Discussion Forum (Archived)

Please consider registering
guest
Advanced Search
Forum Scope


Match



Forum Options



Minimum search word length is 3 characters – maximum search word length is 84 characters
The forums are currently locked and only available for read only access
sp_Feed Topic RSS sp_TopicIcon
“on accident” vs. “by accident”
2009/10/12
7:20pm
lux rationis
Member
Members
Forum Posts: 63
Member Since:
2009/09/12
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

While I don’t have access to the original research, I must say I am highly skeptical of the assertion that generational shift, i.e., “the language is changing,” is a likely explanation for the use of the solecism “on accident” among the young. As I understand it, the conclusion is based on the observation that in one usage inventory, “on accident” was most commonly observed in the under-ten age group, least commonly observed in the over-35 age group, and the 10-to-35-year-olds showed an intermediate incidence of using “on” as opposed to “by.” So that means that same-age English-speakers born after, say, 1995 are more likely to use “on accident” that those born before, say, 1970, right? Well…no. The assumption that generational shift is the underlying cause can only be made when comparing usage among speech populations that exhibit like stages of language development. In fact, cognitive development and language education are far more likely explanations for the observed difference, in my view.

Children under the age of ten have yet to enter the fourth and last stage of cognitive development. They really only communicate in informal register no matter what the venue of speech. From a psycholinguistic standpoint, grouping everyone from the age of ten to the age of 35 into a single affinity group makes no sense at all. It almost seems as if that age bracket was created by the researcher to promote a presupposed conclusion of generational shift. There is a lot of language development in the first half of that age bracket and very little in the second. Adolescent language users are being educated in the use of formal register which is much more highly codified than informal speech. During this period, they come to recognize that some of their habitual language patterns are nonstandard and they learn to adopt the grammar and conventions that formal register requires. Eventually they will learn to code-switch and will continue to use nonstandard utterances when informal register is acceptable. But during this critical development period there is also a lot of global modification of language patterns: modifications that have to be made for the sake of learning formal register often transfer, consciously or otherwise, to informal register as well and hence become permanent changes in habitual usage. So the Occam’s razor explanation for the prevalence of “on accident” is simply youthful naïveté…it’s essentially a pattern error and one likely to be erased by education. We’ll know whether or not there’s any generational shift in acceptability of “on accident” in another 20 years or so.

2009/10/13
11:04am
fogarchitect
Connecticut
New Member
Members
Forum Posts: 1
Member Since:
2009/10/12
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

I was less interested in the quality of the research than the hosts’ attitude: they seemed to say, “Well, it’s a fact that this change is taking place…there’s no right or wrong here…get used to it.” As someone who routinely reads university students’ essays, and who has noticed that all understanding of prepostitions seems to have disappeared, I thought it worth pointing out that there is something in the suggested paralleling of “on accident” with “on purpose” as an explanation of the noticed change. “X (the event in question) was done on purpose” properly opposes “X happened by accident”. The use of “on” carries with it the idea of control by a subject–X was brought about by the subject’s purpose or intention (something “internal” to the subject). We say “X happened by accident” to express the notion that something “external” brought about X; that is, the origin of the event is “outside” any subject. To connect the accidental nature of X’s generation with “on” invites the idea that there is less difference between subject action and externally generated events; that is, human action and mere causal events are of the same type. The “on/by” distinction denies this. This could be a subtle recognition of the feeling that individual responsibility is less clear…that what happens–what started with me as actor–really was not my fault or responsibility (it was someone/something else’s fault).

While talking with students I have been made very aware of how difficult it is to talk about prepositions (and what I have written above struggles with getting you to see what is there to be seen). This parallels other changes in language (what brings this about is a book-length enterprise), for example, the demise of the “may/can” (permission/ability) distinction. That one has to do with promoting the idea that what one can do (is able to) is that which one may do (is permitted). To express both notions by “can” invites this blurring. There just might be more to these shifts in language than the program discussion suggested.

2009/10/13
11:45am
lux rationis
Member
Members
Forum Posts: 63
Member Since:
2009/09/12
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

This all leads to one of the most fundamental dichotomies in linguistics: prescriptivism vs. descriptivism. Education is, by its very nature, prescriptive. The aim is to develop pragmatic competence and artistic form in the use of language (primarily formal register). That requires the diagnosis of defective usage and a prescription for correction. Social linguists, on the other hand, tend to view language as an evolving organism that yields to selective pressure in the speech communities that use it. For them, usage is not something to be controlled but simply something to be described with an air of regulatory detachment. This view is perhaps particularly prominent in the case of English, which lacks any widely-recognized body to serve the function of, say, the Real Academia Española or the Académie Française in making authoritative prescriptions.

2009/10/21
10:10am
Avatar
Grant Barrett
San Diego, California
Admin
Forum Posts: 1532
Member Since:
2007/08/02
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

I don’t have access to the original research

I think you should have stopped there. You might have avoided this ignorant comment: “It’s essentially a pattern error and one likely to be erased by education.”

2011/05/18
8:49am
heartshinegirl
Southern California
New Member
Members
Forum Posts: 1
Member Since:
2011/05/18
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

lux rationis said:

While I don’t have access to the original research, I must say I am highly skeptical of the assertion that generational shift, i.e., “the language is changing,” is a likely explanation for the use of the solecism “on accident” among the young. As I understand it, the conclusion is based on the observation that in one usage inventory, “on accident” was most commonly observed in the under-ten age group, least commonly observed in the over-35 age group, and the 10-to-35-year-olds showed an intermediate incidence of using “on” as opposed to “by.” So that means that same-age English-speakers born after, say, 1995 are more likely to use “on accident” that those born before, say, 1970, right? Well…no. The assumption that generational shift is the underlying cause can only be made when comparing usage among speech populations that exhibit like stages of language development. In fact, cognitive development and language education are far more likely explanations for the observed difference, in my view.
Children under the age of ten have yet to enter the fourth and last stage of cognitive development. They really only communicate in informal register no matter what the venue of speech. From a psycholinguistic standpoint, grouping everyone from the age of ten to the age of 35 into a single affinity group makes no sense at all. It almost seems as if that age bracket was created by the researcher to promote a presupposed conclusion of generational shift. There is a lot of language development in the first half of that age bracket and very little in the second. Adolescent language users are being educated in the use of formal register which is much more highly codified than informal speech. During this period, they come to recognize that some of their habitual language patterns are nonstandard and they learn to adopt the grammar and conventions that formal register requires. Eventually they will learn to code-switch and will continue to use nonstandard utterances when informal register is acceptable. But during this critical development period there is also a lot of global modification of language patterns: modifications that have to be made for the sake of learning formal register often transfer, consciously or otherwise, to informal register as well and hence become permanent changes in habitual usage. So the Occam’s razor explanation for the prevalence of “on accident” is simply youthful naïveté…it’s essentially a pattern error and one likely to be erased by education. We’ll know whether or not there’s any generational shift in acceptability of “on accident” in another 20 years or so.


First of all, how old is that research? A large number of the people I know in my age group (40’s) have been using the combination “on accident” for quite some time. So, although this was noted as being used in the younger group, when exactly did they test this younger group? Could it be that this younger group is now in their 40’s? You said that they would grow out of it, however since many of the people I know say this “on accident” which I realize is incorrect does that mean that we are all still going to grow out of a habit of speaking just because we know the truth of what is correct? I personally realize there are a lot of things we say that are incorrect but they become the normal way of speaking for people when everyone around them speaks that way too. For example, my children are now saying the words “Lawl” or “LOL” when they think something is funny rather than laughing. LOL stands for Laughs Out Loud (internet slang) and now is making its way into everyday speech.

2011/05/26
9:25am
adventure
Member
Members
Forum Posts: 15
Member Since:
2010/03/09
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

I’m 26, and I have a few friends who say “on accident,” but most say “by accident.”

I figure it’s:

  • +Just another example of how prepositions can often get to being superfluous. Inflected languages got sooome economy of words. We don’t need no stinking prepositions (somewhat).
  • +One of those words that people make sure not an error on, lest you give yourself away as one of the uninitiated profane. The non-erudite. The classless. Like how in archaeology, you had better say “potsherds” instead of “pot shards.” Otherwise you’ll never get over the crippling burden of shame and be forced to live your life as an underdwelling chud.

    lol

2014/11/23
9:00am
TragedyoftheMoon
New Member
Members
Forum Posts: 1
Member Since:
2014/11/23
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

      My husband and I had this conversation not so long ago, and we have decided that it is an interesting case of dialect differences.

      He is from England (Greater London-area) and consistently uses “by accident”. I am from South Texas and I use “by accident” and “on accident” interchangeably. We are both in our early 30s.

      One day, he made a comment about how odd it sounds when I or someone else uses “on accident”, and it gave me pause. After thinking about it, I asked him what he said when someone did something purposefully, and his answer was “on purpose”. I then speculated that people who use “on accident” are trying to be grammatically consistent by using the preposition “on” that they have learned goes along with “on purpose”.

      It would be interesting to see where “on purpose” and “by purpose” are predominantly used.

 

      @adventure, I think usage based on class is pretty interesting and sounds like it would probably follow usage on a regional basis.

2014/11/23
10:01am
Avatar
deaconB
Member
Members
Forum Posts: 744
Member Since:
2013/10/18
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Both by accident and on accident can be correct.  A serious car accident may happen by accident when a deer jumps out in front of the vehicle.  The airbag is supposed to deploy, OnStar is supposed to call, and an ambulance is supposed to respond on accident.

Given that star (asterisk) is the DOS and Unix wildcard, I’ve wondered if the OnStar service mark was intended to convey the idea of “upon anything at all”.

It’s incorrect to use on accident to the accident was the byproduct of another event, and by accident to indicate something that happened upon the occurrence of the accident.

2014/11/23
9:31pm
Avatar
Robert
Member
Members
Forum Posts: 553
Member Since:
2011/10/03
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

deaconB, your example, ‘…ambulance…to respond on…,‘  is using accident with a completely different meaning, that of an event of misfortune.    With that sense, there is no limit to what prepositions will work:

Contingency for accident.

Reaction time at accident.

Plan for coping with accident.

Precaution against accident.

Little Mikie smells of accident.

As for the other sense, that of the adverbial phrase often same as  of chance,  ‘by accident‘  is still the only correct option.  That’s my view.

Forum Timezone: America/Los_Angeles
Most Users Ever Online: 1147
Currently Online:
Guest(s) 40
Currently Browsing this Page:
1 Guest(s)
Top Posters:
Member Stats:
Guest Posters: 618
Members: 2774
Moderators: 1
Admins: 2
Forum Stats:
Groups: 1
Forums: 1
Topics: 3647
Posts: 18912
Newest Members:
chat Emily and Amber www.ekui2021.sitew.org
Moderators: Grant Barrett: 1532
Administrators: Martha Barnette: 820, Grant Barrett: 1532