Double-diffusive convection, in which a fluid is acted upon by two fields (such as temperature and salinity) that affect the density, has been widely studied in areas as diverse as the oceans and stellar atmospheres. Assuming classical Fickian diffusion for both heat and salt, the evolution of temperature and salinity are governed by parabolic advection–diffusion equations. In reality, there are small extra terms in these equations that render the equations hyperbolic (the Maxwell–Cattaneo effect). Although these corrections are nominally small, they represent a singular perturbation and hence can lead to significant effects when the underlying differences of salinity and temperature are large. In this paper, we investigate the linear stability of a double-diffusive fluid layer and show that amending Fick's law for the temperature, or the salinity, alone can lead to new modes of oscillation and to very large changes in the preferred wavelength of oscillatory convection at onset. In particular, the salt finger regime of classical double diffusion is here replaced by Maxwell–Cattaneo oscillations when the salt concentration is very high. The more complicated case when both laws are amended is left to a future paper, now in preparation.