March 19, 2005


orthocorrection Over on ADS-L we've been talking about some examples where a speaker starts into a standard construction and then "corrects" it by shifting to the nonstandard variant that seems more natural.

The first example was supplied by Wilson Gray on 3/16/05:

    Spoken by a black TV-show guest:

    He aks me _whose, uh, who_ car was this.

Note the nonstandard aks.  Then the speaker starts the standard possessive whose car, but restarts and downshifts to the nonstandard who car (without the overt marker 's), and then continues with the nonstandard (in subordinate clauses) inverted word order was this.

I then posted a somewhat similar example, from an interviewee on NPR's Morning Edition, 3/8/05 (talking about mercury vapor): will break up into so small a... so small of a bead that...

People with of in this degree construction tend to judge the of-less variant as fancy, bookish, old-fashioned, pretentious, etc.  (Please don't write to tell me that the of variant is just incorrect and I'm corrupting the young by even mentioning such things.  My students at Stanford mostly view my of-less variant as having a whiff of the 19th century.  I stick to it, but I'm clearly riding the wave of the past.)  So this guy found himself embarking on the (to him) stylistically inappropriate construction, and fixed things.

So, what do we call this phenomenon?  It's clearly not hypercorrection, since the move is AWAY from a more standard variant.  Nor is it really what John Baugh has called "hypocorrection", though the move is towards a less standard variant.  But in Baugh's hypocorrection, as in classic hypercorrection, the form that actually gets produced overshoots the target in some way -- someone trying to drop into AAVE, say, and coming out with I yo' man, omitting a copula where AAVE speakers just wouldn't.  There's no overshoot here; people end up right at the level they're aiming for.

Whimsically, this might be called "Baby Bear correction" ("ursacorrection" for short): not too much towards one end of the scale, not too much towards the other, but instead just right.  "Orthocorrection" is a less whimsical possibility, and it keeps up the tradition of using Greek-derived prefixes with the Latin-derived base correct(ion).

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 19, 2005 08:15 PM