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  1. #1
    bbqweasel is offline Newbie
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    Default what is a native speaker?

    I need a little help here. I'm doing a presentation in class on native speakers in a week, and I would like to gather any extra information I can. So...how would you define a native speaker of any language? Do you have to be weaned on the language in order to be a native speaker of it? Or is it a matter of competency? If a person has achieved native-like fluency in a second language, does he count as a native speaker of it, even if he uses it daily and hardly ever used his first language anymore?

    I realize that most of these questions are rather ambiguous, but i would just like some input from teachers and a few links to articles concerning this subject. :)

    One more thing: I came across a mention of an interesting experiment done by an American university where they
    "did a study where they played the same tape to listeners and asked them to rate how well they understood what they heard. They also tested them on the factual content of what was spoken about. The same tape each time, but different photographs of the speaker. When the speaker was portrayed as someone non-white, the listeners not only rated the speaker as less understandable; but they also tested lower on the factual content of what was said! That is, they actually had less of an understanding of what was said simply because they thought the speaker was not a "native speaker"!"

    Does anyone know who performed this experiment and whether there are any links to articles written concerning this? Thanks!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    A native language is a language you grew up speaking. Many people do have more than one language -- I once knew somebody with three -- and we usually describe them as "bilingual" (or "trilingual").

    A language you learned later is not a native language. Studies have, I believe, shown that no matter how good you are at learning new languages, you never quite reach the competency of your native language or languages. You may achieve "near native-speaker fluency", but it's still not your native language.

    The word "native" means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, "being one's own because of the place and circumstances of one's birth". My friend was trilingual because she grew up in a place where three languages were commonly spoken; she later learned a fourth language, but it was not a language spoken by her parents or anyone she grew up with and so it's not her native language. She did, however, become very fluent in that fourth language.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Quote Originally Posted by bbqweasel
    So...how would you define a native speaker of any language?
    Well, according to my pocket Oxford, a native speaker is a person who has spoken a particular language from earliest childhood.

    Quote Originally Posted by bbq
    Do you have to be weaned on the language in order to be a native speaker of it?
    I'd tend to agree. There's the long held assumption, the earlier, the better. There's that window of opportunity that closes before the child hits the age of 4, or is it 3? But then again, would a 40 year old whose family moved to Russia from the USA when s/he was a child of 8 be considered a native Russian speaker? It depends, doesn't it? Time, opportunity, and context (situational as well as grammatical) are key factors. It's what a child sees and hears over a long period of time and how that information is related to and processed along with non-linguistic information that constitute as major contributors to native language acquisition. Here's a second case in point, my native language is English, yet I spoke with a semi-French accent when I was young - I lived in a biligual family and city. I could speak French, but not fluently. Another case in point, I've a colleague from Vietnam who immigrated to Canada when he was 16 years of age. By the time he was 25, he had forgotten how to speak Vietnamese and had such a heavy Vietnamese accent and poor command of English spoken grammar that he was deemed a "man without a language." Where's that category?

    Quote Originally Posted by bbq
    Or is it a matter of competency? If a person has achieved native-like fluency in a second language, does he count as a native speaker of it, even if he uses it daily and hardly ever used his first language anymore?
    I believe "nativeness", if you will, has to do with both origin and use. That is, did you learn X language when you where young and, most importantly, have you been using it ever since?

    I haven't seen/heard of the experiment done by the American university, but it certainly does sound 'interesting'. Specifically,

    'When the speaker was portrayed as someone non-white, the listeners not only rated the speaker as less understandable; but they also tested lower on the factual content of what was said! That is, they actually had less of an understanding of what was said simply because they thought the speaker was not a "native speaker"!'
    It seems to me that culture is the real culprit there. First Nations people say, "We are our language": if our language dies out so, too, will our culture. That is, they are one and the same. So, people might share the same language, native language, as shown in the above study, but differences in culture; i.e., North American as a "melting-pot", reflect in the way we choose to express ourselves. I've a colleague who is the same age as me, and who grew up in the same city as me, and sometimes, not often, he speaks English with what I call an archaic-like sense of grammar (it's rather old-fashioned British-like, I tell him). His parents come from India, and although he was born and raised in Canada, he speaks English with a hint of his mother's tongue. No surprise! she having been his primary language provider while he grew up. He's a native English speaker, no doubt about it, but if he were in that study done by the American univeristy, I suspect he too would have been deemed non-native. Well, I gather that's better than being "a man without a language."

    I've one question for you. Why it is that "nativeness" is even being debated? What does the title "native" get you?

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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Welcome, bbqweasel.

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    bbqweasel is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea

    I've one question for you. Why it is that "nativeness" is even being debated? What does the title "native" get you?
    Also I'm doing the TESL course and it's a topic I chose as a poster presentation :P
    I have strong feelings on this issue mostly because I happen to be Chinese in nationality, but I grew up speaking English. A lot of people would not regard me as a native speaker of English, but in my view I am a native speaker.

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    bbqweasel is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Quote Originally Posted by Casiopea
    Welcome, bbqweasel.
    Hi! ^_^

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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    I have actually heard of someone who had a similar problem. He was the child of a German mother and an English father (or the other way around, I don't remember), but his (German) mother always spoke English to him and his (English) father spoke German. As a result he grew up without a native language and has terrible difficulty because of this -- he can't always express himself adequately in either language. Exactly what his parents were thinking bringing him up like that I have no idea, but it does demonstrate that it is very possible -- although, I hope, extremely rare -- for someone to have no native language at all.

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    bbqweasel is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Whoa... I didn't know that was possible... I'd have assumed he'd be proficient in at least one. Got any links to the story? It sounds interesting :D

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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Well I know this will come in late but I will contribute all the same
    A native speaker is one who speaks the language as an L1 speaker. ie Im a nigerian I speak English not a an L1 but as an L2 because I have my own native language. It is belived that my proficiency will be better in my native languae than in English. For a native speaker the native language comes naturaly.

    Cheers Aramide:

  10. #10
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: what is a native speaker?

    Aramide, I agree with your point about the language coming naturally, but that can also be true with L2 when a high degree of fluency is achieved, especially among those living in an L2-speaking community.

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