Breaking Down the Meaning of Solecism

Meaning of Solecims
Solecism: A deviation in syntax formation!

Solecism is a term for deviation against the standard syntaxOpens in new window formation in grammar.

In ancient grammatical doctrine of vitia — that is, errors in language. The best articulated definitions of errors in grammar are sub-divided into binary distinctions; barbarism and Solecism.

While BarbarismOpens in new window is a mistake of pronunciation that arises in a word. Solecism is a mistake in the syntactical arrangement of words in a sentence. In other words, the error in a single word is referred to as barbarism, while one in multiple words is called solecism.

In the attempt to divide grammatical errors into barbarism and solecism by grammarians; particularly in caring about exactly where the line is drawn demonstrate an interest in the problem of linguistic levels.

At one level, there is a small set of speech sounds that combine into larger units. At a higher level, a large number of words, together with inflectional morphemesOpens in new window, combine according to an entirely different set of rules. This notion corresponds, at least in part, to an awareness of what HockettOpens in new window called duality of patterningOpens in new window.

Errors at each level are distinct, as they involve the violation of different sets of norms. In the case of barbarism, one produces a sequence of phonemesOpens in new window that doesn’t occur in the lexiconOpens in new window; in the case of solecism, one combines the building blocks of the sentence (stems and inflectional morphs) in violation of morphosyntacticOpens in new window regularities.

Division of Grammatical Errors

The binary division is widespread but some grammarians place a third error alongside barbarism and solecism: which is acyrologiaOpens in new window. This brings about three types of linguistic error: barbarism, solecism and acyrologia. The latter denotes the use of a word with the wrong semantic value.

Examples of Grammatical Errors
1.  Wrong Grammatical Case
Solecism Syntax
  • This is just between you and I
Normal Syntax
  • This is just between you and me

Comment: use hypercorrection to avoid the correct “you and me” form in the predicate of copulative sentences, even though “me” is the standard pronoun for the object of a preposition or the object of a verb.

Solecism Syntax
  • Whom shall I say is calling?
Normal Syntax
  • Who shall I say is calling?

Comment: hypercorrection resulting from the perception that “whom” is a formal version of “who” or that the pronoun is functioning as an object when, in fact, it is a subject [though One would say, “shall I say who is calling?]. The leading pronoun only could be an object if “say” were used transitively and the sentence were structured thus: “Whom shall I say to be calling?”

2.  Double Subject
Solecism Syntax
  • The woman, she is here
Normal Syntax
  • The woman is here or She is here

Comment: nonstandard usage with the double subject “she”.

3.  Double Negative
Solecism Syntax
  • She can’t hardly sleep
Normal Syntax
  • She can hardly sleep

Comment: a double negative, as both “can’t” and “hardly” have a negative meaning.

4.  Double Copula (Linking verb)
Solecism Syntax
  • The issue is, is his attitude is poor
Normal Syntax
  • The issue is his attitude is poor.
5.  Wrong Copula
Solecism Syntax
  • The reason being
Normal Syntax
  • The reason is

Comment: This usage is grammatically correct – if, perhaps, stylistically inelegant – in a subordinate clause with an adverbial function, e.g. The engineer stopped the train, the reason being a report of track failure ahead. However, it is a solecism in other grammatical contexts because ‘being’ is a participle, and thus cannot form a complete sentence as a full verb can.

6.  Improper Empty Complementizer
Solecism Syntax
  • The issues is his attitude is poor
Normal Syntax
  • The issue is that his attitude is poor.

Comment: The copula does not allow an empty complementizer. “The issue is his poor attitude” (without a complementizer phrase) and “They said his attitude is poor”. (a sentence allowing an empty complementizer) would not require this.

Further Readings:
Malcolm D. Hyman — Brown University; Harvard University: One-Word Solecisms & The Limits Of Syntax Opens in new window
Wikipedia: Solecism Opens in new window