus (originally fetus); lachrymose, from lachryma (a false Hellenisation, originally lacrima, "a tear"); and schedule, from schedula (originally scedula).
Hebrew and Yiddish
Careful Hebrew speakers are taught to avoid the colloquial pronunciation of בדיוק (bediyyuq, "exactly") as [biˑ.ˈdjuk]. Many speakers accordingly pronounce להיות (lihyot, "to be") as if it were spelled "lehiyyot" ([lɛˑ.hiˑ.ˈjot]), but there is no grammatical justification for doing so.
The vowel qamatz gadol, which in the accepted Sephardic pronunciation is rendered as /aː/, becomes /ɔ/ in Ashkenazi Hebrew (and therefore in Yiddish). On the other hand, the vowel qamatz qatan, which is visually indistinguishable from qamatz gadol, is rendered as /o/ in both pronunciations. This leads to hypercorrections in both directions.
- The consistent pronunciation of all forms of qamatz as /a/, disregarding qatan and hataf forms, could be seen as a hypercorrection when Hebrew speakers of Ashkenazic origin attempt to pronounce Sephardic Hebrew (e.g. צָהֳרָיִם, "midday" as "tzaharayim", rather than "tzohorayim" as in standard Israeli pronunciation; the traditional Sephardi pronunciation is "tzahorayim"). This may, however, be an example of oversimplification rather than of hypercorrection.
- Conversely, many older British Jews consider it more colloquial and "down-home" to say "Shobbes", "cholla" and "motza", though the vowel in these words is in fact a patach, which is rendered as /a/ in both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Hebrew. It should be noted, however, that the original Ashkenazi shift from /a/ to /o/ is most likely to have been as a result of the very same shift occurring in Yiddish from its High German offshoot. This shift affected Yiddish pronunciation of words not only of Germanic but also of Hebrew origin. It did not discriminate between "patach" and "kamatz". Rather, the /o/ sound tended to replace the /a/ consistently, such that a pronunciation such as "cholla" would by no means be inconsistent with original Yiddish pronunciation. This shift extended into Yiddish (Ashkenazi) speakers' pronunciation of Hebrew with the distinction between patach and kamatz in this pronunciation developing as a retrosepctive rationalisation.
Other hypercorrections occur when speakers of Israeli (based on Sephardic) Hebrew attempt to pronounce Ashkenazi Hebrew, for example for religious purposes. The month of Shevat (שבט) is mistakenly pronounced "Shvas", as if it were spelled *שְׁבַת. In an attempt to imitate Polish and Lithuanian dialects, qamatz (both gadol and qatan), which would normally be pronounced [ɔ], is hypercorrected to the pronunciation of holam, [ɔj], rendering גדול ("large") as goydl and ברוך ("blessed") as boyrukh.
In some Spanish dialects, intervocalic /d/ ([ð]) is dropped, such as in pescado (fish), which would typically be pronounced [pesˈkaðo] but can be manifested as [pesˈkao] dialectically. Speakers sensitive to this variation may insert a /d/ intervocalically into a word without such a consonant, such as in the case of bacalao (cod), correctly pronounced [bakaˈlao] but occasionally hypercorrected to [bakaˈlaðo].
The same holds true for speakers from areas that do not pronounce the letter "z" or soft "c" with the "th" sound (or "theta") who find themselves in parts of Spain that do use it, they might hypercorrect some words which contain the letter "s", as if it were also a "th". Also, in some Spanish dialects, especially in the Caribbean, the "s" sound and others are almost dropped from the end of words, and some speakers from these areas may have a tendency to add an "s" sound, even to words that never had it.
In Hungarian the suffix -ban/ben indicates location, such as "házban" (in the house), while -ba/be indicates direction, such as "házba" (in(to) the house). Speakers of some regional dialects or rural speakers often use the latter, shorter forms for both cases: "a házba vagyok" (incorrect: I'm in(to) the house). This mistake is often perceived as lower quality or uneducated speech. To avoid this perception, some people make the opposite mistake, using the first form everywhere, such as in the incorrect sentence "a házban megyek" (I go in the house). This effect can be observed most often in public speeches of politicians, religious figures, etc.
A similar mistake affects old intransitive verbs, which in old Hungarian had a distinct system of conjugation (the so-called "ikes" conjugation, referring to the "-ik" suffix in third-person singular). Among others, this system requires the use of a suffix "-m" instead of "-k" in first person (e.g. "eszem" instead of "*eszek", for "I eat"). This conjugation is now only preserved in parts, most of which are rapidly fading out of use. However, due to prescriptivist pressure, some Hungarian speakers incorrectly use -m suffixes on all verbs ending in "-ik", not just old intransitive ones (e.g. "*kapaszkodom" instead of "kapaszkodok", for "I hold on"). The "-ik" suffix is also sometimes mistakenly applied to verbs that normally do not end in it, causing the verb robban "to explode" to turn into *robbanik.
Standard Portuguese distinguishes the pronunciation of v from b, but speakers hailing from northern Portugal will pronounce both as b. So, when talking to a speaker from the south of the country (especially from Lisbon), the northerner will tend to hypercorrect himself by totally shifting his pronunciation from all b sounds to all v sounds.
The following invented example illustrates the phenomenon.
- Standard Portuguese: Em novembro, vou enviar esta embalagem para Lisboa.
- (Come November, I will send this package to Lisbon.)
- Hypercorrect: Em novemvro, vou enviar esta emvalagem para Lisvoa.
In spoken Brazilian Portuguese, many diphthongs have been transformed into monophthongs by the dropping of the weaker vowel, which nonetheless has not been dropped in written language. In some formal situations (such as when reading out from a text), speakers may pronounce that weaker vowel, transforming the monophthong back into a diphthong. Hypercorrection occurs when a speaker attempting to sound formal transforms a monophthong into a diphthong when it has always been a monophthong, even in written language. For example, the word beira is informally pronounced as bera, with the I being pronounced in a formal situation. By hypercorrection, a speaker may in turn pronounce pera as if it were spelled 'peira'.
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- Sociolinguistic Patterns, William Labov, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972, p 126
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- Interlanguage Phonology Sources of L2 Pronunciation "Errors", by Michael Carey
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- "Famous Quotations and Stories". The Churchill Centre. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
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- Geoffrey K. Pullum (8 December 2004). "A Churchill story up with which I will no longer put". Language Log. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
- "March 11, 2004 – Hypercorrection", www.voanews.com, 12 March 2004.
- Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005; ISBN 0-521-61288-8), 107.
- Pullum, Geoffrey K. (22 October 2011). "Check all boxes". Language Log. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
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- Labov, William. 1966. "Hypercorrection by the Lower Middle Class as a Factor in Linguistic Change". In Sociolinguistics: Proceedings of the UCLA Sociolinguistics Conference, 1964. William Bright, ed. Pp. 84–113. The Hague: Mouton.
- Joshua Blau, On Pseudo-Corrections in Some Semitic Languages. Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 1970.