seb's recent post raises several interesting questions. the one that currently interests me most is: what is the definition of a speech error?
for most of the cognitive and linguistic literature on speech errors, it's something like 'an utterance that doesn't correspond to the utterance the speaker intended to produce.' people that use this definition are generally studying instances like "cattleships and bruisers" being produced when "battleships and cruisers" was intended. these are known as errors of performance. what this definition (sometimes explicitly) excludes are errors of competence. these are substitutions like "spicket" for "spigot." for most linguists, if you think that word is "spicket," intend to say it that way, and execute it properly, you haven't made an error.
or have you? clearly, for grammarians, using the word "spicket" where better-educated speakers would use "spigot" is an error. it's a violation of, as seb says, "the way things are" in the language at this point in time.
what's the disconnect here? grammarians are talking about the Language as it is recorded in dictionaries and linguists are talking about the intention a speaker has to make a particular utterance without regard to its correctness in the Language as a whole. this seems to be Saussure's parole and langue distinction in action. langue was his term for the language as a whole unified entity, whereas parole was the individual utterance spoken at a particular moment in an absolutely unique context.
the two domains are so distinct that they even have completely different ways of defining what an error is. yet it strikes me as part of the mystery of language that langue is built completely from parole. and, in turn, parole is built on langue; we each learn how to form utterances by taking in a ton of language, riddled with error though they may be.
what interests me further is this: the two constructions stand in very different relations to the speaking subject. he's sort of surrounded by langue while in control of parole. but both definitions of error have to do with the speakers' intention. what does this mean for educational policy? what does it mean for humanity? stay tuned?