## What does “Native speaker” mean, anyway?

Below is a guest post by Devin Grammon and Anna Babel.

Both linguists and non-linguists commonly use the term “native speaker” to describe someone who grew up speaking a particular language and who is fully proficient in that language. Often, we invest native speakers with authority regarding how someone should speak a language – for example, native speakers are often preferred as instructors in the second-language classroom, or sought after as linguistic informants for field methods classes or as research assistants for fieldwork or analysis of linguistic data. Indeed, the idea of being a native speaker is tied to ideas of authenticity, as in the commonly held dialectological wisdom that elderly, rural male speakers with all their teeth are the best informants. But where does the term come from, and what does it really mean?

The idea of the “native speaker” originated within the context of European nationalism and colonialism in the 19th century. It proved useful both as a way of conceptualizing and labeling a particular linguistic identity tied to a nation and to differentiate between social groups within a colonial hierarchy.1,2 The emergence of the native speaker in intellectual and public discourses linked it to notions of mother tongue, nation, and race, with first language acquisition constituting the basis of this link. By asserting their status as native speakers, Europeans justified their ownership of their national languages in the face of colonized subjects who also learned these languages but spoke them in ways that they deemed to be inferior as illegitimate offspring.

The native speaker label not only creates a conceptualization of a person as an “ideal” speaker of a language, but also moves in lockstep with the standardization and scientific study of languages as bounded linguistic objects that exist apart from speakers and contexts of language use.  Accordingly, the languages spoken by native speakers are understood to be comprised of essential lexical and grammatical features that can be objectively evaluated, separated, and codified in dictionaries and grammars. Given this essentialized understanding of languages, it appears logical that native speakers can be distinguished from non-native speakers of a language based on their linguistic knowledge and abilities. However, this expectation is challenged by the fact that all languages are social constructs; their boundaries and membership are not established on the basis of lexical and structural features, but by the ways in which people are recognized as speakers – or not.3 This means that providing a categorical definition of the native speaker according to structural criteria tied to a specific language is at best circular and at worst hopelessly flawed.

The term native speaker gained particular prominence in linguistics following the emergence of the Chomskian approach to linguistic competence in the 1960s and 1970s.4  However, the idealization of the native speaker began to be questioned within a few years, with some scholars asserting that an ideal native speaker has never existed5 and that the topic be approached instead through the lens of more precise terms like expertise, inheritance and affiliation.6 These critiques have been further elaborated within applied linguistics, where use of the term created impossible dilemmas. For example, scholars have argued that the term native speaker was coopted in the field of English language acquisition to conflate language and race – namely, white speakers are considered more authoritative than non-white speakers of English, and white or colonial national varieties are considered more legitimate than non-white national varieties.7

Cases of “near-native speakers” and “exceptional second language learners” further complicate the idea that the competence of native speakers is clearly distinguishable from that of non-native, second-language speakers. The common observation that adult language learners almost always retain an identifiable foreign accent has long been used as evidence of a critical period in second language acquisition. However, a growing body of research casts doubt on the existence of a strict neurobiological window that closes around late adolescence and impedes native-like phonological development. Numerous studies report that some non-native adult learners develop accents in their second languages that native listeners judge to be native-like, and that some of these learners are able to more accurately discriminate varieties of their non-native languages in listening tasks than native speakers in control groups8,9. This research suggests that adult learners’ experiences and motivations are more significant than age of onset in developing native-like abilities in an additional language.

Beyond second language acquisition, there are many additional examples of the complications that the term “native speaker” creates in linguistic research as well as lived personal experience. For example, people may find themselves cut off from their speech communities of origin due to emigration and no longer speak their mother tongue on a regular basis. In these cases, their dominance in a language learned later in life may affect the phonetic realization of words in their first language and lead others to perceive them as non-native speakers with a foreign accent.10 Likewise, many people experience language attrition due to stoke or neurodegenerative diseases. While these individuals may lack a high level of competence in all domains of their first language, they are rarely if ever described as non-native speakers.

The competence of adult emigrants who experience first language attrition has a parallel in the experience of many dual-culture bilinguals, or 1.5-generation immigrants, who are immersed in a new language and setting at a younger age. Their competence in their “native” language may be truncated in several domains, and they often report feeling like they speak poorly or like children.  Heritage speakers of Spanish in the U.S., for example, describe not being considered fully native speakers of Spanish due in part to their lack of formal education in the language and the low status of Spanish, particularly among racialized groups, in U.S. society.11 In such cases, the “ideal” language and the “ideal language speaker” are understood to reside somewhere else, in a discursive move that erases bi- and multilingualism as part of the reality of language use and as part of the lived reality of language speakers.12

Likewise, speakers of indigenous languages undergoing shift may find that they are compared unfavorably with idealized monolingual speakers, even if such speakers never existed.  In popular discourses, indigenous languages are considered to have been “corrupted” by contact with European and other colonial languages, but these discourses are seldom placed in the context of the fact that languages are always shaped by contact.  Because speakers may be labeled as semi-speakers or lacking in full native-like competence, their language skills are often devalued.13 As in the case of Spanish as a heritage language, an ideal speaker of an indigenous language may be framed as monolingual and as distant in time and/or space – someone from a previous generation, or from a distant geographic region, in which the contaminating effects of contact are presumed not to have occurred.

Additionally, speakers of languages or dialects that are marginalized or undergoing shift are often told that they are not “good” or good enough speakers of a language.14 This is because the languages or dialects that they speak are not recognized as legitimate varieties of language, as is often the case with creole languages15 and minoritized language varieties like African American English16,17 or Turkish German speakers.18  These stigmatizing discourses are also aimed at speakers of indigenous minority languages, as in the case of Mexican indigenous languages which are termed dialectos despite having no relationship with Spanish. The label dialecto implies that they are less than fully-formed languages. A speaker of a dialecto may feel (or be made to feel) that they cannot claim status as a legitimate language speaker.19

Ultimately, a closer examination reveals that the concept of the “native” speaker is tightly connected to discriminatory logics. Linguists and members of the public alike share a common-sense feeling for the concept of the “native speaker.”  However, it is clear that this concept is historically situated in nationalist discourses and colonial regimes of languages, nations, and peoples, and is often used to exclude or to police the boundaries of speakerhood and, ultimately, personhood. The concept of the “native speaker” draws on deep-rooted assumptions regarding who is worthy of being a speaker and which languages are worthy of being recognized as such.

References:

1Hackert, S. (2012). The emergence of the English native speaker: A chapter in nineteenth-century linguistic thought. Walter de Gruyter.

2Mufwene, S. (1994). New Englishes and criteria for naming them. World Englishes13(1), 21-31.

3Otheguy, R., García, O., & Reid, W. (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review6(3), 281-307.

4 Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax Cambridge. Multilingual Matters: MIT Press.

5Paikeday, T. M. (1985). The native speaker is dead! An informal discussion of a linguistic myth with Noam Chomsky and other linguists, philosophers, psychologists, and lexicographers. Paikeday Publishing Inc.

6Rampton, M. B. H. (1990). Displacing the ‘native speaker’: Expertise, affiliation, and inheritance. ELT Journal, 44(2), 97-101.

7Norton, B. (2013). Identity and Second Language Acquisition. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell.

8 Ioup, G., Boustagi, E., El Tigi, M., and Moselle, M. (1994). Re-examining the critical period hypothesis: A case study of successful adult SLA in a naturalistic environment. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 16, 73 – 98.

9 Moyer, A. (2013) Accent and age. Foreign Accent: The Phenomenon of Non-native Speech. Cambridge University Press.

10Major, R. (1993) Sociolinguistic factors in loss and acquisition of phonology. In K. Hyltenstam and A. Viberg (Eds.), Progression and regression in language: Sociocultural, neuropsychological and linguistic perspectives (463 – 78). Cambridge University Press.

11García, O. (2019). Decolonizing foreign, second, heritage, and first languages. In D. Macedo (Ed.), Decolonizing foreign language education: The misteaching of English and other colonial languages, 152-168. Routledge.

12Gómez Seibane, Sara (2021): “El bilingüismo desde la perspectiva social”, Blog del grupo Español en Contacto. Recuperado de: http://espanolcontacto.fe.uam.es/wordpress/el-bilinguismo-desde-la-perspectiva-social-nueva-entrada-de-blog-escrita-por-sara-gomez-seibane-parte-2/

13Boltokova, D. (2017). “Will the Real Semi-Speaker Please Stand Up?” Language Vitality, Semi-Speakers, and Problems of Enumeration in the Canadian North. Anthropologica59(1), 12-27.

14Leonard, W. Y. (2008). When is an “extinct language” not extinct. In K Kendall et al. (Eds.), Sustaining linguistic diversity: Endangered and minority languages and language varieties, 23-33. Georgetown University Press.

15DeGraff, M. (2005). Linguists' most dangerous myth: The fallacy of Creole Exceptionalism. Language in society, 34(4), 533-591.

16Rickford, R. J. (2000). Spoken soul: The story of black English. John Wiley & Sons Inc.

17Smitherman, G. (1986). Talkin and testifyin: The language of Black America (Vol. 51). Wayne State University Press.

18Kern, F. (2015). Turkish German. Language and Linguistics Compass9(5), 219-233.

19Hill, J. H., & Hill, K. C. (1986). Speaking Mexicano: Dynamics of syncretic language in central Mexico. University of Arizona Press.

Above is a guest post by Devin Grammon and Anna Babel.

1. ### Colin S McLarty said,

May 29, 2021 @ 5:37 pm

Language instruction is very important to me, and not all because of doing it.  I do not teach languages.  I try to learn them, so that I can make polite small talk with people, and talk with desk clerks, ticket vendors, and taxi drivers and restaurant workers where I go.  My actual colleagues in these places speak English.  I do not need to learn the language for them (though I enjoy doing it).  And while I would love to master fluent conversational Italian, Bulgarian, and Mandarin, those are not feasible for me any time soon.  I just want simple conversation, comprehensible to the people I meet on my own.  This makes learning from native speakers important to me, but for nothing like the reasons in the first paragraph of  this contribution.

The most glaring example is Mandarin.  A decade and more of experience tells me that when I use words (and sentence intonations) I learned from native speakers, then people understand me.  Otherwise, they very often do not.  To be fair, experience (listening to conversations in hotel lobbies) also tells me there is a tiny stream of Mandarin-as-Second-Language speakers from the US who probably could teach me as effectively as native speakers — if they do teach at all — and if they would agree to teach me only in Mandarin — anyway they do not teach at my University.

And if you think that, afterall, I could improve somewhat by listening to anyone whose tones and intonation are better than mine, then you are wrong.  "Better than mine" is no very high standard in Mandarin pronunciation, and it will not help me.  I have tried, and while I learn some this way it also reinforces a lot of my Anglophone habits that obstruct communication in China.  As a specific example, Mark Henry Rowswell has been an inspiration to me as a language learner, with better and more fluent pronunciation that I will ever have, but his pronunciation lessons do not help me.

My concern is nothing about "authority regarding how someone should speak a language."  I care what I must do so that people do understand me.  And I suppose you will agree that learning Mandarin from "elderly, rural male speakers" is a bad idea unless you are going to that specific rural community.  Overall, the theoretical, linguistic, historical, and pedagogical discussion in this post seems terrific to me.  But, especially that first paragraph, really struck me as disjoint from my concern to get native speakers as teachers.

2. ### GH said,

May 29, 2021 @ 5:55 pm

It does not seem to me that the conclusion that 'the concept of the “native” speaker is tightly connected to discriminatory logics' or 'often used to exclude or to police the boundaries of speakerhood and, ultimately, personhood' is in fact demonstrated by the body of the article.

3. ### Charlotte Stinson said,

May 29, 2021 @ 7:18 pm

Must you really infect even the topic of language learning with identity politics and cultural ressentiment?

4. ### Bathrobe said,

May 29, 2021 @ 7:36 pm

There is an element of truth in many parts of this piece. Some observations have probably occurred to anyone who thinks about language; others are straining to make a point; others are trivial. In fact, the question of "native speaker" is tightly tied to the question "What is a language?", which is a similarly vexed issue. The novelty here is the attempt to tie this into a postcolonial, poststructural discourse, with all that that entails. (Sometimes I found the deployment of this kind of vocabulary puzzling. What for instance, do they mean by "the low status of Spanish, particularly among racialized groups"? This sense of "racialized" strikes me as an in-group usage, although I might be wrong.)

Returning to the concept of a "language", the idea of a "native speaker", while not unconnected to colonialist discourse, is equally tied to the ideas of "standard national language" and "educated speaker". It's long been the case that some people who are "native speakers" are not regarded as "good speakers" of the language because they have "nonstandard" usages or are not properly "educated". This is particularly important in the teaching of foreign languages, where discrimination of one type or another is rife. You are discriminated against for not being a "native speaker"; you might also be discriminated against for speaking the "wrong" variety natively (this has been applied to varieties that vary from RP or so-called General American), or for not having a proper education. There is nothing new here.

As for the concept of finding native speaker informants for linguistic studies, I don't think this is discriminatory. After all, the choice of the toothed elderly rural speaker is probably a good one if your objective is to capture a particular dialect without too much outside influence. It will at least help provide some kind of benchmark for tracking changes and outside influences in the language of younger speakers. The idea there is no such thing as an "untainted" native speaker is something of a truism. It's common knowledge that even the Queen of England has changed her pronunciation over time. (When I was studying works by the Chinese writer Laoshe, who is famous for depicting the language of "Old Beijing", every so often my teacher would say "No, that's not the language Beijing, that's something that Laoshe picked up when he lived in Sichuan". The point being that everybody is situated somewhere in linguistic space, whether due to their experience, education, social status, attitudes, etc.)

So I'm afraid that I'm not totally convinced by this attempt to tie the concept of "native speaker" into postcolonial, poststructural discourse. The piece simply herds familiar facts into a particular worldview. If you are deep into that world-view you might experience a "Eureka!" moment: "Wow! Even the concept of a native speaker is tied to Western colonialism!" But for anyone who has thought about language much at all, there is nothing terribly new here.

5. ### Noel Hunt said,

May 29, 2021 @ 8:43 pm

It is quite appalling how the disease of 'virtue-signalling' has infiltrated every academic domain (although one might expect it to be absent from nuclear physics, cosmology and like sciences).

6. ### Victor Mair said,

May 29, 2021 @ 8:48 pm

I just read the news that Princeton's Classics Dept. has done away with the requirement for Greek and Latin, but can scarcely believe that it's true.

7. ### Jenny Chu said,

May 29, 2021 @ 9:04 pm

What about the native speaker grammaticality judgement, an important tool for linguistics? In light of the above, I think the native speaker grammaticality judgement is a valid concept but it needs to be better defined.

This was pretty much glossed over as something obvious when I was a linguistics student ("If the native speaker says it's wrong, put a * in front of the sentence!").

But I can look at a textbook for elementary Hungarian, a language I currently know nothing of, and after a half hour I will be able to tell you that certain constructions are "wrong." That's not the same thing.

So, what's special about a native speaker GJ? I think it is a very specific, emotional sense of wrongness when confronted by a malformed sentence. The proficient 2L learner knows it's wrong, but the native speaker FEELS it's wrong, in their gut. (I note that this sense of wrongness shows up some time around kindergarten – you can tell a two-year-old in a monolingual environment, "Car toy your show Daddy" and they'll probably show Daddy the toy car, but a 6-year-old will laugh and ask you why you're saying it in a funny way.)

So, is it therefore true that the native speaker / non-native speaker split is truly binary? Probably not, any more than anything else natural in this world (humans are messy). I made my definition above on an extremely fuzzy basis. I also think it's true that some people end up without native speaker competency, for one reason or another.

But it doesn't mean that it is entirely a social construct, either. In fact, I think understanding the background behind the strength/confidence of grammaticality judgements is an interesting area for further study.

8. ### Jenny Chu said,

May 29, 2021 @ 9:08 pm

Also just noting – how marvelous to have a linguist named Babel! That's right up there with the fact checker famously named Paige Worthy.

9. ### Mark Liberman said,

May 29, 2021 @ 10:00 pm

It's certainly true that there's usually a clear difference between what someone who has spoken a language from childhood "knows" about their language, and what most adult learners know. But the concept of "native speaker of X" covers a lot of ground, and can become less useful or even problematic as soon as the discussion goes beyond simple things.

In my opinion, the real issue here is the idea of a "homogeneous speech community", which can be a useful simplifying assumption, but is obviously false, and has to be abandoned in order to study geographical, social, and stylistic variation.

My impression, admittedly not founded on adequate historical research, is that the "native speaker" idea originated a few hundred years ago as a quasi-democratic replacement for feudal ideas like "the King's English", in association with the development of nation states.

See e.g. Thomas Bonfiglio, Mother tongues and nations: The invention of the native speaker, 2010.

10. ### Twill said,

May 29, 2021 @ 10:44 pm

The idea of the native speaker contrasts with more artificial notions of correctness, whether it's the formal diktats of a language board or less systematic attempts to ape an accepted standard body (Cicero, the Tanakh, etc.).

Why academe is obsessed with taking obviously imperfect but broadly correct and exceedlingly useful notions, like that of the native speaking community here, and attempting to deconstruct, problematize, and otherwise needlessly confound them with marginal cases, and especially attempt to draw rather far flung implications and associations that are neverthless sufficiently scandalous to warrant response is something that has eluded me yet.

11. ### Arthur Baker said,

May 29, 2021 @ 10:46 pm

It is quite appalling how the disease of trivialising opinions by applying the pejorative label 'virtue-signalling' has infiltrated every public discussion forum (although one might expect it to be absent from a linguistics blog).

12. ### Bathrobe said,

May 29, 2021 @ 10:51 pm

I suspect their challenge goes deeper than "native speaker judgements". Grammatical judgements on "standard English" by "native speakers" are part of the tyranny. This mishmash of challenges to the privileged status of "native speakers of English" is virtually a challenge to the whole idea of "native spoken English". To rephrase words from an old song:

Let me in, native speaker man
I won't toe your line today
I can't see it anyway

(Based on Immigration Man by Graham Nash)

There is no doubt a need to reconsider old concepts, including the status of "native speaker English" (In an era when people who don't speak English natively outnumber those who do, does English really belong to native speakers?) and "English" itself (What English do you mean? Standard English? Colloquial English? Substandard English? International English?). If native speakers of standard English have a rule of subject-verb inversion after "scarcely" ("Scarcely had I done xxx when yyy happened"), why should we privilege this usage? I've read academic works by German speakers that ignore this rule. (Maybe the non-native speakers are right….)

There is also a need to challenge the preference among foreign learners for white English speakers (or even non-native speakers, as long as they are white!) to black native English speakers. Similarly, there is a need to reconsider the prejudice against even highly proficient non-native teachers of English in favour of untrained "native speakers". But most people want to learn the most prestigious variety of English, whatever that may be. And unless they are interested in a specific variety of English, such as Black English — and some people are interested in this — most people will opt for "standard English", as spoken by native speakers, as their preferred variety.

When I reached this paragraph, "Likewise, many people experience language attrition due to stoke or neurodegenerative diseases. While these individuals may lack a high level of competence in all domains of their first language, they are rarely if ever described as non-native speakers", my reaction was that they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Bringing in edge cases like this just seems silly.

There are many aspects to this question that this article glosses over. One is the seeming implication that non-native speakers of English (English heavily influenced by other languages) are somehow equally valid as speakers of English. Yet research has shown that children brought up by parents who natively speak another language are not helped by the parents' efforts to speak exclusively in English. Fluency comes to the child from interacting with a wide range of "native speakers" in the community. The parents would be better concentrating their efforts on teaching the child their native language. This would make a greater contribution to the conservation of "cultural heritage" than the blurring of lines that this article seems to be attempting.

I apologise for the hodgepodge of ideas here. It arises from my feeling that the article cries out to be challenged on so many levels.

13. ### Carl said,

May 29, 2021 @ 11:34 pm

This is why “descriptivism” doesn’t work. Who is or is not a “native speaker” is not a neutral fact, and so we can’t merely describe what native speakers do. We must prescribe our set of speakers, which in turn prescribes our speech at the second remove.

Politically speaking, “descriptivism” seems like it’s more on the left and “prescriptivist” more on the right, but that’s only superficial. At the deeper level, descriptivism is centerist and prescriptivism has the possibility of radicalism.

14. ### Noel Hunt said,

May 30, 2021 @ 1:40 am

…has infiltrated every public discussion forum'—surely this is a gross exaggeration? Would it not be closer to 97% of public discussion forums?

15. ### Arthur Baker said,

May 30, 2021 @ 1:47 am

I rashly bet my wife that your reply would contain the phrase "political correctness gone mad", so I just lost five dollars, dammit. Oh well, never mind, being woke does have inbuilt disadvantages but not nearly as many as being a virtue signaller.

16. ### Noel Hunt said,

May 30, 2021 @ 2:39 am

I am at a loss for words…except these: sometimes orange water given bucket of plaster'.

17. ### David Marjanović said,

May 30, 2021 @ 4:24 am

I expected something about how language learning (especially in childhood) really works and to what extent it's possible to forget a – variously defined – native language…

The NORM (non-mobile older rural male… with all his teeth) is the ideal in dialectology specifically when dialectology is done as data-gathering for historical linguistics. (Most dialectology of German, and probably other languages in Europe, has been like that.) If your goal is instead Labovian sociolinguistics or whatever, talking only to NORMs will give you a very distorted and/or incomplete picture; that's not news.

("Male" is in the criteria because, in a patriarchal and patrilocal society, women are more likely to adapt their speech to that of the people around them. The actual extent of this varies, obviously – and, given women's generally longer life expectancy, I don't think dialectologists have ignored the speech of old toothed women very systematically.)

I also have to express some surprise at the claim that the concept of "native speaker" was developed with colonialism in mind. Nationalism, sure, but colonialism? In, like, 18th-century Germany?

And that supposed bias toward native speakers as language teachers of their native language… yes, anecdotally it seems lots of native speakers of English are employed as English teachers in China in particular and places without a long tradition of teaching English in general; but elsewhere, the preference is to have most of the instruction, and all of the early instruction, done by native speakers of the learners' language, and to invite a native speaker of the target language later for some occasional exposure to the real world. The obvious reason is that to understand the difficulties of learners, you need to know where the learners come from, so you need to know the language(s) they already know very well.

What for instance, do they mean by "the low status of Spanish, particularly among racialized groups"? This sense of "racialized" strikes me as an in-group usage, although I might be wrong.)

I'm pretty sure it's indeed an ingroup usage meaning "people who have been assigned a race (other than white) and are therefore seen in race terms first".

If native speakers of standard English have a rule of subject-verb inversion after "scarcely" ("Scarcely had I done xxx when yyy happened"), why should we privilege this usage? I've read academic works by German speakers that ignore this rule. (Maybe the non-native speakers are right….)

Ah, but, first, that's part of a more general rule: verb-second word order happens if something time-related is moved to the beginning of the sentence for emphasis.

I have never done
Never have I (ever!) done
*Never I have done

I had always done it like that
Always, always had I done it like that

Second, German has V2 order anyway, so a native speaker of German can just take it for granted, may not even notice it, and may not need to be explicitly taught it. (I think I was, but very cursorily.)

18. ### David Marjanović said,

May 30, 2021 @ 4:28 am

Yet research has shown that children brought up by parents who natively speak another language are not helped by the parents' efforts to speak exclusively in English.

I bet that depends on how good the parents' English really is. (But I also bet very few nonnative speakers' English really is good enough for that to work.)

19. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 30, 2021 @ 4:56 am

One overview, one potential point of interest, and one response to David M's second comment above.

Overview — the article appears to be based on a number of preconceptions which it then seeks to support.

Point of interest — older males with all their teeth would only be 50% of the battle in societies where female speech is markedly different from male (Anjin-san's use of a Japanese word [?sabishi?]— Shogun was shown a very long time ago …) was pointed out as an error by a Japanese native speaker in the film, as the word he chose to use is normally restricted to use by females).

Response : one swallow most definitely does not a summer make, but I know of one (American) family where a child was taught Finnish as a 2nd L1 by a parent who was not a native Finnish speaker (it was the only language in which he ever spoke to her), and I understand that the tuition was very successful.

20. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:08 am

I also have to express some surprise at the claim that the concept of "native speaker" was developed with colonialism in mind. Nationalism, sure, but colonialism? In, like, 18th-century Germany?

That's how I felt. And what about Spanish and French? Or newer national languages like Italian, Slovak, etc.? What about class factors? The work they cite for this is reviewed at The emergence of the English native speaker — a chapter in nineteenth century linguistic thought. It is concerned solely with English.

Also the abstract for Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics and Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics, which takes the view that "From the insider's perspective of the speaker, there is only his or her full idiolect or repertoire, which belongs only to the speaker, not to any named language." So the bilingual doesn't speak "English and Spanish" (or whatever), she has only her "full idiolect or repertoire, which belongs only to the speaker". All of these are firmly within the postmodern, postcolonialist, poststructuralist, paradigm that (in my humble opinion) seeks to "deconstruct" history and repackage it within a fixed ideological framework. Not political correctness run amok, but definitely a subtle way of bending facts into a particular viewpoint, resulting in the breathtaking telescoping/simplification/distortion of history in those first few paragraphs.

21. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:11 am

Sorry, the last link was to New Englishes and criteria for naming them (not Clarifiying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages), which argues for the extension of the term ‘new English’ to English creoles.

22. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:17 am

My entire comment was dropped, probably because it contained too many links.

I shared DM's surprise at the implication that the concept of "native speaker" was developed with colonialism in mind in 18th-century Germany. And what of Spanish and French, or the newer national languages of eastern Europe? A review of their first citation can be found here: The emergence of the English native speaker: a chapter in nineteenth-century linguistic thought, which is, indeed, all about English.

23. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:20 am

An abstract for the second can be found at Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. One interesting sentence from the abstract is:

From the insider's perspective of the speaker, there is only his or her full idiolect or repertoire, which belongs only to the speaker, not to any named language.

So, a bilingual does not speak "English and Spanish" or whatever; he or she speaks only "his or her full idiolect or reportoire", which does not belong to any named language.

24. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:25 am

The last link is to New Englishes and criteria for naming them.

All three links seem to be written from the peculiar perspective of postmodernism/poststructuralism/postcolonialism, which often seeks to "deconstruct" the narrative of the past and recast it within a particular ideological framework. I would not call this political correctness run amok, but it does result in some peculiar emphases, leading to the somewhat breathtaking telescoping/simplification/distortion of the first few paragraphs of the post.

25. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:28 am

And indeed in the penultimate sentence of the final para. — "[T]his concept […] is often used to exclude or to police the boundaries of speakerhood and, ultimately, [of] personhood. "

26. ### Jonathan Smith said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:29 am

"The idea of the 'native speaker' originated within the context of European nationalism and colonialism in the 19th century."

Rather to the contrary, in early discourses (many long predating the 19th century), "native speaker" and related terms evoke the local, vernacular, and basilectal, employed to contrast "our native tongue" with the languages of the Scriptures, with Latin, or with contemporaneous European languages which enjoyed relative prestige in particular eras and contexts (French, Italian…). More recent discussions (e.g., Marsh or Jespersen, cited in [1] ) might be characterized as "nationalist" not in the sense the post's authors suggest, but rather in the sense that focus is on the inherent value and interest of heretofore-lowly "Anglo-Saxon" vis-a-vis, again, Latin, etc.

The profound relevance and moral urgency of the authors' general ideological thrust makes it *more* important, not less so, to ensure individual assertions are well-founded (cf. 1619 Project, etc.) Falling short on this front amounts to begging assholes to asshole…

27. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:34 am

My source for the statement about nonnative parents speaking to their children in the local language is this:

What Clinicians Need to Know about Bilingual Development

Needless to say, I'm sure there is more than one perspective on this.

28. ### David Marjanović said,

May 30, 2021 @ 6:08 am

Thank you! The abstract is very interesting and emphasizes variation; I've downloaded the PDF (open access to the published form of the paper here) and will read it ASAP (…which might take a while).

29. ### Tom Dawkes said,

May 30, 2021 @ 7:39 am

You can see the significance of native speaker use of a language from looking at a selection of items written by those who are NOT "native speakers", as for instance in the large LINCOM library of texts on linguistics. It is clear that there are sentences in many of these texts that no competent "native" English speaker would write: this is not to say that the sentences are unintelligible, merely that they are not quite English, as with use or omission of articles.

30. ### Jerry Packard said,

May 30, 2021 @ 8:09 am

'Native speaker' is defined on a sliding scale, so you can choose an arbitrary demarcation point on a scale of years of contact, age of acquisition, pronunciation precision, etc., but the distinction is just that — arbitrary.

31. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 30, 2021 @ 8:28 am

Is "age of acquisition" really arbitrary, Jerry ? I would have thought that there would be a fairly small acceptable range, from birth to (say) five years. "Pronunciation precision" I do not see featuring at all, provided that the NS's pronunciation is in accord with local, demographic or national norms. "Years of contact" — well … Clearly "age of acquisition: 0; years of contact: 1" is not going to yield a well-informed NS whose speech can be adduced as a model, but he or she is nonetheless a native speaker, and would remain so unless he or she were to move another linguistic environment during his/her formative years (0 .. 7).

32. ### Anna Babel said,

May 30, 2021 @ 8:48 am

Please note there are actually TWO linguists with the last name Babel currently active in linguistics… the other one is Molly Babel at the UBC. No relation.

33. ### Jerry Packard said,

May 30, 2021 @ 8:49 am

Philip, yes, but, you have made the point, because any point that you choose will be arbitrary — the points you have cited are clear (less arbitrary) because they are skewed to one side of the continuum.

34. ### Anna Babel said,

May 30, 2021 @ 9:27 am

I'm glad to see this post has sparked so much discussion. I agree with what Mark has to say above –

"The concept of "native speaker of X" covers a lot of ground, and can become less useful or even problematic as soon as the discussion goes beyond simple things."

I'm not sure I agree, though, that it's the homogenous speech community where the issue lies; I think the two simplifications are related and equally difficult to uphold once one takes a look at empirical data. Variation within a community is real, and variation in how individuals identify themselves as speakers or are identified by others is real, and both of these things are affected by structures of power and privilege – particularly with regard to "standard" or "educated" forms of language.

Both Devin and I are Hispanic linguists who work on indigenous language contact with Spanish (Quechua, to be specific). We've seen the native speaker concept used in many contexts – classroom language learning, dialectology, indigenous language revitalization – where it is treated as if it were a transparent and logical designation, even when it was clearly a complex label full of unspoken assumptions, some of which we lay out here.

If you're interested on discussions about "native speakerism" in Spanish, a great place to start is with the debate over the term "heritage speaker." I think we cited Ofelia Garcia and a couple other scholars on this topic above.

Devin's got some good work on the racialization of Spanish (and Quechua!) in the second-language classroom, and I've published a couple of short public-facing pieces on related ideas –

https://www.ted.com/talks/anna_babel_who_counts_as_a_speaker_of_a_language_dec_2020

https://cpb-us-w2.wpmucdn.com/u.osu.edu/dist/9/365/files/2014/12/2014-On-Being-a-Near-Native-Speaker-15tnebs.pdf

Thanks everyone for the comments and the suggestions, we're hoping to work this up into something longer soon!

35. ### John Swindle said,

May 30, 2021 @ 9:32 am

Bathrobe, David Marjanović: The Canadian government likes the term "racialized." I've seen it on the Web and thought it was just an inscrutable Canadian usage: some Canadians are "racialized" and others are not.

I think they do mean "perceived as racially Other," in contrast to specific groups (White, Aboriginal) taken to be the default in that country.

36. ### J.W. Brewer said,

May 30, 2021 @ 9:38 am

Google books found me two 19th-century examples that are broadly consistent with the critiques made upthread, i.e. they focus non-imperialistically on the difference between having acquired a language via informal osmosis in early childhood and having been taught it in a formal classroom setting at a more advanced age, with the second example more subtly focusing on the potential negative consequence of subsequent formalistic "book learning" on the linguistic competence of someone who already speaks the language natively:

#1 is from an 1858 lecture by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Perkins_Marsh entitled "An Apology for the Study of English," delivered to students in the "post-graduate course" of Columbia College.

"At the same time, there is [in German] enough of grammatical inflection to familiarize the native speaker with syntactical principles imperfectly exemplified in French and English, and a sufficiently complex arrangement of the period to call into constant exercise the logical faculties required for the comprehension of the rules of universal grammar. While, therefore, I by no means maintain that German has any superiority over English for the purposes of poetry, of miscellaneous literature, the intercourse of society, or the ordinary cares and duties of life, yet as, in itself, an intellectual and especially a linguistic discipline, it has great advantages over any of the tongues which embody the general literature of modern Europe."

(This is part of a discussion of the "remarkable, but … indisputable fact" of the "general inferiority of English and French to Scandinavian and Teutonic scholars, in philological and especially etymological research.")

#2 is from an 1835 appreciation in the Western Monthly Magazine (published in Cincinnati) of the Rev. Rowland Hill (1744-1833) who was not only a preacher but a prominent early advocate of vaccination against smallpox.

"[W]hy is it that an untaught speaker will generally command a much larger audience than one fashioned according to modern rules of rhetoric? On no other principle, we are persuaded after mature deliberation, can this be satisfactorily accounted for than by admitting, that, with all his wildness, irregularity and absurdity, the native speaker has more of genuine _nature_ in his manner — and consequently possesses more of that mysterious power that inevitably moves the feelings — than he whose instructions have impeded (if not destroyed) the warm flow of his emotions" etc etc etc.

37. ### J.W. Brewer said,

May 30, 2021 @ 9:54 am

Re "racialized," the immediate context in the original post is the way in which "Hispanic" (or various synonyms) is treated in American political/bureaucratic/activist discourse as a quasi-racial category despite the fact that, as the Census Bureau says, "Hispanics can be of any race." What's not clear to me from the original post, however, is *who* it is who is supposedly denigrating the "native speaker of Spanish" status/competence of US-born heritage speakers of Spanish. People who by contrast tout their own native-speaker bona fides because they immigrated to the U.S. as adults from a Hispanophone country? Or non-Hispanic Americans who have learned "proper Spanish" in formal school instruction?

What is probably true is that US-born heritage speakers who learned Spanish by osmosis from their parents and neighbors but have also been exposed to English from very early childhood may often be native speakers of a *different* variety of Spanish than the variety someone is thinking of as normative and in particular of the normative variety that non-Hispanic Americans are likely to be taught as an L2 in school Spanish classes. This is perhaps consistent with myl's observation upthread about the problem with an assumption of a homogeneous speech community. You can't assess whether someone is a native speaker without having a clear answer upfront to the question "native speaker of what?" and it may be the case that e.g. "Spanish" is not necessarily a good answer to that question because it is stated at too high a level of generality.

38. ### J.W. Brewer said,

May 30, 2021 @ 10:06 am

Additional point that should have gone in prior comment: the phenomenon about heritage speakers probably exists independently of any "racialization," as can be seen by considering other non-Anglophone heritage-language groups that are not considered "non-white" in American political/culture discourse. It is reasonably well-understood that the French traditionally and natively spoken (although less commonly now as formerly) by Louisiana Cajuns is quite different from the prestige/normative French you would learn if you took French in school, and it is likewise reasonably well-understood that the German traditionally and natively spoken by the Amish is quite different from the prestige/normative German you would learn if you took German in school. So if you want a "native speaker" for the specific purpose of teaching the prestige/normative variety as an L2 in an American school setting, your Cajun or Amish neighbor may not be the right candidate, despite being a native speaker of *something* that definitely isn't English.

39. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 10:14 am

@ Philip Taylor

Perhaps those are reasonable cutoff points, but I think there is a very real sense in which the granting of recognition as a "native speaker" is arbitrary, based on linguistic and cultural perceptions and norms.

For instance, in China there are many people who speak a dialect other than Mandarin but learn Mandarin at school. The pronunciation and grammar of such people when speaking Mandarin might be strongly influenced by their native dialect. According to ordinary criteria for native-speakerdom, such a person might not be considered a "native speaker" of Mandarin. And yet in China, I'm not sure the idea that they are not a "native speaker" would even come up. Depending on their level of education, they might be regarded as speaking "poor Mandarin", or "southern Mandarin", but I doubt that any Chinese would turn around and tell them, "You're not a native speaker of Mandarin". (On the other hand, I'm sure there are Beijingers who are convinced that they are wonderful speakers of Mandarin simply because of who they are.)

But perceptions are possibly different in English. Would a person who was born into, say, a German-speaking household but received his schooling in English be identified as "not a native speaker", or depending on his proficiency, told that he "speaks just like a native"? One has to wonder, first of all, where the cutoff point is, and secondly, why it is so important to be categorised as a "native speaker" or otherwise. It is the labelling that becomes significant here.
Especially with regard to getting jobs as a "native speaker" teaching English in a foreign country.

As I pointed out above, I don't think "native speaker" has ever been the only criterion for judging a person's linguistic competence in English. Poorly educated people may be "native speakers" of some kind of English, but their language might be regarded as poor, substandard, or socially undesirable. There will necessarily be a big difference between such a "native speaker" and a native speaker who has received a good education, to the detriment of the uneducated person. A "native speaker" is generally assumed to be someone who has been properly educated, given that a person's linguistic development continues well after their formative years. And since the advent of universal education, it's probably a reasonable expectation that most people in English-speaking countries have had some kind of "quality control" applied to their native tongue.

Similarly, a person may speak an impenetrable dialect of English, in which case any insistence on their part that they are "native speakers" is likely to be viewed with considerable scepticism, or at least heavy qualifications ("native speaker, right, but a native speaker of what?").

In this sense I would agree that "native speaker" is a kind of social construct. As such, recognition as a "native speaker" could be awarded on the basis of many factors other than "what was your linguistic environment for the first five years of your life?"

40. ### David C. said,

May 30, 2021 @ 10:28 am

I found it difficult to understand the central idea being put forth in this piece. Is it that there is no such thing as a "native speaker"? Or is that the term "native speaker" should be expanded to include all the various examples cited of people not considered native speakers, so to rid itself of discriminatory logics.

Some people may describe feeling this way or that way, but there are indeed speakers who "grew up speaking a particular language and who is proficient in that language". I am curious to know what is proposed to describe such a body of speakers if not the word "native", a word that the authors also use throughout the piece.

I attended Spanish courses in college with students who are termed heritage speakers of Spanish. While their parents and grandparents were L1 Spanish speakers, many of them spoke English as a first and dominant language, and were clearly not proficient in Spanish. They can be speakers of Spanish, but I am truly puzzled as to how there is any erasing of the reality of their language use by acknowledging that they are not "fully native speakers of Spanish" – precisely because they are not proficient in the language.

41. ### Victor Mair said,

May 30, 2021 @ 11:00 am

How does the notion of "native fluency" factor into the above discussion on "native speaker"?

42. ### J.W. Brewer said,

May 30, 2021 @ 11:28 am

To Bathrobe's point, maybe we need to link the "native speaker of what?" question to a related-yet-possibly-distinct "who is making the assessment in what context for what purpose?" question. I think it would be totally bonkers to treat the typical person born and raised in rural West Virginia without a lot of formal education as *not* a native speaker of English for the purpose of e.g. ensuring that any descriptive-linguistics model of English accurately accounts for how they speak. Maybe it wouldn't necessarily make sense to hire them to be an ESL teacher in East Asia. But having never been responsible for hiring ESL teachers for a school in East Asia, I have no personal interest in or investment in whatever criteria you might use in that context.

Of course in the event of conflict it seems obvious to me that the meaning of "native speaker" I would personally use in talking about topics that interest me should prevail over any inconsistent meaning that someone else might use for different purposes in a different context. But I would think that, wouldn't I?

For the ESL-teacher-hiring context I might say that being a native speaker is a necessary, or at least desirable, trait but not a sufficient trait without more, and smuggling other desirable-and-necessary traits for that position (such as a certain level of formal education and cultural comfort with functioning in a formal classroom environment) into the "native speaker" definition is unhelpful. Unless maybe you have a specific context where being a "native speaker" of a particular prestige/normative variety/register of the language in question correlates so strongly with those other traits that you don't need to evaluate them separately? So, e.g., I am part of the minority of native speakers of AmEng who don't really natively say "ain't" in our idiolects – if I say it, even in an extremely informal context, it's a bit of a self-conscious affectation. That fact about my idiolect probably is a reasonably good predictor of other socioeconomic facts about me that might make me more desirable for an East Asian ESL-teacher slot than lots of other Americans who are native speakers of the (majority) ain't-inclusive variety of AmEng.

43. ### Stephen said,

May 30, 2021 @ 12:44 pm

Is there any difference between "being a native speaker of X" and "having X as your mother tongue"?

I think not.

But the second version dates back, in English, to the fifteenth century. Dragging colonialism and other such bugaboos into the fifteenth century might be quite an effort.

44. ### Ouen said,

May 30, 2021 @ 1:03 pm

@bathrobe I agree that the term is used very differently in the sinosphere to how it’s used in Europe. When talking about Chinese in Chinese, you can specify mandarin by saying putonghua/guoyu but usually people use Zhongwen as a catchall term that includes all dialects of Chinese, but in some contexts is clearly meant to refer to modern standard mandarin, as is the official form of Zhongwen in both PRC and ROC. When I was studying in Shanghai, my teacher would say that all Chinese were native speakers of zhongwen whether or not they were han, just by virtue of being from China. An older teacher I had also said that Chinese was the native language of Chinese Americans even if they hadn’t learnt Chinese yet, and she strongly implied that she sees some kind of inherent link between race and ability to learn a language. On the other hand, in Taiwan now people often tell me that they don’t natively speak Zhongwen because they grew up speaking a topolect, and my boyfriends older family members who mostly use Taiwanese insist that they can’t speak Zhongwen, which I find incredible considering how the term is used in China.

I’m under the impression that the link between race and native speaker status also exists in japan. I know a half swedish half American who grew up in japan and speaks better japanese than either English or Swedish, but he says he is generally not able to call himself a native speaker in japan, just as he’s not considered Japanese despite never having lived anywhere else.

45. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 30, 2021 @ 1:44 pm

I think that in the case of your half-Swedish, half-American friend, if his parents spoke to him only in Swedish and American then that would explain why not only can he not call himself a native Japanese speaker but in practice he is not a native Japanese speaker, since the Japanese that he learned came primarily from school rather than from home.

46. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 30, 2021 @ 1:56 pm

After posting the above, I started examining the ramifications of what I had written, and at first my inclination was to add a rider to the effect that, even if his parents had communicated with him solely in Japanese since birth, then that too would not have made him a native speaker because he was taught by non-native speakers. And then I began to think of the educated 2nd-generation Indian immigrants to whose speech I have been exposed. And in many cases, despite the fact that their parents spoke Gujariti (or whatever) at home, and their exposure to English was primarily through school, television, friends and so on, those 2nd-generation immigration immigrants speak perfect English without a touch of an Indian accent. And purely by listening to one, I would not be able to tell that he or she was not a native speaker. So perhaps my comment above was wrong — perhaps one can become a native speaker even if one's parents do not speak to one in the language in which one is claiming native speakership. I just don't know.

47. ### Ouen said,

May 30, 2021 @ 2:26 pm

Right. Strictly speaking it’s not his mother tongue. But he speaks it more confidently than either of his native languages.

48. ### Vanya said,

May 30, 2021 @ 2:51 pm

My sense is that there is a stronger bias towards “educated speakers” than native speakers. A German with a master’s degree will have a better chance of getting a gig teaching English in Japan than an American with only a high school degree. Conversely I met an American once in Graz, Austria who told me that people in Graz were “stupid” and couldn’t speak German as well as he did (because they were all speaking their native mesolect and he was speaking textbook Hochdeutsch). Americans have a similar bias against native speakers of Dominican or Puerto Rican Spanish, or native speakers of Québec French, demonstrating that this is not purely a racial issue.

49. ### Vanya said,

May 30, 2021 @ 3:02 pm

So, e.g., I am part of the minority of native speakers of AmEng who don't really natively say "ain't" in our idiolects – if I say it, even in an extremely informal context, it's a bit of a self-conscious affectation.

JW, I don’t say “ain’t” natively either, and despite my Ivy League education I still suspect we are now in the majority in 21st century America. The use of “ain’t” has been stigmatized to such an extent by teachers and the media over the past 50 years that it is on the verge of becoming archaic on the East and West coasts. Certainly my children would no sooner use “ain’t “ than they would say “’tis” or “fixin to”, or “no sooner”.

50. ### Jarek Weckwerth said,

May 30, 2021 @ 4:58 pm

As has been pointed out upthread, many of the things discussed in the OP are relevant for imperial(istic) languages such as English, Spanish or Mandarin, especially if they are recipients of immigration. In many medium-power languages, the question of "native speaker" is much, much more clear-cut. Think Korean, Polish, Mongolian, Greek, or even Japanese.

So, to throw a gentle curveball, the ideology of anti-native-speakerism risks becoming discriminatory towards language communities of that monolingual type, especially seeing how they are in the minority.

WRT to people being denied the native speaker label: I would think that, in many contexts, the distinction that is actually made is between high-competence speakers and low-competence speakers, usually of high-prestige varieties. (And this has also been mentioned above.) The question to ask here is, is there value in being a high-competence speaker of a high-prestige variety? As a parallel: Is there value in being a high-competence member of a high-presige profession? One that has evident social and historical barriers to participation?

51. ### Anthony said,

May 30, 2021 @ 5:52 pm

A noted case of forgetting one's first language was Franz Liszt. He was born in the Hungarian region of Austro-Hungary of parents who spoke German, and he grew up speaking only German. Sent for schooling to France, he acquired French and forgot his German. Liszt never re-learnt his German well, and had others translate his French into German for the occasional letter or essay in musical publications. Liszt knew almost no Hungarian, and at official functions where he was honored in Hungary he spoke in French.

52. ### wanda said,

May 30, 2021 @ 6:53 pm

I guess there's a lot of things that are going on in this piece, and perhaps that's what this piece is trying to point out- that we conflate a lot of different concepts together when we say "native speaker." People above have covered the descriptive aspects (did this person grow up in a, say, English-speaking household and only speak English?) vs. the prescriptive aspects (should this person's speech be held up as a model for how others should speak)? (Should we be holding up certain people's speech as a model for how everyone should speak?) There's another thing in the piece, though, which is that currently, some people are *not* considered "native speakers" of the language or languages they grew up learning. There were a lot of immigrant parents in the (American) town where I grew up, and I would often hear conversations between parents and children where the parent spoke in another language and the child would reply entirely in fluent English. Are those children native speakers of nothing, then? Would linguists consider them broken?

Side notes: "I understand that the tuition was very successful." I had to read this sentence twice before I understood it. I thought the writer were being sarcastic- that the "tuition" was \$0 and thus that not much learning actually occurred because "you get what you pay for." I think this is the first time I've ever seen the word "tuition" used to mean "teaching" or "tutoring," and I've been reading in English since I was 4 years old.

"(On the other hand, I'm sure there are Beijingers who are convinced that they are wonderful speakers of Mandarin simply because of who they are.)" I was on a tour of the Mogao Caves with a group from Taiwan, and some random person joined us. The first thing she told us that she was from Beijing and the second thing was, "That's why my Mandarin is so good!"

53. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 6:54 pm

@ Anna Babel

I think one of the reasons your paper has stirred up such comment is the lead-in, with its potted description of the genesis of standard national languages. That is a huge topic that requires more than references to two or three rather superficial and slanted articles or books to cover. That simplistic lead-in almost destroyed your credibility from the start. I would advise you to either spend a year intensively researching the history of the genesis of standard national languages, or narrow your focus considerably.

The "native-speakerism" debate in TESOL was kicked off by Holland in about 2005. It is relevant to your topic (and your particular anti-colonialist viewpoint) but not essential. It also blurs the larger picture of what "native speaker competence" really is. The fact that some Chinese might have a preference for being taught English by a blue-eyed Ukrainian over a black American, and that many people take advantage of this to make money, doesn't directly support your challenge to the concept of "native speaker" in linguistics. I think that more reference to your own research would add credibility.

Your statement that "the languages spoken by native speakers are understood to be comprised of essential lexical and grammatical features that can be objectively evaluated, separated, and codified in dictionaries and grammars" is also off the mark. This is a not a feature of "native speakers"; it is a feature of standardisation and prescriptiveness in language. "Native speakers" use nonstandard language all the time, some more than others, which becomes a problem if linguists insist on describing a "standard language" (which, incidentally, is the approach adopted by the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language). This narrows the range of native speakers down to "educated (native) speakers", which is something else again. There are many other points in your piece that rely on criticism of concepts of standard national language.

There are truly many interesting nuances in invoking concepts of "mother tongue" or "native language". You have a list of examples that you have put together, but I feel you need less breadth and more depth. What do you make of the phenomenon of people who lament that they can't speak their native language? (I understand this kind of thing happens in Russia, where what is identified as the "mother tongue" may be the ancestral language but isn't the language that the person natively speaks). Such cultural attitudes are not merely products of imperialist native-speakerism; they are inextricably linked to cultural identities.

In the end, I wasn't sure exactly what the point of the paper was, with its scatter-gun attacks on standard national languages, the use of native speakers in language instruction, language and ethnic identity, idealised native speakers in linguistics, etc., etc. It's a worthy topic but it seems to me that it needs a clearer focus.

54. ### Bathrobe said,

May 30, 2021 @ 7:45 pm

@ wanda

For me, "tuition" primarily means "tutoring" or "teaching", although it can also be used as abbreviation of "tuition fees". Perhaps "tuition" in this sense is a North Americanism?

55. ### Jenny Chu said,

May 30, 2021 @ 8:54 pm

What I am seeing here is most accurately summed up by JW Brewer – the use of the term "native speaker" as a linguistics research tool (I wanted to know whether X construction existed in Quechua, so I asked a native speaker) vs its use as a job qualification for language instructors or a judgment of worth, and the assumptions of competence (or otherwise) that come with these.

56. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 31, 2021 @ 2:57 am

Just as add to Bathrobe's comment, Wanda, absolutely no sarcasm was intended — I hold the person who speaks to his daughter only in Finnish in the highest esteem, both professionally and personally. And yes, "tuition" was used to mean "teaching" or "tutoring", but "tuition" was the word that instinctively sprang to mind when composing the comment (and still feels like the best choice).

57. ### Arthur Baker said,

May 31, 2021 @ 5:13 am

@Noel Hunt
"sometimes orange water given bucket of plaster".

I have not the faintest idea what that means, nor what your intention is in writing it. Let's get right to the point. If you disagree with some of the points the authors of this article have made, why not address those points instead of trivialising their argument by attempting to divert readers' attention to what you see as their efforts to signal their own virtue?

58. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 31, 2021 @ 6:03 am

I think that Arthur raises a valid point — if the author(s) of an article intend it primarily as a means of virtue-signalling, then is it better to refute the arguments that they adduce, or to challenge them over their perceived virtue-signalling ? I confess that I do not know the answer to this question, as to seek to refute their arguments may elevate the article to a higher level than it deserves, while to challenge them over their perceived virtue-signalling may leave other readers less clear as to whether the arguments that they adduce are sound or otherwise.

59. ### Michael Watts said,

May 31, 2021 @ 6:18 am

Certainly my children would no sooner use “ain’t “ than they would say “’tis” or “fixin to”, or “no sooner”.

My brother and sister speak with a future tense form of to be which suffixes the vowel /ə/ to the finite present form. This is an interesting innovation in that English verbs don't have future tenses.

I've heard them use it in the first person singular and plural, and the second person singular. I don't recall hearing it in the third person.

60. ### Omahksiksisskstaki said,

May 31, 2021 @ 9:18 am

Some may have a fundamental problem with this the way that "languages" are properties of individuals (following Chomsky 1965). Rather, the logical starting point could be with communities and the discourses that go on within them.

61. ### omahksiksisskstaki said,

May 31, 2021 @ 9:25 am

My comment above could be understood. By "community" I don't mean geographically constructed entities but rather social networks (seen as processes). Without a social network of users there can be no "language".

62. ### Anna Babel said,

May 31, 2021 @ 9:37 am

All the discussion around early uses of "native speaker" is really interesting and useful. From a Hispanicist viewpoint, we usually trace the roots of the nation to the late 15th century, with the Reconquista, the unification of Spain, publication of Nebrija's Gramática, and the invasion of the Americas, though it's not until a few centuries later that modern European nations really consistently solidify. It's true that the use of the term "native" and even "native speaker" predates all of this, but it takes on a specific and specifically colonial referent as a result of the expansion of the Iberian empire, and later the French and British empires, in the Americas. One thing I'd like to do (and that we haven't done yet) is to trace the emergence of this particular usage of the term in Spanish and Portuguese as well as English. It seems pretty obvious to me that the use of the term "native" to reference colonized groups is related to the emergence of "native speaker" as a designation that can be used to separate people into racial or quasi-racial groups (race also being a concept that was emerging during this time).

Chomsky's intervention erased – or perhaps only masked – this history. In the Paikeday volume referenced in our original post, Chomsky argues that "native speaker" essentially means anyone who has a fully developed linguistic system, and it doesn't really matter what they're a native speaker of because languages are fundamentally social constructs (and therefore can be ignored). As is often the case, it's the borderline cases that really test the definition, and where the inconsistencies come to light – in particular, the way that uses of the term can be inflected with race, class, and ethnocentric biases.

One interesting observation that is coming out of this discussion is that it is different to be a native speaker of a colonial language than it is to be a native speaker of a minoritized language (thanks to @wanda for bringing this out in your comment – "some people are not considered native speakers of their native language"). While (canonical) native speakers of colonial languages are able to use their language skills as "linguistic capital" in Bourdieu's sense, speakers of minoritized languages and dialects find that their language skills are minimized and challenged, attitudes that they then often internalize. This is why the part about indigenous languages and language speakers is so important – who counts as a "native speaker" and which languages are considered worthy of the term is an intensely political topic (and often pretty depressing, let's be honest).

I also appreciate @Jarek's point about "medium-power languages," though these are all cases in which heritage and/or bilingual speakers face challenges to their legitimacy as speakers. But it is interesting here that it's the power of the LANGUAGE that is shaping the way that we recognize speakers, isn't it?

Re @David C's question about heritage speakers, it's too much to get into here, but I do recommend some of the work that we referenced above. It's a term that's used to designate an incredibly wide range of linguistic abilities, but it's also often interpreted via racial or biological logics , as some of the comments above indicate – while it seems most useful for "people who learned a language outside of the classroom setting," heritage language programs (in Spanish, which is what is most common in the US and what I'm most familiar with) are generally geared towards children of migrants from Spanish-speaking countries, as opposed to, say, non-Latino kids who grew up speaking Spanish in their neighborhoods and have similar linguistic abilities. There are also some pretty legitimate questions about why we don't simply call US Spanish speakers native speakers, period. One of my grad students was recently talking about having her Spanish linguistic abilities questioned because she used common loans like "yarda" (yard) and "troca" (truck), despite the fact that she's a perfectly fluent speaker – good enough to be in a Spanish graduate program! And this isn't just an anecdote, it's been widely documented in other cases.

63. ### Rodger C said,

May 31, 2021 @ 9:59 am

I'm from West Virginia, and no sooner had I read Vanya's comment than I wondered: What's nonstandard about "no sooner"?

64. ### Rodger C said,

May 31, 2021 @ 10:00 am

Afterthought: Is "no sooner" one of those archaisms that I don't recognize as not being part of contemporary American because I meet it so often in old books?

65. ### Neil Kubler said,

May 31, 2021 @ 10:14 am

From the perspective of running language training programs for English-speaking learners in truly foreign languages such as Chinese or Japanese, experience shows the best approach is with a team of instructors consisting of educated native speakers of the target language who are members of the target language culture AND educated native speakers of English who are natives of American culture but have learned the target language well. In both cases, the instructors need to be well trained and have several years of successful teaching experience. I think in the posts above, one thing that is being left out is the importance of having grown up in and lived as an adult for some years in the target language CULTURE (it's not just language). With the exception of the final paragraph, the original post is useful in reminding us of the complexity of the term "native speaker". Nevertheless, while it sometimes turns out being "messy" and "fuzzy" in practice, the concept of the EDUCATED (let's say 4 years of college) native speaker who is a member of the target language CULTURE and who speaks the STANDARD variety of the target language is a useful one in the teaching of foreign languages — especially languages and cultures that are very different from American English.

66. ### Jarek Weckwerth said,

May 31, 2021 @ 11:56 am

I also appreciate @Jarek's point about "medium-power languages," though these are all cases in which heritage and/or bilingual speakers face challenges to their legitimacy as speakers.

Appreciated. I should have pointed out that I was thinking specifically of "Korean as spoken in Korea", etc. The question of heritage, and even bilingual speakers, is much more relevant in [i|e]mmigration contexts such as the US. Not in the "motherlands" ;)

In particular for those languages that do have a funtioning educational / administrative / economic / social system, heritage speakers who have not had an extensive experience of that system are evidently differerent from "non-heritage" speakers who have. Consequently, the latter will have an advantage in jobs where that kind of experience counts. A job seeker who offers experience will often get the job. Hence native-speakerism.

And, tangentially: Look at the translation force of the EU. It's a relentlessly multilingual organization. Yet, the general rule is that you are supposed to translate, and in particular interpret, into your native language… Hopefully because the job needs to be done competently but quickly.

67. ### Alexander Pruss said,

May 31, 2021 @ 12:03 pm

I notice that the vast majority of first-page Google search results for "no sooner" are to dictionaries, grammar sites and discussions of usage, rather than to actual use of the phrase. That seems to me to be some evidence of its being at least a little archaic.

68. ### Haamu said,

May 31, 2021 @ 1:02 pm

@Philip Taylor (and, by extension, @Noel Hunt):

… if the author(s) of an article intend it primarily as a means of virtue-signalling, then is it better to refute the arguments that they adduce, or to challenge them over their perceived virtue-signalling ?

Unfortunately, you've left out a viable third option. If, as you admit, their virtue-signaling is "perceived," then how about challenging your own perceptions?

To dismiss someone's position as virtue-signaling is to imply that one knows their true intent. But does one, really? I could with equal validity observe that an accusation of virtue-signaling, without evidence of knowledge of intent, is itself a form of virtue-signaling, only with a different definition of "virtue."

I once had a neighbor casually tell me I was virtue-signaling by driving an electric car. I was a bit taken aback by this, because it was our very first conversation. So I asked him why he thought I parked the car in a closed garage. Wouldn't I signal more efficiently by leaving it on display in my driveway? He had to stop to think, into which opening I dropped a list of substantive reasons why I preferred electric, some of which were downright selfish, like fewer repairs and reduced cost of ownership. Now we greet each other warmly when we pass.

69. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 31, 2021 @ 1:43 pm

I do not dispute for one second that you are correct, Haamu. But if I were to challenge my own perceptions, then I would also have to challenge my refutations of their arguments. In the end I would have to decide (a) are my perceptions reasonable ? and (b) are my refutations of their arguments valid ? If I find that the answer to both is "yes", then no sooner have I reached this conclusion than I am back whence I started, am I not ?

70. ### Peter Grubtal said,

May 31, 2021 @ 1:47 pm

From the OP :
"a growing body of research casts doubt on the existence of a strict neurobiological window that closes around late adolescence and impedes native-like phonological development"

Without yet having checked the sources, I find this a very surprising statement, if "native-like phonological development" means being indistinguishable from native speakers in speech. Or are we redefining "native speakers"?

"This research suggests that adult learners’ experiences and motivations are more significant than age of onset in developing native-like abilities in an additional language".

Certainly motivation is highly important, and can lead to a high level of competence in a learned language, but once again, acquiring indistinguishability especially in speech as an adult, is in my not-so-inconsiderable experience, only possible for the very gifted. In fact, after a professional lifetime working with people who have to be highly competent in foreign languages, I'm not sure I've come across a single case.
And far from using this to "…exclude or to police the boundaries of speakerhood and, ultimately, personhood…", I soon learned that the contribution each had to make in the substance bore no relationship to how closely native their English was.

71. ### Barbara Phillips Long said,

May 31, 2021 @ 2:10 pm

@Bathrobe and @wanda —
I recognized “tuition” as meaning instruction, but the more common use of tuition I encounter is when people are talking about the cost of instruction for education, which can range from pre-school through post-college, continuing education, and technical educational institutions. I blinked a bit at “tuition fees” because it is common for U.S. colleges and universities to charge tuition and fees. A student has to pay the fees in addition to the tuition, but some scholarships or employee benefits that pay tuition may exclude fees.

@Rodger C and @Alexander Prussia —
I grew up in upstate New York and do not recall ever having been corrected or otherwise stigmatized for “no sooner.” I do think I hear it most often in storytelling, when someone is recounting an event, as in “no sooner had I hit the brakes than the car slid…” The other times I hear it used is with meeting times, as in “I will be there no sooner than quarter of and no later than noon to pick you up.” I do not think I often use it when writing formally, which may help explain the search results, but I think of it as casual (informal) rather than archaic.

72. ### Barbara Phillips Long said,

May 31, 2021 @ 2:12 pm

@Alexander Pruss— Spellcheck strikes again. My apologies for the surname change.

73. ### Haamu said,

May 31, 2021 @ 2:53 pm

@Anna Babel (if you're still monitoring):

As a non-linguist onlooker, I found the reactions to your post fascinating. A number of the comments were truly confusing, which seems uncharacteristic here. I'm unable to tell whether your post was written in such a way as to engender confusion (or perhaps defensiveness), or whether there's just subtext that I'm not aware of. I may simply be the wrong audience. Nevertheless, I'll jump in, perhaps unwisely.

I think you get into trouble in your 2nd paragraph, both because "originated" is too inflammatory of a verb to put in front of this group — something more precise is in order — and because colonialism is a fraught concept that drives many people into their political corners. It's too bad, because you have a more legitimate reason for citing colonialism than many writers do. I would just suggest postponing the reliance on that concept until you've laid a bit more groundwork — which, in turn, suggests changing the thesis from "where does the term come from, and what does it really mean?" to something like "how is the term used, and why is that a problem?" so you don't have to lead right away in Paragraph 2 with the history.

After reading your post and all the comments, my sense is that the term is a problem because (1) it's fundamentally confused and misleading, and (2) it's harmful (because it marginalizes). This gives you an opening to postpone most of the potentially distracting politics, including much of the details of the colonial history, to the 2nd part of the discussion, where you can try to cash in some credibility from Part 1.

And Part 1 can be pretty meaty. To summarize and reinterpret the comments above, the term is confusing and misleading because (1) it suggests a binary choice when the actual concept is fuzzy, yet fairly serviceable, and (2) it is descriptivist by nature but is commonly deployed for a prescriptivist purpose. Both sections of this part of the discussion can be pretty robust without recourse to politics. Linguists, in particular, ought to be open to a fuzziness argument — many are making it here — because they seem to spend much of their time studying the limitations of trying to apply discrete categorization systems to continua like meaning and sound. Falling back on a concept that implies a rigid categorization of part of their world seems out of step with that, if I'm reading things right.

Lastly, I suggest you deal more explicitly with the different reasons people have for using the concept. Its practical use in business contexts (e.g., running language schools) suggests that many there already view it as fuzzy and employ it somewhat successfully as such. If they are to abandon or adapt their use of the term to limit its harmful impacts, they'll appreciate some guidance on what to use instead. Its casual use among scholars, on the other hand, might be holding back progress in the field. Most culpable, of course, are those who use the term deliberately to exclude and marginalize. Offering that you clearly recognize this spectrum gives your argument a better chance to land.

I imagine I'm revealing a fair bit of ignorance with this comment. I'm only offering it because IRL I spend so much of my time trying to get disagreeing people to stop talking past each other, whether in business (as a vocation, getting teams and organizations to agree on strategies, plans, and process descriptions) or in politics (as an avocation, getting activists to figure out how to talk to voters without alienating them). So much of it is about getting people to reveal and share their metaphors, mental models, and values — but I also find that often it's about getting them to loosen their grip on systems of categorization, which ultimately alienate, and move towards narrative, which connects.

74. ### Haamu said,

May 31, 2021 @ 3:05 pm

@Philip Taylor — Yes, I agree, but I think you're just saying that once you eliminate my option (c) you're left with your options (a) and (b). So the point still stands. The essential issue is that perceptions of somebody else's motives are only valid when they're based on evidence, not preconceptions about what anybody who espouses Position X must be thinking.

Apologies to all for taking the thread a bit off track.

75. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 31, 2021 @ 3:09 pm

"The essential issue is that perceptions of somebody else's motives are only valid when they're based on evidence, not preconceptions about what anybody who espouses Position X must be thinking". Agreed. And I liked your response to Anna Babel. But what did you mean by " I'm only offering it because IRL" [the "IRL" part] ?

76. ### Haamu said,

May 31, 2021 @ 3:14 pm

IRL = Internet slang for "in real life" (as opposed to online life).

77. ### Philip Taylor said,

May 31, 2021 @ 3:21 pm

Ah, thank you, understood. But post the onset of Covid-19, is not online life becoming an ever more fundamental part of real life ?

78. ### Vanya said,

May 31, 2021 @ 3:24 pm

@RodgerC

Nothing at all. It's just that as soon I wrote that phrase it struck me as something my children would not say. (And I should have specified "would no sooner", certainly "I will arrive no sooner than 4 pm" is fine). Not archaic for you and me but perhaps heading that direction.

79. ### Bathrobe said,

May 31, 2021 @ 5:34 pm

The two most useful and perceptive comments I found here were those of wanda and Haamu.

wanda's comment sums the problem up succinctly and diplomatically:

I guess there's a lot of things that are going on in this piece, and perhaps that's what this piece is trying to point out- that we conflate a lot of different concepts together when we say "native speaker."

Haamu is more specific:

I would just suggest postponing the reliance on that concept until you've laid a bit more groundwork — which, in turn, suggests changing the thesis from "where does the term come from, and what does it really mean?" to something like "how is the term used, and why is that a problem?" so you don't have to lead right away in Paragraph 2 with the history.

After reading your post and all the comments, my sense is that the term is a problem because (1) it's fundamentally confused and misleading, and (2) it's harmful (because it marginalizes). This gives you an opening to postpone most of the potentially distracting politics, including much of the details of the colonial history, to the 2nd part of the discussion, where you can try to cash in some credibility from Part 1.

In your fieldwork you appear to have identified twin evils that marginalise and deny the competence of speakers in contact situations: "national standardised languages", which reject anything that falls outside that category, and the concept that people must be "native speakers" of such a language to have their linguistic competence recognised. Both of these are valid and valuable observations. The problem arises when you try to assemble a grand theory of "national languages" and "native speakerism" based on a thin and simplified reading of what are already controversial concepts (postmodernism, postcolonialism, woke culture, identity politics, etc., call them what you will), which are like a red flag to a bull to many people. Hence the adverse reactions.

As Haamu suggested, it might be a good idea to postpone composing a grand theory until you've laid a bit more groundwork. I am sure that you could make a very valuable contribution to discussion of these issues from your own fieldwork and experiences.

As an aside, Jarek Weckwerth mentioned medium-power languages, where the question of "native speaker" is more clear-cut (e.g., Korean, Polish, Mongolian, Greek, or Japanese). This was a good counterpoint to your concentration on major colonial languages, which you accepted with interest. However, if you look more closely you'll find that each of these languages/countries has much a more tangled history.

In the premodern era (which your postcolonial theory doesn't necessarily fit very well), Poland was a major power in eastern Europe (Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth). After that it gradually disappeared as a country and was only reconstituted after WWII.

In terms of linguistic policy, pre-modern Japan and modern Japan are totally different. At the end of the 19th century Japan adopted a national standard language on the Western model, followed quickly by the annexation/control of territories in Korea, Taiwan, and Manchukuo. In all of these the Japanese language was imposed on the population and the Japanese were the real masters — classic colonialism. It was only in the postwar era that Japan renounced its imperial past and developed a sort of amnesia about these attempts to spread the Japanese language.

Mongolia is a different case again. The Mongolian empire (another premodern empire) did not try to impose the Mongolian language on its subjects. In the modern era, however, the language has been forced on the defensive. In Mongolia itself a standard language was imposed (based on Khalkha dialect) that strongly devalued other dialects spoken in Mongolia itself (Buryat, Dorvod, etc). Mongolians also aggressively reject varieties of Mongolian spoken in what might be loosely termed "lost Mongolian-speaking territories" in Russia and China. Not such a simple situation.

The histories of Greek and Korean are, from my understanding, equally contested.

80. ### Bathrobe said,

May 31, 2021 @ 6:12 pm

I think I mistakenly highlighted just one part of Haamu's comment. In fact the entirety of Haamu's is pretty much spot on. I concur wholeheartedly with what he wrote.

81. ### Devin Grammon said,

May 31, 2021 @ 8:22 pm

Like Anna, I am so glad to see that this blog post has generated so much vigorous discussion (80 comments and counting!). I’d like to respond to a few of the comments here, and convey my gratitude to all who have posted. This piece stems from an evolving conversation that Anna and I have had over the past few years, and I am very thankful to all of you who have weighed in.

First, in response to some of the earlier comments about our use of the word “racialized,” our use of the term is tied to the notion of racialization – the act of giving a racial character to someone or something (e.g. a group) and process of categorizing, marginalizing, or regarding according to race. I thank @J.W. Brewer for pointing out the ways in which those of Hispanic/Spanish speaking origin are racialized within the context of the U.S. Regarding the question of the denigration of U.S. Spanish speakers (and native Spanish speakers), there is a large body of scholarship that discusses this. For example, I recommend the work of Jennifer Leeman on the racialization of Spanish in the U.S. census and of course the work of Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa on raciolingusitic ideologies in U.S. educational contexts.

Second, I also have found reactions to the second paragraph of this post very insightful. We look forward to laying more groundwork in this area in a future peer reviewed article.

Regarding our mention of those who experience language attrition due to medical conditions, our point was to unsettle definitions of “native speaker” that equate nativeness with high levels of linguistic competence in straight forward ways. Such cases raise intriguing questions. For example, can someone stop being a native speaker of a language (as in the case of Franz Liszt mentioned by @Anthony)? At what level might a loss of linguistic competency preclude someone from being considered a native speaker?

Last, I had hoped to see some additional discussion regarding the recruitment of linguistic informants in fields methods classes and language documentation work in relation to their status as native speakers. I hope that someone will weigh in on this, too.

82. ### Lameen said,

June 1, 2021 @ 4:41 am

While I appreciate the way this post reminds us that "common-sense" notions are ideologically charged, it strikes me – ironically – as very Eurocentric and even Anglocentric. The English term "native speaker" may well have "originated within the context of European nationalism and colonialism in the 19th century", but the use of similar if not perfectly identical "discriminatory logics" to "exclude or to police the boundaries of speakerhood and, ultimately, personhood" certainly goes back way further, and appears nearly universal. The early medieval Arabic grammarians would have considered "native speaker" to be necessary but far from sufficient – only Bedouin speakers isolated from the multilingual towns were good enough to be linguistic informants. And, famously, in northern Australia only a person with the right ancestors can count as a legitimate speaker-owner of a language. I certainly don't claim that every community polices "the boundaries of speakerhood" using the exact same criteria as English speakers, but in a discussion of the origins of the modern English concept of "native speaker", it seems important to devote some space to how, if at all, it differs from comparable concepts in other times and places; what was new about the concept when it emerged?

83. ### R. Fenwick said,

June 1, 2021 @ 7:41 am

@Devin Grammon: I had hoped to see some additional discussion regarding the recruitment of linguistic informants in fields methods classes and language documentation work in relation to their status as native speakers. I hope that someone will weigh in on this, too.

Perhaps I can provide something along these lines. :) I work mainly with the recently-extinct Ubykh language, and though this language is now very well-documented, important aspects of its study have been affected by the recorders' opinions of what comprises a "native" or "fluent" or "competent" or "ideal" speaker. (Apologies in advance for what's going to be something of a tome.)

By far the most substantive such impact is that of Georges Dumézil, who is responsible for the bulk of the Ubykh recording that's been done. His work is a prototypical example of what you phrased as the field-linguistic wisdom that "elderly, rural male speakers with all their teeth are the best informants": his primary informant, the celebrated Tevfik Esenç, was indeed an elderly male speaker from a rural village, with good dentition during their early work (and pretty good dentures in his old age). Much as I respect the colossal amount of work and recording that Dumézil did do, work more than sufficiently detailed to revive the language one day, clear biases are evident throughout the corpus.

To begin with, of the many dozens of published Ubykh texts, I don't believe a single published text is directly recorded from a woman. In fairness, this isn't uncommon in field linguistics and isn't specifically a Eurocentric bias, but certainly in earlier work (and Dumézil's work began in 1931) there was a strong tendency for male linguists to end up working predominantly if not exclusively with male speakers, at least where they existed. (And when this doesn't happen, things can get interesting. John Bradley, an Australian anthropologist and initiated Yanyuwa who is one of just a handful of fluent speakers, tells a story about learning to speak Yanyuwa from the few old women who were the only living speakers of the language at that time, and eventually having the old women say to him one day, "Okay, you can speak Yanyuwa, now we've got to teach you to speak Yanyuwa like a man!" Yanyuwa is one of those rare languages where men's and women's speech differs on a morphological level, predominantly manifested through differing systems of noun class prefixation.)

As well, Dumézil was primarily interested in languages as a vehicle for culture and mythology, and as such his recordings, where they aren't purely concerned with grammar, are very heavily skewed to elicited stories. Not a single example of a genuine conversation between two Ubykh speakers has been published, so we know essentially nothing of Ubykh speech performance. In addition, and far more problematically, in the early 1960s Dumézil began to engage in active linguistic prescriptivism in his recordings of the language by taking texts recorded from other speakers and literally having Tevfik Esenç "revise" and "correct" them into his own idiolect for publication. (Not entirely surprising given that Dumézil later became an immortel of the Académie Française, perhaps the world's most famous (or infamous?) prescriptivist linguistic body.) As such, texts from after about 1960 – regardless of their origin – generally reflect Esenç's idiolect, unilaterally decided by Dumézil as a de facto "standard language". Very occasionally Dumézil gave the original forms in footnotes to the texts, but how much idiolectic variation was obliterated in this way is unknown. As such, the differences between Esenç's speech and the individual varieties spoken by other first-language and natively-competent speakers – of whom two dozen or more still lived when Dumézil began working with Tevfik Esenç – are not all that well understood, even though the sparse evidence that does survive from these other speakers does clearly show minor but significant variation in some grammatical features.

Another, less impactful, issue surrounding what constitutes a "native" or "fluent" speaker lies at the core of the question of exactly how many phonemic consonants Ubykh has. The count generally accepted is 80 (I count 84, which includes the four consonants /g k k’ v/ found only in loanwords), but in 1992 John Colarusso published a paper arguing that the phoneme treated by others as a labialised voiceless alveolopalatal fricative /ɕʷ/ actually reflected two phonemes: the genuine /ɕʷ/, and an acoustically similar but distinct labialised voiceless velar fricative /xʷ/. He's subsequently repeated his claim multiple times in print, attempting to fortify it by asserting that the phonemic distinction appears in the speech of Meral Çare (of the Çızemığue clan), the niece of Tevfik Esenç and one of a few living Ubykh speakers.

This claim runs into a major problem, however, in that Meral hanım's acquisition of the language appears to have occurred under unusual circumstances and the extent of her actual capabilities in the language is unclear. Colarusso has recently asserted with no further elaboration (2016) that she is "fluent in Ubykh, having learned it from Tevfik Esenç", but Viacheslav Chirikba, who has also met and spoken with Meral hanım, has told me that she herself admits her abilities are limited, that she cannot carry on a sustained conversation and rather acquired Ubykh from Esenç as a 'second language' of sorts while acting to assist linguists during their intensive work with her uncle. An argument could hypothetically be made that she acquired her Ubykh in a semi-natural fashion through contextual exposure, but is it really the same thing? Can she really be considered as a "native speaker" for the purposes of linguistic documentation?

(Tangentially, even assuming that Colarusso has indeed successfully identified a phoneme /xʷ/ in Meral hanım's speech, could it have other origins? Notably, could it have arisen recently via influence from Kabardian, which preserves the Proto-North-West Caucasian */xʷ/ that Colarusso claims is reflected as such in Ubykh? I do wish Colarusso's claim could be fleshed out with a public acoustic analysis of Meral hanım's pronunciation and more detailed formal analysis showing it corresponds regularly to the same contrast in earlier audio recordings of Esenç. I can't detect such a contrast in any of the audio recordings of Esenç I have access to, dating to 1963 and 1974; nor could Ian Catford, from his first-hand recordings of Esenç in 1986. Right now, Colarusso is the only Caucasologist who confidently accepts that his /xʷ/ exists. I don't believe there's any current basis – phonetic, etymological, or historical – on which it can be accepted as a reality, and indeed I think there are good grounds on which it should be actively rejected.)

84. ### R. Fenwick said,

June 1, 2021 @ 7:53 am

@Lameen: And, famously, in northern Australia only a person with the right ancestors can count as a legitimate speaker-owner of a language

More specifically, this relates to language owners. Others might well be able to speak the language, having learned it in order to communicate with the language owners as part of an area's multicultural and multilingual milieu, but language ownership is about inherited rights to culture moreso than linguistic competence. One can be a language owner but not a speaker (especially given the devastation that's been and is being wrought by colonialist attitudes ever since the British invasion), and vice versa.

85. ### Victor Mair said,

June 1, 2021 @ 8:47 am

@R. Fenwick

You initially identify one of a few living Ubykh speakers as Meral Çare (of the Çızemığue clan), the niece of Tevfik Esenç. Upon subsequent mention of this individual, you refer to her as "Meral hanım". What does "hanım" mean, and why does it begin with a lower case "h"?

86. ### Bathrobe said,

June 1, 2021 @ 10:17 am

@ Devin Grammon

As one of the more prolific and consistently critical commenters at this thread I may as well comment further.

You have identified "standard national languages" as "tightly connected to discriminatory logics". In fact, I would like to suggest that related phenomena resulting from the concept of standard national languages are actually more important.

The first is the expectation of "monolingualism". This is not a necessary corollary of adopting a standard national language, but it often seems to be related. Since the nation-state is a jealous entity, it prefers its citizens to all speak the same language. The existence of speakers of other languages potentially detracts from loyalty to the State. Switzerland, with its universal use of the local dialect combined with the use of Standard German, would seem to be an exception to this, but my feeling is that speakers of minority languages are often regarded as somehow "suspect" or maybe just "unreasonably different" by the State and the larger community. The State and a majority of citizens appear to require national conformity. This kind of mentality appears to be very common in English-speaking societies, where stories often circulate of outright prejudice against people speaking foreign languages in public (except, perhaps speakers of the cosmopolitan type who speak other prestige languages). This mentality appears to be at least partly behind the current efforts of the Chinese government to stamp out Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian, etc. in favour of Mandarin Chinese.

The second phenomenon is the expectation that any self-respecting top-level language will be capable of expressing itself in any domain, from politics to bureaucracy, sport, mathematics, science and technology, etc. Most of the national languages of Europe have attained that level through intensive and intentional vocabulary development, so you can theoretically discuss, say, quantum physics in Slovenian or Slovak, or philosophical topics in Bulgarian or Romanian (not to mention Danish, Swedish, Dutch, or Italian). Any language that fails to live up to that standard is regarded as a kind of langue manquée, a patois, with negative implications for its prestige. Languages that are mostly spoken in the home, have no official status, involve heavy borrowing from the dominant language to fill gaps in their vocabulary, and are not protected or cultivated by the State, are likely to be looked down upon as somehow inferior.

A third point is the way that States enforce adherence to national languages through the education system, while discriminating against people who are poorly educated. While there is a large difference between the uneducated classes in a Western country and speakers of indigenous languages in colonial situations, the basis of discrimination (ability to speak "the proper language") is similar.

As to your question about fieldwork, I have no expertise at all in this. I suspect that any kind of speaker could reasonably be chosen for fieldwork, depending, of course, on its aims. Even a speaker suffering language attrition due to medical conditions might be a good subject for a neurolinguistic survey — a bilingual speaker even more so.

87. ### Bathrobe said,

June 1, 2021 @ 10:36 am

With regard to my comment about langue manquée, I suspect that this attitude might be extended to speakers whose command of their native language is heavily infiltrated by the dominant surrounding language. In the same way that their language is regarded as "lacking" or "second-rate", such speakers might be regarded as "defective speakers" of their own language.

88. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 1, 2021 @ 12:44 pm

Bathrobe, two point if I may ? When you write "A third point is the way that States enforce adherence to national languages through the education system, while discriminating against people who are poorly educated", I assume that by "States" you mean "nation states" rather than (e.g., one of the 50 or so states that comprise the United States of America. If my assumption is correct, then may I ask why you use the word "enforce" rather than "encourage" ? Surely one of the main purposes of an education system is to encourage those who partake of it to "speak properly", is it not ? If so, then I cannot see on what basis you speak of "enforce". I would also ask in what way nation states discriminate against those who are poorly educated — it is (in general) the nation states that provide the basic educational system, so rather than "discriminating against" those are poorly educated, the nation states are offering that group the opportunity to become better educated.

And totally OT, but intrigued by your use of manquée, a word that I have not encountered for some decades, do you happen to know if it is the etymon of <Br.E> "manky" ?

89. ### Bathrobe said,

June 1, 2021 @ 6:18 pm

A third point is the way that States enforce adherence to national languages through the education system, while discriminating against people who are poorly educated

Yes, I was writing late at night when I was very tired. I should have waited till morning.

The nation-state (which is what I meant by "State") does enforce the teaching of the national language to all its citizens as part of "compulsory education", designed to turn out citizens in a standard mould. Perhaps this can be interpreted as "encouraging" people to leave behind their "substandard ways" and become competent speakers of the "standard language" (which was originally developed by the literate elite), but it also further stigmatises "non-standard" use of language.

But you are right, it is not the nation-state that discriminates against people who don't measure up; it's society that does that through its acceptance of the "standard language" as correct and anything else as "substandard". You can see this in the interminable carping directed by certain arbiters of language at some common usages. For example, the "split infinitive" rule, which refuses to die long past its expiry date. Another is the stigma attached to colloquial expressions like "Him and me are best friends" or "Could you give me one of them green fluffy things?" There is no doubt that progress has been made in exterminating "substandard" usages, which is apparent if you read English grammars from the 19th century, such as William Pinnock's A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, which advises against various "substandard" usages that now sound quite antiquated.

However, implicit in your comment is unquestioning acceptance of a Standard Language as "better", the deleterious effects of which are exactly what the authors of this article are pointing out with regard to linguistic fieldwork. A linguist who took the attitude "We're not going to interview her for our survey of English (or Navaho) usage because she uses non-standard English (corrupted Navaho)" is also determining in advance what they want to find. How far do you go with this cut-and-dried attitude to language before you start distorting the whole exercise?

90. ### Bathrobe said,

June 1, 2021 @ 6:23 pm

Google has this to say about manky: 1950s: probably from obsolete mank ‘mutilated, defective’, from Old French manque, from Latin mancus ‘maimed’.

91. ### Thomas Rees said,

June 1, 2021 @ 8:15 pm

@VHM:
“Meral hanım” is just “Ms (Miss/Mrs) Meral; “hanım” is the Turkish version of “Khanum”.

92. ### R. Fenwick said,

June 1, 2021 @ 10:45 pm

@Victor Mair: You initially identify one of a few living Ubykh speakers as Meral Çare (of the Çızemığue clan), the niece of Tevfik Esenç. Upon subsequent mention of this individual, you refer to her as "Meral hanım". What does "hanım" mean, and why does it begin with a lower case "h"?

Ah, apologies. Hanım is a Turkish courtesy title for women who don't bear another professional honorific such as hoca "teacher, professor". It's equivalent, as Thomas says, to "Ms"; like other Turkish titles, it's customarily used in lower case, and with the first name rather than the surname. Etymologically it means "my lord/lady", and ultimately is cognate with the Mongol title qan "khan", which I believe has been extensively treated here on LL in the past.

93. ### wanda said,

June 1, 2021 @ 11:52 pm

"A third point is the way that States enforce adherence to national languages through the education system, while discriminating against people who are poorly educated" I don't understand how anyone can dispute this. Pupils come into classrooms. Some have the prestige skin color and speak the prestige dialect. Their families have bought for them all the standard childhood books, and so they know all the standard knowledge for their grade. Their mothers don't work and can come volunteer in the classroom and get chummy with the teacher. Other pupils speak a non-prestigious dialect. Their upbringing is not the same as the teacher's, and so the teacher doesn't recognize their knowledge. Their mothers work and the teacher interprets this as the family "not caring." Which of these children will receive teacher praise and recommendations for honors classes and advanced study? Which of these children will instead be punished for the slightest deviation, for things other children are given slack, and told that they don't have a future?

My third grade teacher, in the middle of a rant, once told our whole class that a particular kid in our class was going to grow up to flip burgers at McDonald's. This kid was not actually one of the troublemakers who was causing the grief she was ranting about. He was a quiet, well-behaved child who just happened to be a Haitian immigrant who was still learning standard English. Yes, my third grade teacher was certainly discriminating against the "poorly educated," and also the immigrant, the black, and the poor. No, teachers should not be like this, but teachers grow up in the same racist and prejudiced systems as the rest of us. The statistics also testify to how many schools and school systems exacerbate inequality instead of mitigating it.

A lot of people are saying for some languages, a "native speaker" needs to be *educated* in that language too and speak the way other educated people do. But some children will face more barriers obtaining that education than others. (And by the way, my third grade teacher is still teaching in the public schools.)

94. ### Levantine said,

June 2, 2021 @ 2:00 am

R. Fenwick, in my experience, Turkish courtesy titles are capitalised (Ahmet Bey, Fatma Hanım, etc.). I often send and receive emails in Turkish and do not recall ever seeing these titles with lowercase initials.

95. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 3:18 am

Literate and Illiterate Speech

96. ### David Morris said,

June 2, 2021 @ 3:37 am

1) I read a description of a person that he spoke 'exemplary English' and blogged that we don't usually talk about native speakers speaking fluent/good/excellent/perfect/exemplary English, though one of the examples I found of 'exemplary English' referred to Jeb Bush.
2) I stumbled across a video in which 2 Koreans were challenged to pick the native speaker(s) from five speakers of Korean as a second language and one Korean. The two had their backs turned, listened to the six introduce themselves non-identifyingly, and asked questions. Both unhesitatingly picked one of the non-natives as Korean, and picked the native as a second language speaker.

97. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 3:41 am

Wanda wrote :

Pupils come into classrooms. Some have the prestige skin color and speak the prestige dialect. […] Other pupils speak a non-prestigious dialect. […] Which of these children will receive teacher praise and recommendations for honors classes and advanced study? Which of these children will instead be punished for the slightest deviation, for things other children are given slack, and told that they don't have a future?

I have no idea. But I am certain that in general it is not (nation) state policy that the former group be advantaged and the latter group be disadvantaged. If such a situation does anywhere obtain, then that reflects very badly on the teacher(s), the school(s), and the board(s) of governors, not on the (nation) state, which in general does its best to ensure that equal opportunities are afforded to all. Of course there are rogue (nation) states, rogue schools, rogue teachers and so on, but I do not accept that it is widespread (nation) state policy that your former group be given preferential treatment while your latter group are cast to one side. If that were the case, then why would remedial classes even exist ?

98. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 4:27 am

In fairness I should add this book Mother Tongues and Nations: The invention of the native speaker by Thomas Bonfiglio. The link is to Amazon, which handily allows a "Look Inside". Bonfiglio studies the concept of "native speaker" and "mother tongue" historically, finding it absent in ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and tracing it to European ethno-nationalism. The blurb at Amazon:

This monograph examines the ideological legacy of the the apparently innocent kinship metaphors of “mother tongue” and “native speaker” by historicizing their linguistic development. It shows how the early nation states constructed the ideology of ethnolinguistic nationalism, a composite of national language, identity, geography, and race. This ideology invented myths of congenital communities that configured the national language in a symbiotic matrix between body and physical environment and as the ethnic and corporeal ownership of national identity and local organic nature. These ethno-nationalist gestures informed the philology of the early modern era and generated arboreal and genealogical models of language, culminating most divisively in the race conscious discourse of the Indo-European hypothesis of the 19th century. The philosophical theories of organicism also contributed to these ideologies. The fundamentally nationalist conflation of race and language was and is the catalyst for subsequent permutations of ethnolinguistic discrimination, which continue today. Scholarship should scrutinize the tendency to overextend biological metaphors in the study of language, as these can encourage, however surreptitiously, genetic and racial impressions of language.

Bonfiglio also makes reference to a number of earlier studies of the concept of "native speaker". By the way, the term itself dates only to 1859.

99. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 5:26 am

And to Bathrobe —

"Another is the stigma attached to colloquial expressions like "Him and me are best friends" or "Could you give me one of them green fluffy things?" There is no doubt that progress has been made in exterminating "substandard" usages, which is apparent if you read English grammars from the 19th century, such as William Pinnock's A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, which advises against various "substandard" usages that now sound quite antiquated".

Do you not feel, as I do, that such stigmatization is fully justified ? Where a colloquial expression such as the two that you have cited is non-grammatical, then to my mind it is simply wrong and children should be taught to avoid them like the plague. But I would, of course, make an exception where those colloquial expressions are a long-established part of a local or regional dialect — in Britain at least, teachers throughout the country are no longer expected to teach a standard dialect to the detriment and exclusion of all others : it is in becoming ever more accepted that local teachers, familiar with the local dialect, are best placed to teach local children, and those teachers, seeking to inculcate a knowledge of the standard dialect, will not automatically "correct" a child who uses a dialectal expression in speech. In compositions/essays, perhaps.

"However, implicit in your comment is unquestioning acceptance of a Standard Language as 'better', the deleterious effects of which are exactly what the authors of this article are pointing out with regard to linguistic fieldwork".

Well, to my mind, "better" can be used only in context. I do unquestioningly accept a Standard Language as 'better' in the context of education, for example, where the purpose is to raise the literacy skills of the students; but I unquestioningly reject a Standard Language as 'better' in the context of linguistic fieldwork, where the researcher is setting out to establish how language is used in the population of interest. Generally speaking it is better to be clean rather than smelly, well-educated rather than illiterate, sated rather than starving, but there are counter-examples to each of these.

100. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 5:31 am

"By the way, the term ['native speaker] itself dates only to 1859".

Google ngrams shew a non-zero usage for 1791++, but I have not been able to identify the text in question in order to ascertain whether it was a true phrase or merely a collocation.

101. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 5:32 am

Do you not feel, as I do, that such stigmatization is fully justified ?

No, I don't. In formal writing, yes. In speech, no. Why should people be expected to talk like a book?

102. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 5:50 am

Please amend that to "casual speech".

103. ### Jarek Weckwerth said,

June 2, 2021 @ 7:37 am

@Bathrobe: In formal writing, yes. In speech, no. Why should people be expected to talk like a book?

This is one of the things about language ideologies that I find frustrating. Why is it OK to require adherence to norms in formal writing but not in speech?

(Disclosure: One of my fields is accent attitudes, also in the context of teaching, which is quite a difficult mix. There seems to be consensus these days that modifyng your "natural accent" is a big no-no and no-one should be discriminated against based on accent. But to require modification of your "natural dialect" for formal writing is fine. Hmmm.)

June 2, 2021 @ 7:51 am

My few pennies' worth…

1. I went to Hungary in 1997 to teach English. I soon discovered that there were many things I didn't know about my own language, such that it really wasn't appropriate to employ me as an English teacher. At the same time, it could be said that it really wasn't appropriate to employ a Hungarian to teach English either; they did know the workings of my language better than I did but there were many imperfections in the way they used the language. In reality they were more able to effect a reasonable education in the language, but if students spent time with both their Hungarian teachers and their "native speaker" teacher they would (the more intelligent ones at least) gain greater understanding and accuracy.

2. Although as "outsiders", non-native speakers can often gain/provide interesting insights into a language, I was/am wary of their attempts at academic studies of the language. Clearly there are great exceptions to this – I intend no criticism of László Budai or Professor Mair (!) – but when I taught college I often found the dissertations presented by students to "miss the point" in a way that would be much less likely if they lived the language.

105. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 8:11 am

"Why should people be expected to talk like a book?" — I am certain that they should not. Long ago I cam to realise that an academic paper intended for printed publication is totally unsuitable for oral delivery — the styles required for each are completely different. But both should be grammatical, both should be "correct" within the Universe of Discourse. So while (for example) "Let's" at the start of a sentence may be both natural and "correct" for an orally-delivered paper, it would be patently wrong in a printed paper, where "Let us" would be required.

So the question is 'are there any contexts in which colloquial expressions such as "Him and me are best friends" or "Could you give me one of them green fluffy things?" ' are "correct" ? I would say "no, there are no such contexts" whilst being perfectly willing to accept that there are contexts in which such expressions can be used without any expectation of being corrected, such as within a peer group where such constructs are regarded as the norm. But if a teacher were to hear one or the other, I would expect him/her to correct the student on the spot.

106. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 8:22 am

Jarek — "no-one should be discriminated against based on accent". What about a Glaswegian aircraft pilot ? If he or she were attempting to communicate with air traffic control in an unmodified broad Glaswegian accent, then the probability of successful communication would tend to zero. Thus I would argue that there are situations where it is essential to deliberately modify one's natural accent, since to do otherwise might put lives at risk. No, of course the Glaswegian pilot should not be "discriminated against" at interview, but I would also expect the interviewing panel to test the would-be pilot's ability to communicate coherently with (e.g., a native speaker of high RP) in moments of stress.

107. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 9:19 am

This is one of the things about language ideologies that I find frustrating. Why is it OK to require adherence to norms in formal writing but not in speech?

It's partly a matter of formality, not just the medium.

When writing formally, certain public standards of "grammaticality" (standard English) are generally required. Writing by its nature tends to be more careful, structured, and designed for a wider audience that the writer might not even get to meet. Writers can generally be expected to use more carefully constructed sentences because writing is a more planned activity. Writing is also more likely to be published in some form or preserved for later reference. On the other hand, when, say, writing a letter to friends it's certainly ok to use informal and, in Philip Taylor's judgement, "incorrect" English. The choice is up to the writer.

When reading from the printed page I suppose that most people do maintain their native accent, but I'm also pretty sure that many people have a "reading accent", especially in more formal situations, that is slightly different from their ordinary pronunciation.

In speaking, on the whole, there may be a tendency to be more casual because the medium is ephemeral and the setting is frequently more informal. It is understood that speakers may be thinking as they speak and make changes in mid-sentence. However, there are certainly occasions when it is more proper to use formal or "correct" English (e.g., delivering reports or making speeches — although there are people who might prefer a chattier approach when speaking at a best mate's wedding, for instance). When talking with friends or mates, an informal, "incorrect" style of speaking might be preferred as a sign of solidarity or a deliberate rejection of formality.

108. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 9:43 am

I would say "no, there are no such contexts" whilst being perfectly willing to accept that there are contexts in which such expressions can be used without any expectation of being corrected, such as within a peer group where such constructs are regarded as the norm.

What a strange conception of language. So people are allowed to use "incorrect" English if there is no one there to pull them up. "Incorrect English" is almost like an elephant in the room. It's used right across the English-speaking world, but all you can say is, "Oh, it's wrong".

Perhaps it's your conception of "correctness" that is the problem. Instead of the arbitrary imposition of one style for all occasions, it might be better to admit that there are different styles of language for different occasions, the same way that you wear black shoes to work, running shoes when doing physical activity, sandals at the beach, slippers in the house, and socks (or bare feet) in bed, etc. What is the use of "rules for correct language" the only purpose of which is to beat people into submission? It's like a disciplinarian at a party standing on the sidelines with a big stick to ensure that people are prim and proper at all times. What is the good of that?

109. ### Jerry Friedman said,

June 2, 2021 @ 10:07 am

The competence of adult emigrants who experience first language attrition has a parallel in the experience of many dual-culture
bilinguals, or 1.5-generation immigrants, who are immersed in a new language and setting at a younger age. Their competence in their
“native” language may be truncated in several domains, and they often report feeling like they speak poorly or like children. Heritage
speakers of Spanish in the U.S., for example, describe not being considered fully native speakers of Spanish due in part to their lack
of formal education in the language and the low status of Spanish, particularly among racialized groups, in U.S. society.11 In such
cases, the “ideal” language and the “ideal language speaker” are understood to reside somewhere else, in a discursive move that
erases bi- and multilingualism as part of the reality of language use and as part of the lived reality of language speakers.12

When *some* heritage speakers of Spanish in the U.S. describe not being considered fully native speakers, isn't it sometimes also due in
part
to their "truncated" competence in several domains? Such people don't need anybody else's discursive moves to cause them to feel as if
"they speak poorly or like children". They just need to notice how they manage in Spanish-speaking contexts compare it to how they manage
in English-speaking contexts.
That might be an example of understanding better language and speakers to be somewhere else, whether in another country or in an Internet
forum or at the
dishwashing station of a restaurant (an experience that one of my students told me improved his Spanish a lot), but it's about the
practical, not the ideal. And I
don't see how it erases bi- and multilingualism—instead it valorizes (if that's the right trendy word) bilingualism.

By the way, "heritage speaker" strikes me as just as useful and just as fuzzy as "native speaker".

I join others in recommending that the authors attach less importance to edge cases [*], partly because I've been participating for decades in a forum on English, and I
participated for years in one on Spanish, without anyone expressing any real doubt about who was a native speaker. Nevertheless, if it's not too late, I'd like
case: Spanish in northern New Mexico, where I
live. I took a class here called Spanish for Native Speakers, which was the same as what's called Heritage Spanish, because the
Spanish class aimed at us non-native speakers didn't fit my
schedule. (As far
as power relations are concerned, I'm not sure whether I would have been allowed in if I hadn't had the privilege of teaching at that
college and often eating lunch with the teacher.) I heard no discussion of who was or wasn't a native speaker of Spanish, and the
students' competence in Spanish varied widely. I didn't feel and none of my fellow students showed any concern for the term's legacy of
colonialism or possible policing of personhood. Did we miss something?

The teacher was a fluent native speaker of northern New Mexican Spanish who also taught standard Spanish (at which his competence
was far beyond my ability to evaluate, of course). Did I just say something
colonialistic?

An example of the stigmatizing of truncated competence in one's ancestral language, as the authors mentioned, was that one student
mentioned that he and his friends
made fun of his younger brother for being
mocho ('amputated, mutilated', but in Mexican and Southwest US slang, "broken" Spanish
mixed with English). Yet this man himself was dissatisfied with his competence.

Like many northern New Mexican hispanic people, he said "muncho" rather than "mucho". I told him outside class that that wouldn't go
over well in most of
the Spanish-speaking world. Did I stigmatize a minoritized dialect? And if it was OK for me to point it out, what would have been a
tactful way?

Some of my physics students talk to their partners in Spanish in labs, and I often hear them including technical terms in English.
Sometimes I suggest that it would be a good opportunity for them to learn the equivalent terms in Spanish, a suggestion that they've
received with interest, though I haven't noticed whether anyone has taken it. Am I erasing bilingualism?

[*] I also hope the authors will discriminate carefully among the meanings and uses of
"native speaker" in different cultures and contexts, and discriminate between the privileging of native speakers and the privileging
of speakers of standard or nearly standard varieties.

110. ### Levantine said,

June 2, 2021 @ 10:52 am

Philip Taylor, I’m curious as to why you always leave spaces before your question marks.

111. ### Rodger C said,

June 2, 2021 @ 10:57 am

If he or she were attempting to communicate with air traffic control in an unmodified broad Glaswegian accent, then the probability of successful communication would tend to zero.

I think all you've done is demonstrate that broad Glaswegian isn't an "accent" but a dialect of a different language than English.

112. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 11:35 am

Levantine, "I’m curious as to why you always leave spaces before your question marks" — my typographical/typesetting background, I suppose. Back in the 1930's, a thin space before tall punctuation (!, ?, :, ;) was the norm in British English typography, and remains the norm in France to this day. To my eye it looks better than tight-spaced (just as I prefer a wider space after a sentence-final period), but of course there are no easily accessible thin spaces that can be used in fora such as this, so I fall back on the full space of the line. I cannot say when the custom fell out of use in British typography, but I suspect that it was probably the 1960's/1970's. I will look at a book hand-set by Vivian Ridler during that period when I get home and see if he was still using a thin space at that time.

Rodger, I do not accept that 'broad Glaswegian isn't an "accent" but a dialect of a different language than English' — yes,Lallans Scots is a different language to English, but (a) it is not the language that is the barrier to communication, since pilots are required to communicate in English (at least when communicating with British air traffic control, and probably the ATCs of most other countries) and (b) broad Glaswegian is not a dialect of Lallans Scots but an accent, a very strong accent that can be impenetrable even to fellow Scots.

113. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 2, 2021 @ 12:03 pm

"What is the use of "rules for correct language" the only purpose of which is to beat people into submission? It's like a disciplinarian at a party standing on the sidelines with a big stick to ensure that people are prim and proper at all times. What is the good of that?". No use, and no good, in that order. If we stick to the domain of language, the purpose is not "to beat people into submission" at all — the purpose is to educate people to speak properly, just as we educate them to drive properly, to eat properly, to behave properly and so on.

114. ### Bathrobe said,

June 2, 2021 @ 6:48 pm

the purpose is to educate people to speak properly, just as we educate them to drive properly, to eat properly, to behave properly and so on.

Just a quick question: What is the source of your authority to decide what "speaking properly" is?

115. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 3, 2021 @ 4:10 am

I have no authority whatsoever to decide what "speaking properly" is. In all such matters, I defer to my betters — Fowler, Gowers, Sweet, Weseen, Onions, Quirk et al., grammarians who dedicated and devoted their lives to researching and documenting the grammar of the English language. If they agree that a particular construct is correct, then I take it as a given that the statement is true; if they find fault with a construction, or state that it is ungrammatical, then I accept that judgement without question. As far as I can tell, my teachers adopted the same philosophy — I was never taught to say "Him and me are best friends" or "Could you give me one of them green fluffy things?"; had I done so, I would have been corrected and taught that the correct forms are "He and I are best friends" or "Could you [please] give me one of those green fluffy things?". At grammar school my teachers would have gone further, and explained why "Him and me" (as subject) or "one of them things" were wrong, and why "He and I" and "one of those things" were correct. In so doing, my teachers were clearly acting in my best interests — they were preparing me for entry into a world where slovenly speech is looked down on, and where correct speech is associated with positive traits in the speaker.

Now it is clear, Bathrobe, that you and I do not agree on what has gone before, but do you not agree that we have that same duty of care to the children of today ? Should we not be teaching them to speak properly, so that they can reap the benefits that will thereby automatically accrue, rather than tacitly ignoring their errors of grammar and allowing them to be discarded as the dregs of society solely on the basis of their lack of knowledge of the rules of English grammar ?

116. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 3, 2021 @ 4:23 am

Oh, and to Levantine — yes, as I suspected, Vivan Ridler was still using a thin space (albeit a very thin space) before tall punctuation when he typeset A Matter of Life and Death at the Perpetua Press in 1975, and also in H Carter's A History of the Oxford University Press, which he typeset at the Oxford University Press in the same year. Earlier examples can be found in James Moran's Stanley Morrison — His typographic achievement (1971), Elizabeth Armstrong's Robert Estienne, Royal Printer (1954) and the Hon. J W Fortescue's The Story of a Red-Deer (1938) among many many others.

117. ### Bathrobe said,

June 3, 2021 @ 9:37 am

At grammar school my teachers would have gone further, and explained why "Him and me" (as subject) or "one of them things" were wrong, and why "He and I" and "one of those things" were correct.

Anyone who explains why "him and me" (as subject) is wrong is indulging in a wilful misrepresentation of the truth. There is no objective or logical reason for saying that it is wrong. The rule for this particular usage is clearcut and can be stated linguistically. The only grounds for declaring it wrong are the fact that it is not "standard English".

do you not agree that we have that same duty of care to the children of today ? Should we not be teaching them to speak properly, so that they can reap the benefits that will thereby automatically accrue.

I agree that children should be taught standard English. It is the duty of the educational system to do so. But this should not be at the cost of stigmatising other varieties of English. Children must be taught that standard English is de rigueur in many circumstances, and that they need to master this language and how to deploy an effective style in written English.

But rather than a blanket condemnation of casual or familiar style of English, children need to be taught that there are different styles of English, each with its own place. If (to use a rather old example) Bob Dylan sings "Lay, lady, lay, across my big brass bed", they should not be taught that this is WRONG WRONG WRONG. Instead they should be taught that the lyrics of songs (in certain genres, at least) depend for their effectiveness on the use of non-standard English. If (to use another old example) Pink Floyd sing "Hey teacher, leave them kids alone", teachers should not simplistically condemn this as "bad English"; the reason for their using this kind of expression should be explained.

Similarly, students should be told that "me and him" is perfectly natural in casual conversations with friends, but should NOT be used in writing exercises for school classes. The purpose of classes is to learn standard English because society expects them to be able to write this style of English, and all work done for the class should be in this style.

You and I both believe that children should be taught to write "standard English". The difference between us is that you believe that this means branding anything else as wrong, while I believe that children should be taught that all varieties, "standard" and "non-standard", have their place.

Since I am not a teacher, I have no idea how easy it would be to impart these nuances to children. Yours is the traditional approach ("Don't beat around the bush, just tell 'em it's WRONG"). My approach would be to teach effective speaking and writing for particular situations. There are times you need to be able to write like a stuffed shirt; there are others where you should be free to use demotic language.

118. ### Bathrobe said,

June 3, 2021 @ 9:38 am

Please pardon the grammatical errors in the preceding, which became apparent to me after I posted.

119. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 3, 2021 @ 10:04 am

Absolutely no apology needed, Bathrobe, since I am certain that I do the same (oh for a post-submit "edit" feature on this forum). And I am delighted that we more-or-less agree — any differences are far outweighed by the points of agreement. As to « Anyone who explains why "him and me" (as subject) is wrong is indulging in a wilful misrepresentation of the truth. », there I fear that we must agree to disagree — I am certain that you know better than I that neither "him" nor "me" are the grammatically correct inflexions when appearing in subject position — you (I think) nonetheless believe that they are valid in certain registers, and I do not. On this we will never agree, so let us leave it at that if you are happy to do so. But Mr Zimmerman and I are as one when it comes to lay v. lie — I regularly use the former where the latter is required in contexts where there is the slightest chance that "lie" could be misinterpreted as meaning "utter an untruth".

And I suppose that I ought to confirm your worst fears — I regularly say "It is I" on the telephone, when speaking to someone whom I know will recognise my voice.

120. ### Bathrobe said,

June 3, 2021 @ 10:37 am

The rule for "colloquial English" can be stated as:

"If there are conjoint subjects, the case of both subjects shifts from nominative to oblique". It's a linguistic rule because it can be stated simply and captures a regularity, like any other rule. It disallows expressions like "him and I", since both parts of the conjoint subject must be in the oblique case (i.e., "him and me").

Whether you agree with this "rule" is a completely different matter. But explaining "logically" why it must be "he and I" simply doesn't fly.

To illustrate: my favourite rule of standard English that doesn't work "logically" is expressions like "I don't think he knows". Logically speaking this should be "I think that he doesn't know". But appeals to logic are futile; "I don't think + positive clause" is acceptable in English purely because standard English decrees it to be so.

121. ### Bathrobe said,

June 3, 2021 @ 10:43 am

"Lay" and "lie": for some reason I have never found the slightest reason to confuse these two. My mother, on the other hand, confuses them regularly. Since I supposedly learnt my English from my parents this is a bit of a mystery. There is obviously some kind of gap between us that has arisen SOMEHOW — I just don't know how.

122. ### wanda said,

June 3, 2021 @ 3:11 pm

@Philip Taylor
"If such a situation does anywhere obtain, then that reflects very badly on the teacher(s), the school(s), and the board(s) of governors, not on the (nation) state, which in general does its best to ensure that equal opportunities are afforded to all."
The leaders of the nation state are people with certain experiences, backgrounds, and unconscious and conscious prejudices. Their legislative and governing priorities will reflect their own native priorities and the priorities of the people who vote for and fund them. If someone doesn't go out of their way to govern "for all," you will get a nation state with policies that, on their face, are neutral with respect to minoritized status but that in effect make life more difficult for people in minoritized groups.
And it is NOT true that "the state" does its best to ensure equal opportunities to all. I am a USian, so that is the history I know most well. The US government has promoted enslavement and used military force to brutally kill and displace many populations. In the 20th century, deliberate policies by federal agencies promoted homeownership in white neighborhoods but not non-white neighborhoods ("redlining"), which has caused massive inequities in home ownership and wealth in white vs. black households that persisted to this day. When you get down to state and local level policies, it gets even worse: school segregation is an obvious example. I don't know English history well enough, but I'm sure you've heard of what was done in India and Kenya, and I'm sure that you could dig stuff up domestically.

123. ### Thomas Rees said,

June 3, 2021 @ 4:35 pm

@wanda
If anyone’s interested in what’s been going on in Britain, just search for “Windrush” and “hostile environment”. Or better, the BBC made a fine short film called “Sitting in Limbo” that’s available on Netflix in the USA.

124. ### ohwilleke said,

June 3, 2021 @ 7:08 pm

The OP doesn't ring remotely true.

Sure, there are edge cases where determining how to define "native speaker" might be ambiguous. But, as a practical matter, is is usually trivially easy in the vast majority of cases to determine that someone either a "native speaker" or that one is not. Arguably, "completely fluent" might be a better, less loaded term. But describing it as about "authenticity" isn't really the point.

The point is to distinguish between people who have a comprehensive and unconscious understanding of the unwritten rules of a language's grammar and usage, of the nuance of word meaning and subtle shadings of pronunciation, and of the way that people who rely on a language who are not biased from having another first language that they are unconsciously trying to emulate naturally choose to use the language. Much of what a "native speaker" knows about a language is stuff that even the "native speaker" doesn't know that they know. But this generally isn't true of the vast majority of people who acquire a second language.

There is nothing culturally discriminatory about distinguishing between a first language or languages acquired without instruction as a child in an immersive context, from people who are intentionally taught a language later in life. Someone learning German in an Iowa high school classroom from someone who learned German as an adult in college, is not equally authoritative to someone who grew up in Berlin, regarding what constitutes the German language.

The OP confounds the idea that a language may have multiple dialects which a linguist should see as equal in dignity, in which someone can be a "native speaker" with the idea the someone who is still learning a language and hasn't mastered it should be on a par with someone who is fully fluent in one or more dialects of a language.

A child in a multilingual household in Mumbai who speaks a South Asian dialect of English may be a "native speaker" of that dialect of English in a way that someone who grows up speaking the dialects of English predominant in Denver or London could never be. But they would both be "native speakers" of some dialect of English which is a very different thing from saying that the concept "is at best circular and at worst hopelessly flawed."

125. ### R. Fenwick said,

June 3, 2021 @ 8:52 pm

@Philip Taylor: I defer to my betters — Fowler, Gowers, Sweet, Weseen, Onions, Quirk et al., grammarians who dedicated and devoted their lives to researching and documenting the grammar of the English language

Dedicating and devoting their lives, while honourable, doesn't necessarily mean that their work always remains both correct and up-to-date; the 1985 grammar of Quirk et al. is the only one with even a reasonable claim on the latter, not a single one of the others having been published within the last fifty years (and three of them are a century old). You also omit the most recent major entry, Huddleston and Pullum's CGEL of 2002.

126. ### Bathrobe said,

June 3, 2021 @ 9:06 pm

@ Philip Taylor

I must say I was amused that such a staunch advocate of "correct English" would admit to the use of incorrect, nonstandard English. You gave yourself the excuse that "lie" could be misinterpreted as meaning "utter an untruth", but this is extremely unlikely, both because context will usually help disambiguate the meaning and because the "lie" is often used in collocations like "lie down", where there is no risk of ambiguity.

At any rate, the "prescriptivism" vs "descriptivism" debate gets very old very fast, and I'm almost sorry I brought it in. The point is that "native speaker" and "standard language" have a complicated relationship (see also ohwilleke's comment), such that building any kind of theory based on a simplistic equation of the two viewed through the unidimensional prism of postcolonial studies is not going to go anywhere.

127. ### Bathrobe said,

June 3, 2021 @ 10:55 pm

This is my last comment. Honest (I hope).

I am entirely sympathetic to the issues raised by the OP. I can imagine that, in doing fieldwork on Quechua, the concepts of "national language" and "native speaker" jointly work to destroy the validity of speakers of Quechua. In this colonialist attitudes play a dominant role.

Perhaps it goes something like this (I am guessing): "The overwhelming prestige of standard Spanish means that Quechua speakers are marginalised and looked down upon. Someone just off the boat from (say) Spain will have more linguistic credibility than a person whose ancestors have lived in Peru for many generations."

"At the same time, the almost total loss of prestige of Quechua in favour of Spanish under sustained attack from colonialist policies and the pressure of "standard Spanish" (or perhaps Peruvian Spanish, the local instantiation of Spanish), and the almost total lack of state support and backing for the Quechua language has resulted in the fragmentation of Quechua as a wide-area community language and the extensive erosion of Quechua speaking skills, with heavy inroads from Spanish into the way Quechuan is spoken."

The results of this are particularly severe for linguistic fieldwork, because much of the original speaker base has been decimated, both from the loss of speakers, the loss of speaking skills on the part of "native speakers" of Quechua, and the low prestige of Quechua both inside and outside the Quechua-speaking community.

This completely marginalises people who speak Quechua. While they are as linguistically competent as anyone else, their linguistic knowledge does not mirror the usual idea of a "native speaker in a monolingual nation with a standard language". Instead, they have a knowledge of both Quechua and of Spanish, richly intertwined within a single person's linguistic repertoire in a way that cannot be captured by the concept of "a monolingual native speaker".

This leads the authors to question concepts like "national language" (state-mandated, unified linguistic space) and "native speaker" (which tends to imply native speaker of a single language), and to embrace a well-justified desire to lay the blame for these people's linguistic disenfranchisement at the feet of "national language" and "native speaker". These concepts ignore, nay, negate the kind of bilingualism / multilingualism that has been common in human communities throughout history. The modern "national language" and the privileged status of "native speakers" of the national language are twin evils that have totally marginalised speakers of Quechua.

I have no doubt that the interrelation among these concepts has had a devastating and highly distorting effect on speakers' knowledge of Quechua, as well as fieldwork on the Quechuan language (bilingualism and heavy influence from Spanish have completely eroded the concept of a "Quechuan native speaker").

While I am totally sympathetic to the OP's point of view, I would suggest that the real problem is not "national languages" and "native-speakerism"; it is colonialism pure and simple. The expansion of a handful of major languages in the past half-millennium (and the "nationalisation" of languages) has been a holocaust for linguistic communities and for multilingualism around the world. Europeans have remade the world in their image, resulting in the marginalisation and destruction of other ways of viewing linguistic repertoires.

128. ### Jarek Weckwerth said,

June 4, 2021 @ 3:25 am

@bathrobe: Thank you for this! I think your contributions have been the best in this thread.

My take at this point would be as follows: The OP is preoccupied with the term "native speaker". That's just a terminological quibble. The real problems lie elsewhere: competition (of which colonialism is just one manifestation), and variability.

Firstly, humans and human groups compete. Groups with superior organization, notably in economic and military terms, outcompete less organized groups. Standardization improves organizational efficiency. Standardized language is part of that. Hence the general winning power of standardized languages.

If you see that as a problem, and would like to eradicate that, competition would have to be eradicated (or perhaps the ways it works would have to be drastically changed). Since competition, in the most basic form of competition for mates, is probably part of human nature, this may be a rather difficult project.

Secondly, humans vary wrt millions of features. That's what makes competition and selection possible to start with. One of those features is "language aptitude". In other words, there will be speakers, even among evident native speakers of "the same language" who differ in their linguistic ability. (And note that some of this will be inherited along with wealth, just like education is.)

Thus, if state services, for example, or social prestige, depend on the use of standardized language, those less proficient "native speakers", and of course "non-native" speakers, will be at a disadvantage. Even without active linguistic discrimination along the ways seen in e.g. the boarding schools of Canada.

I think (and I do admit this will be very risky metaphor) that solutions offered to people with disabilities are a useful parallel. In many countries these days it is mandatory to offer solutions for people with limited mobility, hearing and sight, for example. It didn't use to be the case. In the same way, solutions can be offered to people with limited skills in the standard language.

Note, importantly, that not all minority groups are offered solutions. Presumably because (1) they are not numerous enough and (2) their limited abilities are not perceived to be limiting enough. Also because (3) the resources available are limited.

Many would argue that the typical education system is one such solution because it offers/promises access to standard language ability. Whether it delivers on this promise, and how, is a separate question.

Another solution is using computer-assisted techniques e.g. to offer availability in non-standard languages. Here, of course, the resources are again limited. (As an example, my native language ;) of about 40 million speakers is one of the better served ones. But it is nowhere near the major languages in terms of e.g. speech recognition because it has a lower purchasing power than some smaller languages…)

And a third solution would of course be to attempt to change the social prestige of languages. Quite a lot can be achieved here, but in general, good luck with that; remember competition?

And notice that some of the problems that the OP mentions may stem from the fact that there are contexts, let us take Peru as a random example, where the system is set up on the model of systems functioning in different realities. As a parallel: In most contexts, visually impaired people are a minority and services for them can be seen as an "add-on". What would you to in a context, country let us say, where most people have limited vision?

Anyway, I don't think any of this pertains to the idea of the "native speaker" itself. The idea has other problems, granted. But I don't think the discrimination aspect is the most important one.

129. ### Philip Taylor said,

June 4, 2021 @ 7:31 am

(Purely for Bathrobe) — In the lay/lie context, I have a Czech friend who speaks excellent English, and who enjoys making English linguistic jokes. Were I to say to him, by way of introduction, "I was lying on the bed last night …", he would almost certainly respond "To whom were you lying ?". Thus I prefer to say (incorrectly, of course) "I was laying …".

And to Dr Fenwick — I omitted Huddleston and Pullum's Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (2002) simply because I do not own a copy, unlike those that I did list ! Anyhow, Geoff Pullum and I are so far apart on our opinions of Strunk & White that I fear I would not derive much pleasure from reading one of his magna opera

130. ### Bathrobe said,

June 6, 2021 @ 10:43 pm

There is an interesting article comparing the Spanish conquest of Cuzco and the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, From Cuzco to Constantinople: Rethinking postcolonialism by Gregory Jusdanis in the collection Postcolonialism Cross-Examined: Multidirectional Perspectives on Imperial and Colonial Pasts and the Neocolonial Present Ed. Monika Albrecht (Routledge 2020), downloadable from A Open (Open Access).

Jusdanis makes a number of comparisons between the two conquests, one a mediaeval, the other a modern empire. One was:

"The Ottoman Empire represented the sprawling, multi-ethnic polities of antiquity and the medieval period, whereas the Spanish Empire pointed to a new system, linked to capitalist modes of production and the concept of race".

"The modern definition of empire as a “relationship of domination and subordination between one polity (metropole) and one or more territories (colonies) that lie outside of its boundaries yet claimed as its legal procession” does not completely apply to the Ottoman or Holy Roman Empires. Nor did these empires make a clear distinction between core and periphery populations and core and periphery elites. The Ottoman Empire consisted of multiple,
overlapping forms of control, such as the millet system, the Ottoman bureaucracy, and the
administration, which gave rise to varied forms of identity. It managed its multiethnic diversity through cooption of elites, indirect system of rule, and through a policy of toleration which should not be celebrated as an early example of liberal multiculturalism since the
Empire strived for neither equality nor democracy. Modern empires, then, pursue domination. Unwilling to make cultural concessions to its colonies, they expect subject peoples to acculturate. Quite often they have a missionary zeal, either to civilize or proselytize. The Ottoman Empire, by contrast, did not regard its colonies as territorially distinct. We can’t really speak of colonies per se. When Greeks formed their state in 1832, most of the Greek population was in the Ottoman Empire, and even by 1922 a sizable portion remained in Asia Minor. The Empire benefited from control over its territories, but this occupation was too loose to be described as colonial."

"Moreover, it had few ambitions beyond the Mediterranean. When the English and French arrived in the area, however, they connected it to wider world of commercial exchange. Their
empires, like Spain’s settlements in the new world, required advanced systems of bureaucratic organization on a grand scale for which there was no medieval precedent. They extracted
resources and maintained civilizational differences between metropolis and native peoples."

131. ### Peter Grubtal said,

June 7, 2021 @ 3:25 am

On the theme of native speakers and their distinguishability , we have of course a very early example from the bible: the shibboleth story. Those who didn't pass the test were certainly denied their personhood, if being slain is included in that expression.

132. ### Localization Reads & Events #13 (May 31-June 6) said,

June 7, 2021 @ 5:56 pm

[…] What does “Native speaker” mean, anyway? […]