Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Like Patrick, I have been pondering the goal of the thread labelled “Eggcorn criteria.” He wonders in one of the thread’s posts “whether what we’re compiling here is a list of criteria for helping newbies distinguish eggcorns from other similar things,” or whether we are compiling “a more theoretical and exhaustive description of the full range of eggcorns.”
Perhaps we should pause to consider these questions. A formal description ultimately depends on shared canons of grammatical knowledge. We share many of these canons-if we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t be hanging around this forum. But we don’t share all of our canons. David’s mention in that thread of “cognitive grammar,” for example, reminded me of reservations I have about the cognitive paradigm. Some questions I asked in that thread and in earlier threads derive from these reservations.
I’ve been thinking about another way to approach the eggcorn decision process. We could try to develop a staged phenomenology of the eggcorn event. This phenomenology would have to be from the perspective of the hearer/analyst of the eggcorn, as Patrick has noted, not from the perspective of the eggcorn’s speaker.
Below is an eight-stage process that leads a hearer/analyst from the eggcorn candidate event to the eggcorn decision. It is not, of course, the only phenomenology that could be given (phenomenologies are never unique). But it does, I hope, approximate a possible journey from the event to the conclusion. [Note: I have used brackets to associate one-word tags with the steps and substeps in case anyone wants to refer to them.]
Step 1. I hear/read, at first or second hand, an expression which has a word mispronounced/misspelled. [ANOMALY]
Step 2: I wonder for a brief moment whether the speaker/writer has made a mistake or whether I do not know the correct pronunciation/spelling. [DOUBT]
Step 3: I try to remember why I believe that the correct pronunciation/spelling is different from what I have just heard/read. [RECALL]
Step 4: I recall a sufficient reason to believe that I am right and the speaker is wrong. [AUTHORITY]
Step 5: I reinforce my certainty that the speaker is wrong by putting myself in the place of the speaker or speaker’s authority and trying to understand why the speaker/speaker’s authority would choose the alternate pronunciation/spelling. [TRANSFER]
Step 6: I find a reason for the speaker’s/speaker’s authority’s choice of sounds/spelling that depends on a meaning assigned to the substituted word. [DISCOVERY]
Step 7: I double check my hypothesis by running through some possible disconfirmations. [DISCONFIRMATIONS]
Substep 7.1: I determine that the speaker/speaker’s authority did not purposely mispronounce/misspell the word for humorous effect. [D-SERIOUSNESS]
Substep 7.2: I determine that it is plausible the speaker/speaker’s authority might be more familiar with the substituted word, as it stands in the immediate grammatical context, than with the word it was substituted for. [D-FAMILIARITY]
Substep 7.3: If the word spoken/written and its substitution have an overlap in their etymological histories, I determine that the speaker/speaker’s authority does not belong to a language community that might have preserved an older pronunciation/spelling. [D-ETYMOLOGY]
Substep 7.4: I determine, if possible, that other speakers/writers have made the same erroneous substitution for the same reasons. [D-COMMONALITY]
Step 8: I decide that the anomalous expression is an eggcorn. [EGGCORN]
I probably haven’t captured all of the relevant disconfirmations. I also feel that I have not represented well the issue of idiomatic context that we were discussing in that earlier thread.
Last edited by kem (2008-07-04 13:20:34)