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Thread: How do you define native English speaker?

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    How do you define native English speaker?

    How would you define "native English speaker"? Someone who has been speaking English since the day he was born? Or someone who come from an ethnic group which orginally speaks English?

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    Someone who learned English as 1st language.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    Someone who learned English as 1st language.
    Just wondering, is there a different between the terms "first language" and "mother tongue"? Although it is used interchangeably most of the time, I still ponder if there is a significant different. For example, a person's mother tongue can be French, but in his whole life, he uses English as his major language to communicate, so, wouldn't that make his first language English?

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    MT & FL

    I'm not quoting from a book, so please don't quote me without checking with an authoritative source. In colloquial speech 'mother tongue' and '1st language are often used to mean the same thing. However there seems to be a difference in context if one wants to pick the nits.

    mother tongue
    Loosely the language of one's country of birth, but this can be midleading at times. One's mother could speak a different language. Also, a country can have more than one language in use. For example, a child born in India to a mother speaking Hindi, Hindi would be his/her mother tongue.

    first language
    1) first national language
    In a country with more than one language, the one which is recognised to be the primary language of communication can be termed 'first language.' The child in the above example would go to school and learn English because English is the nationally recognised language of communication. English would be his/her first language. English could not be a foreign language because it is the official language of all of India.

    2) first (foreign) language
    If that child also learned French in school, that would be his first foreign language.

    3) first (idiosyncratic) language
    If one has acquired several languages and prefers one over the others, tha language can be considered the person's first choice as a means of communication. Although not used often, I guess I can push this argument.

    In short, mother tongue is what the child learns from the mother, and first language is the primarily accepted language of communication in a bilinagual/multilingual environment. One refers to the person's quality, the other to a linguistic environment. Neither has to be the language of the person's country of birth. If I want to be nit-picking ie. :)
    Z: The fish in the water are happy.
    H: How do you know ? You're not fish.
    Z: How do you know I don't ? You're not me.
    H: True I am not you, and I cannot know. Likewise, I know you're not, therefore I know you don't.
    Z: You asked me how I knew implying you knew I knew. In fact I saw some fish, strolling down by the Hao River, all jolly and gay.

    --Zhuangzi

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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    I'm not quoting from a book, so please don't quote me without checking with an authoritative source. In colloquial speech 'mother tongue' and '1st language are often used to mean the same thing. However there seems to be a difference in context if one wants to pick the nits.

    mother tongue
    Loosely the language of one's country of birth, but this can be midleading at times. One's mother could speak a different language. Also, a country can have more than one language in use. For example, a child born in India to a mother speaking Hindi, Hindi would be his/her mother tongue.

    first language
    1) first national language
    In a country with more than one language, the one which is recognised to be the primary language of communication can be termed 'first language.' The child in the above example would go to school and learn English because English is the nationally recognised language of communication. English would be his/her first language. English could not be a foreign language because it is the official language of all of India.

    2) first (foreign) language
    If that child also learned French in school, that would be his first foreign language.

    3) first (idiosyncratic) language
    If one has acquired several languages and prefers one over the others, tha language can be considered the person's first choice as a means of communication. Although not used often, I guess I can push this argument.

    In short, mother tongue is what the child learns from the mother, and first language is the primarily accepted language of communication in a bilinagual/multilingual environment. One refers to the person's quality, the other to a linguistic environment. Neither has to be the language of the person's country of birth. If I want to be nit-picking ie. :)
    I like the way you define, but I am not nit-picking. I ask the opinion of this because it has to do with the definition of native speaker. By the way what is your definition of native speaker.

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    I'd say a native-any-language speaker speaks the language that they used when learning how to speak to begin with. Although I like the idea of first-foreign language, because I'm about at the same place in my Japanese and French skills, but if I think in any language other than English, it's ALWAYS Japanese.

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    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    Just wondering, is there a different between the terms "first language" and "mother tongue"? Although it is used interchangeably most of the time, I still ponder if there is a significant different. For example, a person's mother tongue can be French, but in his whole life, he uses English as his major language to communicate, so, wouldn't that make his first language English?
    1st language & mother tongue are interchangeable, AFAIK. 1st language simply means the 1st one you learned as a child, which usually doesn't happen in school but in your family.

    It's obviously dependent on the definition, but for what I know, Lexico's interpretation of 1st language as "first national language" is not very popular. Maybe in China there is a certain nationalist attitude which leans in that direction. Someone from Guangdong learns as 1st language (mother tongue) Cantonese, 1st national language (the one learned at school) is Mandarin, though. I've noticed a certain tendency to even call Mandarin their mother tongue, although it actually is not.

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    Before I begin, I need admit that Bossels initial definiton of one's native language as one's first language is absolutely correct. My definition left it out because I needed to keep to the question I was trying to aswer. In conclusion, Bossel's usage will prove an acurate interpretation of native language in the majority of cases as you will see below.

    Alternate definition of 1st language as a personal trait (as opposed to that of a linguistic setting)
    A multilingual person always has one dominant language; often this is the language one communicates with others in a social context. This definiton would be similar to my previous post's 1st (idiosyncratic) language or an individual's language of choice. Choice would imply more practical fluency than personal preference which may sometimes differ from 1st (idiosyncratic) language.

    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    How would you define "native English speaker"? Someone who has been speaking English since the day he was born? Or someone who come from an ethnic group which orginally speaks English?
    Again since you like to be precise, let me try defining native language which can also have several connotations and denotations.

    Native language
    1) the language of one's ethnic group (mother): again this can coincide with one's mother tongue, or the 1st language of the country one is born in.

    2) the language of one's ethnic group (father/kinsmen) when the parents come from different linguistic groups

    3) the languae of one's neighborhood if it is not the one(s) spoken at home.

    4) the language of instruction at school

    5) the language(s) on the job

    To define a native language would involve all theste factors to determine one's dominant language; but few people would use this definition becasue it is too obscure.

    In most cases, the mother, the neighborhood, the school, and the job should all coincide; hence the most direct and frequent denotation would be the mother tongue, or the first language the child comes into contact with from the mother.

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    Lexico, excellent definition. Bossel, under normal uncomplicated circumtances, I will tend to stick to your definition, and I believe it will suit most people.

    However, let's see the situation below:

    One of the very controversial examples is Singapore. Singapore was a British colony. After it gained independence from Britain, it still uses English as one of the official languages. Even though I say "one of", English is basically the only functioning official language.

    A lot people in Singapore today speak only English at home, they are mostly of Chinese and Indian ethnic. The media language in the school is also English, all their textbooks, except those language books, are in English. Singaporean will need to sit GCE O-level in secondary school and GCE A-level in junior college, which are also in English.

    I once read in a newspaper that western people do not consider Singaporean as a native English speaker. However, many Singaporean can only speak one fluent language which is English, if they are not considered a native English speaker, then what is their native language? Chinese or Tamil? If they can't even command Chinese or Tamil, how can they be considered a native speaker of these languages.

    Many people today speak English as their first language. The problem is that many people today still have the perception that English belongs to white man living in UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Therefore only these people living in these countries or descendents of these people are considered a native speaker.

    You can find similar situation in Malaysia, India, Philipines...etc.

    The questions are: Is African American considered a native English speaker? Is Asian living in US who can only speak English considered a native English speaker? If the answer is yes to the above questions, then what about Singaporean, Malaysian, Indian, etc. who speaks English only?


    Let's look at another situation that happens in Malaysia:

    Malaysia was a British colony too, English is again one of the official language. During the colonial period, many people where taught to speak English only, hence the second generation of these people speak English at home, because their parents feel more comfortable to speak English over the other languages. Today, although, English still remain as the offical language of Malaysia, there is no such thing as "pure English school" in Malaysia anymore, English is considered a compulsory subject only. Malaysia is a multiracial, multireligious country, hence there is also a "multi-school system". Malay people tend to go the Malay schools, Chinese people tend to go to Chinese schools, and Indian people tend to go to Tamil schools. But everyone has to learn Malay and English as a subject in their school. The only different is that, the language that is used to conduct a class is in their own respective "mother tongue", so every race basically get to preserve their language.

    Let's go back to the question, because "pure English school" was prevalent during the colonial time, many people sent their children to these schools, so these people speak English more often than any other languages. Let's take an example of a Chinese ethnic parent, when it comes to parenting, these people tend to teach their children English. This means that, when the child is born, the first language the child will hear is English, because "pure English school" don't exist in Malaysia anymore, the norm for a Chinese ethnic parent is to sent their children to a Chinese school. So these children will start to learn Mandarin in school now.

    Under these circumstances, what is the mother tongue of these children? What is their first language? Are they considered a native speaker of English? Most of these children have very high competency in English.

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    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    The questions are: Is African American considered a native English speaker? Is Asian living in US who can only speak English considered a native English speaker?
    Of course they are considered native English speakers. I don't see how there could be any doubt.

    This reminds me of a friend of mine, whose parents speak Cantonese. They spoke Cantonese to him and his brother when they were kids, and still do, but both brothers I consider to be native speakers of English. They speak fluent and idiomatic English like everyone else around them, and in fact, while they can understand Cantonese, they cannot speak it.

    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    If the answer is yes to the above questions, then what about Singaporean, Malaysian, Indian, etc. who speaks English only?
    Now this I find interesting. It seems to me that if people are taught a language only because it is the national language by people who don't have a command over it and it is the only language spoken by those people, then there would be native speakers of a language who don't sound like native speakers. I'm not sure what the case actually is in these countries -- i.e. who's teaching them -- so I can't say that that is the case. I wonder what the English of these countries sounds like, though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    I once read in a newspaper that western people do not consider Singaporean as a native English speaker. However, many Singaporean can only speak one fluent language which is English, if they are not considered a native English speaker, then what is their native language?
    I think, there are a lot of people who mistakenly identify ethnicity with language. I would still say you're only native speaker of a language when you learned it first, even if your speaking skills are considerably lower in your mother tongue than in another language. Nowhere is it said that native speakers should have a better command of their language than others.

    Eg. if someone grew up in Germany, with German as his mother tongue, moves to the US & lives there - say 20 years - without much contact to German speakers. His language skills in German most probably will deteriorate severely, while his English might arrive on native speaker level (Another question that arises is, what native speaker level actually is. There are a lot of native speakers who don't have what I would consider native speaker level. ). Yet, I would still consider him native German speaker.

    As most definitions in linguistics this is probably open to discussion. This is just my stance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn
    Now this I find interesting. It seems to me that if people are taught a language only because it is the national language by people who don't have a command over it and it is the only language spoken by those people, then there would be native speakers of a language who don't sound like native speakers. I'm not sure what the case actually is in these countries -- i.e. who's teaching them -- so I can't say that that is the case. I wonder what the English of these countries sounds like, though.
    They are taught by people who are qualified to teach English.

    I would say that they can speak and write perfect English, just that their accent don't sound like the British or American.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    Maybe in China there is a certain nationalist attitude which leans in that direction. Someone from Guangdong learns as 1st language (mother tongue) Cantonese, 1st national language (the one learned at school) is Mandarin, though. I've noticed a certain tendency to even call Mandarin their mother tongue, although it actually is not.
    The reason why so many Chinese will tend to say that their mother tongue is Mandarin rather than Cantonese is because Cantonese is not considered as a "proper language" in the Chinese community. Cantonese is considered a dialect in the Chinese community.

    Of course, I knew this is very controversial. But before we get into this debate, one should define what is a "proper language" and what is a "dialect"?

    Some facts about the Chinese dialects:
    1. The national language of People's Republic of China (Mainland China) and Republic of China (Taiwan) is based on the Beijing's dialect. This means that Mandarin spoken today is based on Beijing's dialect. However, Beijing's dialect is not equivalent to Mandarin, you can learn standard Mandarin, and there are chances that you will not be able to comprehend a person speaking in Beijing's dialect.

    2. Of all dialects in the Chinese community, only Mandarin and Cantonese have a proper writting system. The rest of the dialects, such as Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew, Taiwanese, Hainanese and etc, does not have a proper or complete writting system, they can only be taught verbally from generation to generation.

    3. Although Cantonese has a writing system, the standard writing system is 100% the same as Mandarin, just that it is pronounced differently, the colloquial Cantonese is written using characters with sound but most of the time without meaning, and it can be unintelligible to people who don’t know Cantonese.

    If dialect is not a full-fledged language, the only full-fledged language that a Chinese will know is Mandarin, thus, when asked upon what is their mother tongue, so many Chinese will tend to answer Mandarin. Keep in mind that, since only Cantonese has a complete writing system, speaker of other dialects has to read written Chinese character in Mandarin, that is another reason why most Chinese say that their mother tongue is Mandarin. Imagine you can only read book in Mandarin, you can’t read it in dialect. Imagine you can only write love letter to your girlfriend in Mandarin, you can't write it in dialect. Under of all these circumstances, if you are a Chinese, and being asked by a foreigner what is your mother tongue? How would you respond? Of course, some will argue that there are people who read Chinese script in dialect, which is possible, but not practical, and how many Chinese people can actually do that?

    I suddenly thought of a question, if an American white man was born in China, and was educated there in their local Chinese school, I wonder if he will be considered a native speaker of Mandarin? Let’s assume that he can speak mandarin far better than the average Chinese living in China.

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    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    The reason why so many Chinese will tend to say that their mother tongue is Mandarin rather than Cantonese is because Cantonese is not considered as a "proper language" in the Chinese community. Cantonese is considered a dialect in the Chinese community.

    Of course, I knew this is very controversial. But before we get into this debate, one should define what is a "proper language" and what is a "dialect"?
    The problem here is that there are several varying definitions for this. I tend to stick to the factor "mutual intelligibility." Since Mandarin & Cantonese are not mutually intelligible they are distinct languages. But I know that this is a problematic topic (esp. in China, for political reasons).


    only Mandarin and Cantonese have a proper writting system. The rest of the dialects, such as Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew, Taiwanese, Hainanese and etc, does not have a proper or complete writting system, they can only be taught verbally from generation to generation.
    I can't see why a "proper" (what would that be, BTW?) writing system should be necessary for a language to be recognised as such. That would mean that hundreds of languages (eg. of Amazonian Indians or Papuas) wouldn't be recognised for lack of a written standard.

    If dialect is not a full-fledged language, the only full-fledged language that a Chinese will know is Mandarin
    Now you would have to define what a "full-fledged language" is.

    Under of all these circumstances, if you are a Chinese, and being asked by a foreigner what is your mother tongue?
    That is again dependent on the definition you use. But human language as such is before all speech. Whether you are able to read or write doesn't matter for defining a communication system as language.

    if an American white man was born in China, and was educated there in their local Chinese school, I wonder if he will be considered a native speaker of Mandarin? Let’s assume that he can speak mandarin far better than the average Chinese living in China.
    As I said, to me the language skills are largely irrelevant to the question whether something is your mother tongue, or not. More important is which language you learned first. Race is absolutely irrelevant.

    If I & my girlfriend will ever have kids, they will grow up bilingually: German & Cantonese. They would be native Cantonese & German speakers, not Mandarin & German. Whether they would learn Mandarin at all is an open question.

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    True Bilingualism

    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    If I & my girlfriend will ever have kids, they will grow up bilingually: German & Cantonese. They would be native Cantonese & German speakers, not Mandarin & German. Whether they would learn Mandarin at all is an open question.
    This is interesting, because it didn't occur to me that modern (recent) child rearing is becoming more evenly divided between BOTH the mother and the father. Another factor that I failed to notice is whether the parents from the two different languages choose to speak in either language without individual preference.

    But if the common language should be a third language, then the linguistic environment for the child becomes quite different. For example, if a German speaking father and a Cantonese speaking mother prefers to speak English without much trying to use either of their languages, the child may lose the opportunity to develop much language ability in either German or Cantonese, but speak only in English. What will be his native language then?

    Returning to your example, your (future) child would be one of the rare instances of a true bilingualist, of which some people deny the existence or posssibility. Of course I am assuming that you (plural) will use both German AND Cantonese indiscriminately (without favoring one over the other) when your child is around.
    Last edited by lexico; 05-02-05 at 08:38. Reason: edit

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    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    The reason why so many Chinese will tend to say that their mother tongue is Mandarin rather than Cantonese is because Cantonese is not considered as a "proper language" in the Chinese community. Cantonese is considered a dialect in the Chinese community.
    There're numerous dialects in China, from north to south, east to west,totally different,even a small place may have sevral dialects. In most time people speak their own dialect. In the place where I live many people can speak two dialects, what's their monther tongue? Sometimes I prefer to use Mandarin cause some words sounds wired if I use dialect to express them, what's my monther tongue then? I have no idea now.

    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    Some facts about the Chinese dialects:
    1. The national language of People's Republic of China (Mainland China) and Republic of China (Taiwan) is based on the Beijing's dialect.
    Republic of China? I don't agree with that.

    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    2. Of all dialects in the Chinese community, only Mandarin and Cantonese have a proper writting system.
    Do Cantonese have a writting system? I don't think so.

    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    Imagine you can only read book in Mandarin, you can’t read it in dialect.
    We can read book in dialect. In fact, magistrates usually use dialect on a conference or when they make a speech.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    1st language & mother tongue are interchangeable, AFAIK. 1st language simply means the 1st one you learned as a child, which usually doesn't happen in school but in your family.

    It's obviously dependent on the definition, but for what I know, Lexico's interpretation of 1st language as "first national language" is not very popular.
    I'm actually extrapolating from the perceived American usage. When I was teaching English at a language institue in Korea, the headmaster once pointed out that to call "English instruction in Korea" TESOL or the teaching of English as a Secondary Language is incorreact, his reasoning being that English is not a recognized language of the country.

    Whereas in the US, (until several years ago when they changed the law) several states had officially recognized two-languages that required to have all government documents be accessible in both languages. So my term 'national' is just a rough approximation of politically independent units with people, land, and soverginty; not much to do with nationalism as maybe in PRC. Can you suggest a less problematic term so I can avoid misunderstanding in the future?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    This is interesting, because it didn't occur to me that modern (recent) child rearing is becoming more evenly divided between BOTH the mother and the father. Another factor that I failed to notice is whether the parents from the two different languages choose to speak in either language without individual preference.

    But if the common language should be a third language, then the linguistic environment for the child becomes quite different. For example, if a German speaking father and a Cantonese speaking mother prefers to speak English without much trying to use either of their languages, the child may lose the opportunity to develop much language ability in either German or Cantonese, but speak only in English. What will be his native language then?

    Returning to your example, your (future) child would be one of the rare instances of a true bilingualist, of which some people deny the existence or posssibility. Of course I am assuming that you (plural) will use both German AND Cantonese indiscriminately (without favoring one over the other) when your child is around.

    I have read that Japanese parents living in Hawaii who try to speak English to their children ultimately end up hurting their children's English pronunciation. It's better for parents to speak to their children in their own languages, and the child will be bilingual. If a German speaking father and a Cantonese speaking mother raise their child in an English speaking environment, I believe the child would be tri-lingual.

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    Continuing with Glenn's input......

    Quote Originally Posted by Glenn
    I have read that Japanese parents living in Hawaii who try to speak English to their children ultimately end up hurting their children's English pronunciation. It's better for parents to speak to their children in their own languages, and the child will be bilingual. If a German speaking father and a Cantonese speaking mother raise their child in an English speaking environment, I believe the child would be tri-lingual.
    In your example, if the Japanese-American parents' English carried a heavy accent initially, it may hurt the child's English pronunciation especially in the early years. As time goes by, the child would mingle with the neighbors and eventually overcome much of his/her inherited accent, so to speak. Then in the long run, more damaging for the child's language development seems to be the psychological damage rather than pronunciation. A sense of insecurity or inferiority, if that was indeed the parent's attitude regarding native speakers' English, might be copied by the child although it wasn't necessary.

    I've also met several individuals from Korean-American parents. One person's parents were speaking only English in the house, but they were perfectly acculturated, and had no trouble being fully functional in the American environment although they retained some accent. The children spoke no Korean, and they excelled in English classes without any problem. But that would be an exceptional case of having super-parents, so to speak. In another case, the parents took the other route and spoke only Korean in the house. The child grew up without any problem in either Korean or English, and even majored in English and excelled in it.

    Going back to Bossel's example, I must correct my statement "true bilingual" to "true multilingual in at least two languages," because I don't know what country the child will grow up in. If in an English speaking environment, the child will definitely grow up to become a "true trilingual" as you have pointed out. Thanks, I'm having a hard time keeping up with these language configurations!

    In summary, the child will have two first languages from the mother and the father; a true native speaker of Cantonese and German.

    Furthermore, (let's suppose in Japan) the child will gain Japanese from its neigborhood playmates and in school, and acquire Japanese upto a native speaker's proficiency although by definition, Japanese is not the native language of the child. Still, the child will become a true trilingual in Cantonese, German, and Japanese.
    Last edited by lexico; 05-02-05 at 23:10. Reason: vague word order, diction, illustration

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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    The problem here is that there are several varying definitions for this. I tend to stick to the factor "mutual intelligibility." Since Mandarin & Cantonese are not mutually intelligible they are distinct languages. But I know that this is a problematic topic (esp. in China, for political reasons).
    I can't agree more with you. But for the sake of discussion, I will stick to how the majority chinese perceive.

    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    I can't see why a "proper" (what would that be, BTW?) writing system should be necessary for a language to be recognised as such. That would mean that hundreds of languages (eg. of Amazonian Indians or Papuas) wouldn't be recognised for lack of a written standard.


    Now you would have to define what a "full-fledged language" is.
    When I say full-fledged language, I mean a language that has a well recorded rules of grammar, well recorded rules of pronounciation and a well recorded way of writing. This is an open topic for everyone to discuss. It is too difficult to give a definition.

    I would consider those languages without a writing system an incomplete language, again, this is open for discussion, I can be wrong too.


    Quote Originally Posted by bossel

    As I said, to me the language skills are largely irrelevant to the question whether something is your mother tongue, or not. More important is which language you learned first. Race is absolutely irrelevant.

    If I & my girlfriend will ever have kids, they will grow up bilingually: German & Cantonese. They would be native Cantonese & German speakers, not Mandarin & German. Whether they would learn Mandarin at all is an open question.
    I agree with you. I have been thinking in this direction too. But in the real world, most people may not think this way. Just as the example of a Singaporean, they learn English first, and they can speak very good English, just that they may not have a British or American accent. If this Singaporean wants to apply a job as an English teacher, and that company has strict native speaker requirement, this Singaporean guy may not get the job, he will not be considered a native speaker.
    Last edited by seasurfer; 05-02-05 at 22:55.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by quiet sunshine


    Do Cantonese have a writting system? I don't think so.
    Yes, Cantonese does have a writting system. You may go to Hong Kong can get yourself some Hong Kong magazines, some of them are written in Cantonese. You may attempt to use Mandarin to read those megazine, but you will find a lot of words unintelligible.

    In fact, some other dialects such as Hokkien does have writting system as well, but it is incomplete.

    Quote Originally Posted by quiet sunshine
    We can read book in dialect. In fact, magistrates usually use dialect on a conference or when they make a speech.
    Yes, you can read book in certain dialects, but not all. Those people use dialect because that particular dialect is more widely spoken in that region, however, when it comes to writting, Mandarin is still use.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    In your example, if the Japanese-American parents' English carried a heavy accent initially, it may hurt the child's English pronunciation especially in the early years. As time goes by, the child would mingle with the neighbors and eventually overcome much of his/her inherited accent, so to speak. Then in the long run, more damaging for the child's language development seems to be the psychological damage rather than pronunciation. A sense of insecurity or inferiority, if that was indeed the parent's attitude regarding native speakers' English, might be copied by the child although it wasn't necessary.

    I've also met several individuals from Korean-American parents. One person's parents were speaking English only in the house, but they were perfectly acculturated, and had no trouble being fully functional in the American environment although they retained some accent. The children spoke no Korean, and they excelled in school without any problem. But that would be an exceptional case of having super parents. In another case, the parents took the other route and spoke only Korean in the house. The child grew up without any problem in either Korean or English, and even majored in English and excelled in it.

    Going back to Bossel's example, I must correct my statement "true bilingual" to "at least truely bilingual," because I don't know what country the child will grow up in. If in an English speaking environment, the child will definitely grow up to become a "true trilingual" as you have pointed out. Thanks, I'm having a hard time keeping up with these language configurations!

    In summary, the child will have two first languages from the mother and the father; a true native speaker of Cantonese and German.

    Furthermore, (let's suppose in Japan) the child will gain Japanese from its neigborhood playmates and in school, and acquire Japanese upto a native speaker's proficiency although by definition, Japanese is not the native language of the child. The child will become a true trilingual.
    In my opinion, as long as a person is able to command the language just like the native speaker, he is considered proficient in that language, whether or not it is his mother tongue or his first language.

    Going back to your example, why not? This child will be a true trilingual. There are already many cases, especially in country like Malaysia, where people simply have to learn multilanguages since the day they are born to survive. You won't be surprised to see a Malaysian able to command in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay etc..

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    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    In my opinion, as long as a person is able to command the language just like the native speaker, he is considered proficient in that language, whether or not it is his mother tongue or his first language.
    Yes, I understand what you mean. For some odd (esoteric) reasons, linguists seem to make a distinction between competence, nativeness, and proficiency. I would guess the purpose would be for logical clarity in dealing with complicated language situations involving both individuals, speaker groups, and language policies all in interaction. To be able to distinquish these elements gives one the theoretical tool to go deeper into the reaserch of language phenomenon.

    Yet for all practical purposes, the universal and innate language competence would not be a problem (unless in a pathological case), and the distinction between first language and language proficiency could disappear in many cases. (Of course we could find odd examples, but let's keep it simple for now?)
    Quote Originally Posted by seasurfer
    Going back to your example, why not? This child will be a true trilingual. There are already many cases, especially in country like Malaysia, where people simply have to learn multilanguages since the day they are born to survive. You won't be surprised to see a Malaysian able to command in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay etc..
    This also seems to be a controversial issue as I mentioned earlier because there is still strong arguments against true bi/multilingualism. Linguists of that school strongly deny that any person can be multilingual, arguing that a person will always have one dominant language no matter what. I do not have the details of their reasoning, yet feel compelled to be cautious. Hence comes my qualification, or hesitation if you will.

    But yes, if there are Malaysians who are fully proficient in all four languages without any shortcomings, this very fact could be strong eveidence for the existence of true multilinguals. Full proficiency would involve communication ability at all levels of social and individual activity. That this is rarely the case seems to be one of the arguments against it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lexico
    Yes, I understand what you mean. For some odd (esoteric) reasons, linguists seem to make a distinction between competence, nativeness, and proficiency. I would guess the purpose would be for logical clarity in dealing with complicated language situations involving both individuals, speaker groups, and language policies all in interaction. To be able to distinquish these elements gives one the theoretical tool to go deeper into the reaserch of language phenomenon.

    Yet for all practical purposes, the universal and innate language competence would not be a problem (unless in a pathological case), and the distinction between first language and language proficiency could disappear in many cases. (Of course we could find odd examples, but let's keep it simple for now?)
    This also seems to be a controversial issue as I mentioned earlier because there is still strong arguments against true bi/multilingualism. Linguists of that school strongly deny that any person can be multilingual, arguing that a person will always have one dominant language no matter what. I do not have the details of their reasoning, yet feel compelled to be cautious. Hence comes my qualification, or hesitation if you will.

    But yes, if there are Malaysians who are fully proficient in all four languages without any shortcomings, this very fact could be strong eveidence for the existence of true multilinguals. Full proficiency would involve communication ability at all levels of social and individual activity. That this is rarely the case seems to be one of the arguments against it.
    From a linguist point of view, yes, you are right. However, from a point where everyday life is concerned, following the linguist definition is impractical, and could even lead to more problems, especially those terms, such as nativeness, first language, mother tongue. That is why I open this thread. Hence, for everyday life purpose, I will keep it very simple, my rule is, as long as one can speak it well enough to express one's idea very clearly. I will consider that person having native level ability.

    In Malaysia, it is really very common for people who can speak at least two languages at native level. A large number of people can in fact speak 3-4 languages at native level, so I don't think this is considered as rare.

    Malaysia is a multiracial country, for example, a chinese parents, one of them speak cantonese, the other speak hakka, their children most likely will learn both, at the same, if their neighbour are mostly Malay, when the child goes around and mix with other Malay children, he/she will start to learn Malay, if their parents sent their child to a Chinese school, the child will have to speak Mandarin in school for 12 years, and because Malaysia government requires that all schools have to teach Malay language as a subject, the government exam is in Malay language, in order to get high grade, this child has to be proficient in Malay, since this is a Chinese school, school exam will be in Mandarin, to get high grade in school, this child has to be proficient in Mandarin as well. Because English is a must to enter university in Malaysia, text books are also in English when they are in university, in a nut shell, this child can basically speaks 5 languages without having any trouble, and this is not rare in Malaysia. Moreover, a lot of Malaysian students tend to go abroad to further their study and get experiences, and most of them choose to go to English speaking country such as US, UK, Australia, NZ, Canada, Ireland, while they are in these countries, their English ability will be further strenghten to native level.

    Thus, I have never agree with that school of taught, saying that a person will have one dominant language. Fact in Malaysia tells me that a person can have more than one dominant language, because enviroment circumstances forced them to do so. Sorry, lexico, I am a person who knows those "impractical academic theory" yet hates to follow those strict "impractical academic theory", I would rather stick to what is real in front of my eyes.
    Last edited by seasurfer; 06-02-05 at 10:41.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    I think, there are a lot of people who mistakenly identify ethnicity with language...... even if your speaking skills are considerably lower in your mother tongue than in another language. Nowhere is it said that native speakers should have a better command of their language than others.
    ......someone grew up in Germany, with German as his mother tongue, moves to the US & lives there - say 20 years - without much contact to German speakers. His language skills in German most probably will deteriorate severely......There are a lot of native speakers who don't have what I would consider native speaker level......I would still consider him native German speaker.
    This goes back a couple of posts, but it touches on my person in that I have spent many years learning and then forgetting and then relearning a language. So eventhough my native language is Korean, I lost full fluency for at least 3 years, and struggled to regain it for so long. My second language is English, but a similar thing happened there. I don't consider myself fully fluent in all modes of Korean or English. Yet I am not so hampered in either languages that I can't make myself understood. If one forgets how to speak the native tongue, but retains some ability to understand it, is that person still considered a native speaker of it?

    What about the case of being reared by a nanny who speaks a different language from one's parents, would the nanny's language be considered the mother tongue? King Oedipus, although a native of Thebes, was abandoned and reared in Corinth. Returning to Thebes, should his mother tongue be considered Theban Greek or Corinthian Greek? What about the case of Moses? Was his native language Hebrew or Egyptian? Could his stuttering be accounted for by the multiple languages combined with uncertain identity?

    These could be some examples for the argument that true bilingualism does not exist. But only from my limited personal experience.
    Last edited by lexico; 06-02-05 at 09:21. Reason: wrong detail

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