Linguistic Insecurity

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Linguistic insecurity is the anxiety or lack of confidence experienced by speakers and writers who believe that their use of language does not conform to the principles and practices of standard English.

The term linguistic insecurity was introduced by American linguist William Labov in the 1960s. 


"While there seems to be no lack of confidence in exporting native models of English as a foreign language, it is at the same time almost paradoxical to find among all the major anglophone nations such enormous linguistic insecurity about standards of English usage. The complaint tradition stretching back to medieval times is intense on both sides of the Atlantic (see Romaine 1991 on its manifestations in Australia). Ferguson and Heath (1981), for instance, comment on prescriptivism in the US that 'quite possibly no other nation buys so many style manuals and how-to-improve-your-language books in proportion to the population.'"
(Suzanne Romaine, "Introduction," The Cambridge History of the English Language, Vol. IV. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999)

Sources of Linguistic Insecurity

"[Linguist and cultural historian Dennis Baron] suggests that this linguistic insecurity has two sources: the notion of more or less prestigious dialects, on the one hand, and the exaggerated idea of correctness in language, on the other. . . . It might be additionally suggested that this American linguistic insecurity comes, historically, from a third source: a feeling of cultural inferiority (or insecurity), of which a special case is the belief that somehow American English is less good or proper than British English. Indeed, one can hear frequent comments made by Americans that indicate that they regard British English as a superior form of English."
(Zoltán Kövecses, American English: An Introduction. Broadview, 2000)

Linguistic Insecurity and Social Class

"A great deal of evidence shows that lower-middle-class speakers have the greatest tendency towards linguistic insecurity, and therefore tend to adopt, even in middle age, the prestige forms used by the youngest members of the highest-ranking class. This linguistic insecurity is shown by the very wide range of stylistic variation used by lower-middle-class speakers; by their great fluctuation within a given stylistic context; by their conscious striving for correctness; and by their strongly negative attitudes towards their native speech pattern."
(William Labov, Sociolinguistic Patterns. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1972)

Also Known As: schizoglossia, language complex

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Linguistic Insecurity." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Linguistic Insecurity. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Linguistic Insecurity." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).