Mastering a foreign language can be difficult. There are many traps along the way. One of them is hypercorrection. The Oxford dictionary defines hypercorrection as “use of an erroneous word form or pronunciation based on a false analogy with a correct or prestigious form.” Hypercorrection occurs in all languages and it does not only concern language learners but also native speakers.
In English, for example, the use of pronouns in compound subjects like you and I consistently triggers confusion. In most languages pronouns do not pose difficulties for native speakers. However, in English – even though the rules for pronouns in compound subjects and objects do not change – one can hear sentences like: “You and me should grab coffee next week.” This may be linked to the idea that in some situations me seems to be identified as more forward and less polite than I.
If other languages are involved it becomes even trickier. English consists of many words borrowed from French. Pronouncing these the right way can be difficult. One rule which seems to be easy to remember, is that the final consonant of some borrowed French words is silent, like in Mardi Gras. However, mostly this is not the case when the final consonant is followed by a vowel like prix fixe. Consequently, this confusion can lead to hypercorrection, where the final consonant of borrowed French words is never pronounced.
Whereas hypercorrections native speakers struggle with also affect language learners, there are others which are very specific to language learners with certain first languages. German speakers who are learning English as a foreign language, for example, have difficulties with the pronunciation of the sounds [w] and [v]. The struggle with the sound [w] can easily be explained as this bilabial sound does not exist in the German language. German speakers substitute this sound with the labiodental sound [v]. When learners realize that the sound [w] is not pronounced [v], many of them start to use [w] for both [w] and [v] sounds, which is a typical hypercorrection.
Even though hypercorrection could expose us to ridicule, language learners should consider it one step on the long way to mastering a language. And native speakers – well – they should consider it a sign that there is more to a language and communication than grammar lets us believe.
Between you and me. – Hypercorrections: Are You Making These 6 Common Mistakes? (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/6-common-hypercorrections-and-how-to-avoid-them/between-you-and-i
Grzega, J. (2009, April 02). Sprachwissenschaft für den Spraachunterricht. Einige Hinweise für Englischlehrer [PDF]. KMK-format.de. Retrieved March 25, 2019, from http://www.kmk-format.de/material/Fremdsprachen/1-4-1_Umgang_mit_Fehlern.pdf
Hypercorrection | Definition of hypercorrection in English by Oxford Dictionaries. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2019, from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/hypercorrection
Written by Annemarie Menger – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg) and a student of the Master’s Program in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts at the University of Luxembourg. She holds a teacher’s degree in the form of the First German State Examination for Elementary Education, a BA in Cultural Basic Skills and an additional degree in Global Systems and Intercultural Competence from the University of Würzburg.