Hypercorrection, social networks and lexical diffusion. Indicators of linguistic change in progress

Seminar Paper, 2004

8 Pages, Grade: 2,1


List of Contents

I. Introduction

II. Main Part
a) Hypercorrection
b) Social networks
c) Lexical diffusion

III. Conclusion

IV. Works cited

V. Bibliography

I. Introduction

“English is changing today and […] you can watch the changes happening around you” (Bauer 1). Languages have never been and will never be invariable facts. Instead, they are subject to natural changes. People are normally unconscious of the linguistic factors that lead to a change and have no control over them. These changes never happen suddenly or randomly without the possibility of tracing their origin, or, at least assessing what might have been their trigger.

The leading question in this essay is how the linguistic phenomena of hypercorrection, social networks and lexical diffusion fit into the broader context of linguistic change in progress.

II. Main Part

a.) Hypercorrection

“The hypercorrect behaviour of the lower middle class is seen as a synchronic indicator of linguistic change in progress” (Labov 115). In order to see what Labov meant by this statement, this section will examine the principle of hypercorrection.

The term hypercorrection was first coined in a study conducted by Labov in New York.[1] He examined the use of post-vocalic [r] in five different speaking styles, based on the degree of attention a speaker pays to his or her speech. Labov’s hypothesis was that, according to the socio-economic class division, the lower social class speakers would pronounce the post-vocalic [r] less frequently across all styles than the higher social classes. This hypothesis was confirmed but in all in one aspect, where lower middle-class-informants used a higher proportion of post-vocalic [r] in the formal reading situation than the speakers in the upper-middle-class. Labov termed this crossover pattern hypercorrection, “since the lower-middle-class speakers go beyond the highest-status group in their tendency to use the forms considered correct and appropriate for formal styles” (Labov 126).

To understand the point of view that the pronunciation of post-vocalic [r] represents prestige, one has to consider the specific historical background: Inhabitants of New York City regarded the [r]-less dialect spoken in the eastern parts of New England for a long time as prestigious. According to Labov, this borrowed prestige dialect was substituted by borrowing northern-midwestern [r] pronunciation in connection with the period of World War II (Labov 136). “A growing awareness of themselves” (Aitchison 53) might have been the trigger for this language change. Yet it shows the connection of change and social awareness as higher socio-economic classes still use it more regularly than lower socio-economic classes.

A striking development in the direction of enhanced post-vocalic [r] pronunciation can be seen by examining the data according to age. “For style A (casual) [the diagram] reveals a sudden and dramatic increase (from about 10 per cent to about 40 per cent) in the pronunciation of r in the UMC age group of 39 years and younger, - which is roughly the generation who acquired their language in the years preceding and during world war II” (Dittmar 201-202).


[1] Conducted in November 1962 in New York City department stores.

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Hypercorrection, social networks and lexical diffusion. Indicators of linguistic change in progress
University of Sunderland  (English Department)
English Past and Present
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Hypercorrection, Indicators, English, Past, Present
Quote paper
Dörte Ridder (Author), 2004, Hypercorrection, social networks and lexical diffusion. Indicators of linguistic change in progress, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/69038


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