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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2022

A Usage-based Approach to Persistent Spelling Errors

From the book Cognitive Sociolinguistics Revisited

  • Dominiek Sandra


The goal of this contribution is to demonstrate that the framework of usage-based linguistics can be applied to some aspects of written language, even though its natural habitat is spoken language. More particularly, I will apply this framework to a domain that is even peripheral in written language: spelling errors. In Dutch, confusions between the spellings of verb homophones enjoy the notorious status of being the most popular among spelling errors. I will argue that the pattern behind these errors reflects some of the basic principles underpinning the theory of usage-based linguistics, especially the importance of token and type frequency. In contrast to spoken language, where social dynamics can enhance the force of frequency factors and thus lead to language change, the prescriptive nature of spelling rules prevents the social approval of frequency-driven errors. On the contrary, in this specific context, group pressure is the cause of stigmatization. The case of these spelling errors shows that usage-based linguistics need not be confined to the study of spoken language.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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