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Orthoepic Shibboleths (*good-paying and *electóral)

With the growth of literacy and the spread of mass communications has come the dominance of linguistic standards all over the world. This is true of English as well as the languages of the rest of the first world. However, even among native speakers of the standard in any country there will always be the incidence of variation, specifically as regards older or traditional norms being superseded by innovations that contravene the latter, even among educated speakers.

Two vivid contemporary examples of this trend in Standard American English are the rise of the compound adjective *good-paying (instead of the correct well-paying) and the simple adjective *electóral (instead of the correct eléctoral), both of which were heard as uttered today on the National Public Radio program “Morning Edition Saturday” by a female college professor of sociology.

When linguistic errors become frequent enough to be part of an ongoing language change, they can be regarded as orthoepic shibboleths, as signs of the speaker’s cultural level (and typically of their chronological age). As with all such phenomena, contraventions of the linguistic norm always fall into the category of signs of human behavior that serve as criteria by which we judge each other and are, therefore, material to how societies work.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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