The Native Speaker in Applied Linguistics

Alan Davies

(to appear in Davies, Alan and Elder, Catherine (eds) Handbook of Applied Linguistics, New York: Blackwell)

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0. Introduction

In this chapter, I discuss the role of the native speaker in applied linguistics and set out the different interpretations of the concept. I begin with the issue of the native speaker as identity; then I consider various definitions of the concept. I then examine the relation between the native speaker and the non-native speaker and raise the question of whether a second or foreign language learner who starts learning after puberty can become a native speaker of the target language. This brings us back to the issue of identity: I consider four ways of coping with the issue of loss of identity as a native speaker. I conclude that the native speaker concept remains ambiguous, necessarily so, since it is both myth and reality.

1. Native speaker as identity

The native speaker occupies a curious position in applied linguistics. On the one hand it is widely used as a benchmark for knowledge of a language (and as such attracts opposition because it excludes those who are not native speakers), and as a criterion for employment; on the other hand a definition of the native speaker is elusive. How useful is the concept of native speaker to applied linguistics? That is the theme of this chapter.

Ferguson comments:

'Linguists ... have long given a special place to the native speaker as the only true and reliable source of language data' (Ferguson 1983: vii).

He continues:

'much of the world's verbal communication takes place by means of languages which are not the users' mother tongue, but their second, third or nth language, acquired one way or another and used when appropriate. This kind of language use merits the attention of linguists as much as do the more traditional objects of their research'. (ibid.)

This is a plea from sociolinguistics. But is Ferguson right to conclude as follows:

'In fact the whole mystique of native speaker and mother tongue should preferably be quietly dropped from the linguist's set of professional myths about language.' (ibid.). As my discussion shows there is no doubt about the myth-like properties of the native speaker idea. The question remains however of whether it is also a reality. I attempt to answer that question.

Theoretically, as we shall see, the native speaker concept is rich in ambiguity. It raises, quite centrally, the issue of the relation between the particular and the universal. Chomsky, as a protagonist of theuniversalist position, conveys to Paikeday's questioning approach about the status of the native speaker (Paikeday 1985) the strongest possible sense of the genetic determinants of speech acquisition which, as he sees it, must mean that to be human is to be a native speaker.

What Chomsky does is to equate language development with other normal human development, finding no interest in questions about developmental states or stages which he regards as contingent and essentially of no theoretical interest. In the same vein Chomsky finds distinctions between synchronic states of language or languages and dialects uninteresting, 'the question of what are the 'languages' or 'dialects' attained, and what is the difference between 'native' and 'non-native' is just pointless' (Chomsky, quoted in Paikeday 1985: 57). Chomsky's whole argument depends on a rationalist opposition to 'incorrect metaphysical assumptions: in particular the assumption that among the things in the world there are languages or dialects, and that individuals come to acquire them' (op cit:49). This is the argument from psycholinguistics (or cognitive linguistics).

And so Chomsky must conclude that 'everyone is a Native Speaker of the particular language states that the person has 'grown' in his/her mind/brain. In the real world, that is all there is to say' (ibid 58). Chomsky's view is uninfluenced by any social factor or contextual constraint. Variety and context, he seems to argue, are trivial. This is a thoroughgoing unitary competence view of language in which language use is contingent and the native speaker is only a realisation of that competence at a linguistic and not a language level. For Chomsky, like many theoretical linguists, is not interested in languages: what he studies is language.

For our present purpose, however, we note that Chomsky acknowledges for our attention the real individual, living, as he says, in the real world, whose speech repertoire is multiple. His view may take no account of social or sociolinguistic analysis or parameters but he is not unaware that the real world consists of complex variation. Our concern in this chapter is to explore the real world parameters of the native speaker since it is in there that applied linguistics has its role.

The native speaker-non-native speaker distinction is hardly as dramatic as the difference between the sexes; and it does not contain the crucial genetic difference. If we accept the model of Universal Grammar, different languages are the same language (or set of principles) but with different parameter settings. From this point of view it has been maintained that languages differ essentially in terms of vocabulary. I can express the argument as follows. A child draws on Universal Grammar to construct his/her first language (Ll) on the basis of input from parents or other caretakers using their Ll. The child is then in time socialised into a Standard Language (see below). Parameters are set and reset at all points. The same procedure is said to apply to the second language (L2) learner who first regresses to Universal Grammar and then adds or exchanges one Ll for another Ll through resetting of parameters.

A child may be a native speaker of more than one language as long as the acquisition process starts early and necessarily prepuberty. After puberty (Felix 1987), it becomes difficult - not impossible but very difficult (Birdsong 1992) - to become a native speaker. Unlike male-female differences, native speaker (NS) - non-native speaker (NNS) differences are not innate but learnt but the learning is so well imprinted that the 'membership' it bestows is real and fixed. What this means is that the concept of the native speaker is not a fiction but has the reality that 'membership', however informal, always gives. The native speaker is relied on to know what the score is, how things are done, because s/he carries the tradition, is the repository of 'the language'. The native speaker is also expected to exhibit normal control especially in fluent connected speech (though in writing only after long schooling.), and to have command of expected characteristic strategies of performance and of communication. A native speaker is also expected to 'know' another native speaker, in part because of an intuitive feel, like for like, but also in part because of a characteristic systematic set of indicators, linguistic, pragmatic and paralinguistic, as well as an assumption of shared cultural knowledge.

The native speaker (NS) who remains a learner of new words and new registers (not to speak of additional languages) and who is able to balance that role with the proper authority role necessarily attained can only be a valued resource for others. McCawley (1986) notes the difference between the native and thenon-native speaker as learner since the native speaker has to combine being also the authority. Indeed, we might hazard that a non-native speaker can claim that s/he has achieved the steady state of being a native speaker in the second language when s/he is prepared to accept the fragility of the knowledge s/he has so carefully acquired, acknowledging that there is always more to learn. Adulthood as a native speaker is no different from being an adult in any other field.

By remaining a learner, the native speaker gains access to the Standard Language. Note that it is membership of the group of native speakers that determines behaviour, in this case, adoption of the Standard Language, rather than the other way round of behaviour determining membership. And it is membership as a NS that determines the choice of the code to be used in an encounter, including the standard language.

Such a stress on identity relates this view of the native speaker to the work in social identity theory of Henri Tajfel. His comment on the typical majority-minority situation is relevant: 'minorities are often defined on the basis of criteria originating from, and developed by, the majorities. They are different from something which, itself, need not be clearly defined' (Tajfel 1981, 317). There is a relief in this saving comment that allows us to admit that a failure to define the native speaker may indicate that, like other majorities, native speakers define themselves negatively as not being non-native speakers. To be a native speaker means not being a non-native speaker. Such a conclusion reminds us of the central importance to all discussions of language behaviour of the non-native speaker. Before we consider the non-native speaker(NNS), what is it we know about the native speaker?

2. Definitions of the Native Speaker

Let us rehearse what seems to be agreed about the native speaker:

The native speaker (and this means all native speakers) may be defined in these six ways (Davies 1991, 2003):

  1. The native speaker acquires the L1 of which s/heis a native speaker in childhood,
  2. The native speaker has intuitions (in terms of acceptability and productiveness) about his/her idiolectal grammar.
  3. The native speaker has intuitions about those features of the Standard Language grammar which are distinct from his/her idiolectalgrammar.
  4. The native speaker has a unique capacity to produce fluent spontaneous discourse, which exhibits pauses mainly at clause boundaries (the 'one clause at a time' facility) and which is facilitated by a huge memory stock of complete lexical items (Pawley and Syder 1983). In both production and comprehension the native speaker exhibits a wide range of communicative competence,
  5. The native speaker has a unique capacity to write creatively (and this includes, of course, literature at all levels from jokes to epics, metaphor to novels)
  6. The native speaker has a unique capacity to interpret and translate into the Ll of which s/he is a native speaker. Disagreements about the deployment of an individual's capacity are likely to stem from a dispute about the Standard or (standard) Language

3. Native Speaker or Native Speaker-like?

To what extent can the L2 learner become a target language native speaker? We will consider this question in relation to L2 learners in general. Let us again consider the six criteria in Section 2 above:

3.1. Childhood acquisition

No, the second language learner does not acquire the target language in early childhood. If s/he does, then s/he is a native speaker of both Ll and the target language (TL) or in his/her case of Llx and Lly, that is s/he is a bilingual native speaker.

3.2. Intuitions about idiolectal grammar

Yes, it must be possible, with sufficient contact and practice for the second language learner to gain access to intuitions about his/her own idiolectal grammarof the target language (although, as I will show, this makes an important assumption about criterion 1, childhood acquisition).

3.3. Intuitions about the standard language grammar

Yes again, with sufficient contact and practice the second language learner can gain access to the standard grammar of the target language. Indeed in many formal learning situations it is exactly through exposure to a target language standard grammar that the target language idiolectal grammar would emerge, the reverse of Ll development.

3. 4. Discourse and pragmatic control

In practice it is very difficult for a NNS to gain the discourse and pragmatic control of a NS, difficult but not impossible in special cases.

5.5. Creative performance

Yes again, with practice it must be possible for a second language learner to become an accepted creative artist in the target language. Among writers, there are of course well known examples of such cases - Conrad, Beckett, Senghor, Narayan. There is also the interesting problem of the acceptability to the Ll community of the second language learner's creative writing; this is an attitudinal issue but so too is the question of theacceptability to the same community of a creative writer writing not in the Standard Language but in a non-codified (standard) language, eg Scots. Equally in doubt is the acceptability of a standard variety of a language to readers from other standard varieties: too American or too Australian, a Brit might say; and, of course, the reverse.

5.6. Interpreting and translating

Yes again, this must be possible although international organisations generally require that interpreters should interpret into their Ll.(It remains of course unclear what judgements are made of an applicant for an interpreter's post; no doubt proficiency tests are carried out but it might be difficult to deny the claim of an applicant that s/he is a native speaker).

All except (1) are contingent issues. In that way the question: 'can a second language learner become a native speaker of a target language?' reduces to: is it necessary to acquire a code in early childhood in order to be a native speaker of that code? Now the answer to that question, and this is where the circularity lies, is to ask a further question, what is it that the child acquires in acquiring his/her Ll? But I have already answered that question in my criteria (2)-(6) above, and so the question again becomes a contingent one.

We need in (2) and (3) above to ensure a cultural dimension since the child Ll acquirer has access to the resources of the culture attached to the language and particularly to those learnt and encoded or even imprinted early. The post-puberty second language learner does not have this experience, which puts a question mark against my assertion about gaining access to intuitions about the idiolectal grammar if those intuitions lack a childhood cultural component. Still, having said that, what of sub-cultural differences between, for example, the Scots and the English; of different cultures with the same Standard language (for example the Swiss, theAustrians, the West Germans and the East Germans); or of different cultures with different Standard languages (for example the British and the American)? What too of International English and of an isolated Ll in a multilingual setting (for example Indian English)?

Given the interlingual differences and the lack of agreement on norms that certainly occur among such groups it does appear that the post-pubertal second language learner has a difficult but not an impossible task to become a native speaker of a target language which can contain such wide diversities. The answer to the question of L2 learners evolving into native speakers of the target language must therefore be 'Yes': but the practice required, given the model of the child Ll acquirer who for 5/6 years spends much of his/her time learning language alone, is so great that it is not likely that many post-pubertal second language learners ever become native speakers of their target language. The analogy that occurs to me here is that of music where it is possible to become a concert performer after a late start but the reality is that few do. The more exact analogy of learning to play the piano as a child and switching to, say, the cello later on is common and is perhaps more relevant.

Coppieters's empirical investigation (Coppieters 1987) into the differences between native speakers of French and advanced learners of French in grammatical judgements produced results which indicated a significant difference between the two groups. She concluded that the difference between native speakers and non-native speakers repeats the elaborated-restricted code difference which Bernstein (1971-5) reported and with the same implication. For what holds back the non-native speaker (like the speaker of a restricted code) is the early acquired generalising capacity.

It is difficult for an adult non-native speaker to become a native speaker of a second language precisely because I define a native speaker as a person who has early acquired the language. However, the limitations imposed by the later acquisition, when it is very successful, are likely to be psycholinguistic rather than sociolinguistic. The adult non-native speaker can acquire the communicative competence of the native speaker; s/he can acquire the confidence necessary to membership. Leaving aside the matter of accentual difference, what is more difficult for the non-native speaker is to gain the speed and the certainty of knowledge relevant to judgements of grammaticality. But as with all questions of boundaries (for the native speaker is a boundary that excludes) there are major language differences among native speakers. Native speakers may be prepared to make judgements quickly about grammaticality but they do not necessarily agree with one another. And so I am left asking to what extent it matters. If a non-native speaker wishes to pass as a native speaker and is so accepted then it is surely irrelevant if s/he shows differences on more and more refined tests of grammaticality. That may be of interest psycholinguistically but for applied linguistic purposes I maintain that it is unimportant.

The differing positions of the psycholinguistic and the sociolinguistic are probably irreconcilable. For the psycholinguist no test is ever sufficient to demonstrate conclusively that native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) are distinct: once NNS have been shown to perform as well as NS on a test, the cry goes up for yet another test. For the sociolinguist there is always another (more) exceptional learner who will, when found, demonstrate that (exceptional) NNS can be equated to NS on ultimate attainment. The problem is that we cannot finally and absolutely distinguish NNS from NS except by autobiography. So Cook (1999) is right to make a strong case for the NS-NNS distinction being one above all of biography. However, making the cut by biography shows only some problems and hides away the exceptions, the bilinguals, the movers away, the disabled intellectually, the exceptional learners. The fact is that mother tongue is not gender, it is not a given from thewomb. It is, classically, social, just as culture is. We cannot distinguish between NS and NNS because our premises are inherently flawed, as Hyltenstam and Abrahamsson (2000) point out, since there are different views of what being a native speaker means. They include:

  1. native speaker by birth (that is by early childhood exposure)
  2. native speaker by virtue of being a native user
  3. native speaker (or native speaker-like) by being an exceptional learner
  4. native speaker through education in the target language medium
  5. native speaker through long residence in the adopted country.

What is at issue is whether claiming to be a native speaker, to 'own' the language, requires early childhood exposure.

Let us consider this issue of ownership with regard to English.

4. Losing a Native Speaker Identity

The global expansion of English in the20th century has been widely discussed and analysed (Crystal 1997, Holborow 1999, Graddol 1999 ). It has been seen in both a favourable and in a critical light. Those who regard the expansion favourably (Fishman et al 1975, MacArthur 1999) comment on the empowering role of English, the values of openness it brings, the access it provides both to knowledge and to markets. Those who regard the expansion negatively discuss the hegemonising of the weak by the strong, the ways in which English is used by the powerful west and their allies to dominate through globalisation, much as they dominate through economic and military means. They also point to the loss of choice, first linguistic, and then, inevitably it is suggested, cultural. What the spread of English does, it is argued (Phillipson 1992), is to squeeze other languages into less and less central roles, eroding their functions until eventually they are marginalised to the private and the home and finally lost. That, it is suggested, is what is happening in a society such as Singapore where English is now the only school medium of instruction for all Singaporeans. It is what has already happened in Guyana. And this destruction of the local language(s) is not confined to theThird World, to poor countries which do not have the resources at hand to combat the rise of English. It applies equally to the developed world where it remains for the present possible to operate a language policy of the local language plus English, in countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden. Such countries are often held up as models of successful language learning and teaching: successful because they succeed in acquiring the foreign language, English, and becoming proficient in it while at the same time not losing their first language, Danish, Swedish, Dutch and so on. But the picture of easy (and stable) bilingualism in these western countries is queried by observers such as van Els (2000), who take the view that English in these settings could well be the cuckoo in the European nest, meaning that in another couple of generations, these local languages could be in terminal decline. That of course is the problem with the argument from function: if language is primarily a matter of functional distinction and adequacy, then once a world language such as English starts to encroach on the local language functions, there is really nothing to stop it from taking over all functions. Except sentiment of course, except the sense of distinctness, except the concern that it is possible to be truly oneself (a Dane, a Swede, a Singaporean) only in the local language or in one of the local languages (Holborow 1999, Ngugi 1986). At the back of such a sentiment is the two-fold awareness of language in personal and in group identity. On one side there is the central role accorded to language as the transmitter and carrier of the sense of self, both in-group inclusiveness and exclusively through distinction from others who are seen to belong to other ethnicities. On the other side is the meaning attached to the local language(s) itself, meaning that derives from its cognitive and psychological importance in the ontogenetic growth of cognition and other aspects of 'normal' development. The first of these concerns what you do with language, its sociolinguistics, the second with what language does to you, its psycholinguistics.

Both have to do with the sense of self which is, or seems to be, bound up with the language(s) in which one grew up as a child, one's first language, mother tongue. The sense of self, one's personal identity is, on this basis, closely associated with the power that being a native speaker gives. Such power is very hard to attain in any additional acquired language, however successful the acquisition.

And that identity is threatened by the sense of not being valued for one's self (one's language is perceived as not good enough), of someone else's language being presented not just as different (so much is obvious) but as better than yours, and of the pervading feeling that whatever you do you will never achieve 'proper' comand over the incoming language, that 'inferiority complex' of which Medgyes (1994: 10) wrote.

One's personal sense of identity is bound up with one's language: this is true both for the social aspects - sharing being a native speaker with others (and the opposite, not sharing it with those who do not belong); and the psycholinguistic aspects - mapping one's way through the BICS and the CALP that are claimed to be necessary to effective cognitive development (Cummins 1984).

This being so, or rather if this is so, then we would expect the growth of English to be condemned as an aspect of post-colonial imperialism because it erodes the pride of native speakerness appertaining to local languages and never somehow replaces it with the gift (or the attainment) of being a native speaker in the acquired and desired English. Here, the stereotyped attitude of the ex-colonialists to themselves, native speakers of English, is not dissimilar to the attitude the British took in their colonial heyday: the attitude that allowed the 'natives' to remain native, that accorded them large measures of local autonomy (indirect rule) but which took for granted that it was never going to be possible for the colonised to become British.

Underlying many of the remarks by postcolonial apologists is their failure to acknowledge that English in the world at the start of the 21st century is a special case, if only because the inferiority complex, to which we have referred, is more likely to be found in relation to a global language such as English than to a language of more limited provenance. This denial of a special status for native speakers of English is surely ideological, belonging to an argument about the role of English in a world filled with New or World Englishes, where most speakers of English are second language learners. In this context there is a political point to be made in comparing

the privileged position of the Old Variety of English (OVE) speaker, say of British or American English, and the New Variety of English (NVE) speaker, say of Nigerian or Indian English. Rajagopalan maintains that: 'the quest for the pure native is part of a larger agenda that in other epochs manifested itself - and in some quarters still does - as the quest for the pure race' (1997: 229). Since there are no 'viable and fool-proof criteria for identifying a native' (1997:228) then all that is left is the 'myth of nativity' (1997: 229).

Are such sentiments specific to English because English is a special case? Or are the sentiments generalisable? Would these critics make the same point about Welsh or Basque or Menomini or Kikuyu? Clearly they are making a political point and an understandable one, given the inequities of the world. It is worth remembering that English is not itself a cause of those inequities, rather, it is a correlative. There are after all countries and societies with high levels of English (eg Kerala) which remain very poor. But that said, if native speakers' privilege is controlled, by for example, choosing a different language for schooling, as happened in Malaysia in the 1970s, English still appears today to enjoy a special status. True, Graddol writes of the 'decline of the native speaker' and asks the 'tantalising question: ...large numbers of people will learn English as a Foreign Language in the21st century ... But will they continue to look towards the native speaker for authoritative norms of usage?' (1999: 68).

It is this question of authority that worries Greenbaum when he writes of the inherent instability of a New Variety of English (NVE) and wonders whether the real question is the acceptance of the national characteristics and their institutionalisation. (Greenbaum1985).

Where does this leave the post-colonial English speaker, such as the native speaker/user of Singaporean English? James (1999) maintains that there is good documentary evidence for the existence of Singapore English, a view attested to by Richards, Tay et al 1986). Surely, the answer is that it leaves Singapore English exactly where it leaves, say, Glasgow English. Singapore is in fact in a stronger position: it has statehood and therefore is a centralising force for language planning and norms. We might speculate on what would be the position of English if Scotland became independent. Would there be a deliberate Scot-ising of norms? Or would Scotland go the way of Ireland? There, the rich vein of creative writing in English has never been supported by - or itself supported - the demand for the development of a Standard Irish English. True, there has been research into and discussion of Hiberno-English (Harris 1985) but little sign of different norms for education and publishing and the media (as in the USA, Australia). Perhaps Ireland - the oldest British colony - has had enough confidence not to insist on making that difference explicit. Or perhaps the presence of the Irish Gaelic language has provided a sufficiently separate identity and taken up the space that a Standard Irish English movement might have filled.

The theoretical debate about native speakers may be unresolved, but in the daily practice of language teaching and testing resolution is necessary and agreement on a model and a goal required. Even so Leung et al (1997) argue for flexibility:

'Little development of such an expanded pedagogy is possible without the displacement of conventional notions of the 'native speaker' of English (what we here label the 'idealised native speaker') (Leung et al 1997: 1). While this approach makes sense for individuals it is hard to see how it would lead to a language teaching policy for whole populations. Cook (1999) argues for the second language (the non-native speaker) model to replace the native speaker in order to consider the harmful effects of privileging an inappropriate communication model in countries such as Japan.

What both Rajagopalan (1999) and Canagarajah (1999) helpfully do is to argue strongly (as Medgyes 1999 does) for the valorising of the L2 teacher of English while at the same time reassuring professional colleagues that in teaching English as a Foreign Language (or indeed ESL) they are not acting as instruments of linguistic imperialism. Rajagopalan attacks the 'alarmist thesis that the teaching of English to speakers of other languages is an outrageous act of aggression' (1999: 202). And Canagarajah, a doughty critic of the power of English in the periphery, makes very clear that scholars and teachers in the periphery are not dupes, that they are perfectly capable of operating 'subtle forms of resistance toEnglish', appropriating from it what they need. (1999: 3). And he puts a question mark against the absolutist strategy advocated by the Kenyan writer James Ngugi (Ngugiwa'Thiongo) who renounced English as his medium in order to write in his first language, Kikuyu: 'there are many reasons why (his)oppositional strategy may be ill conceived ... this is not a solution to the ideological challenges, but an escape from it. (Canagarajah 1999: 177). (This is the argument presented byAgnihotri and Khanna (1997) following their survey of young people in India's views on 'the space of English in tomorrow's India' (1997: 50). They conclude that English is indeed an Indian language and needs to be problematised in the Indian context, that it must be accorded its proper role within the 'complementarity' of the English language' (1997: 139).

5. Four Ways of Coping with Loss

This sense of loss of identity as a native speaker of one's own language through domination by English (or, of course, of any other widely spoken language) attracts four kinds of comment. The first is that of the attack on the cult of the native speaker, usually as teacher of his/her L1. This reminds us of the Paikeday argument (1985) and is presented typically by those who have suffered from discrimination on the grounds of themselves not being regarded as native speakers. The second comes from the special case of so-called World Englishes, the term used to legitimate the Englishes spoken in the British non-white colonies (Indian English, Malaysian English, Kenyan English and so on).The position taken up here is again one that complains of discrimination against users of world Englishes by those who are native speakers of metropolitan English varieties (British English, American English and so on). The third concern with identity takes the world English critique further. It presents the linguistic imperialism argument which states that English (and by implication any world language) rides roughshod over all local languages with which it comes in contact and particularly those in the ex-colonies: so now the critique is not just of the attitude of native speakers of metropolitan English to new Englishes but also to all other languages. These three attacks are all on the sociolinguistic side, claiming that belonging to desired groups is made difficult by the loss of or denial of native speaker status. The fourth attack takes on the psycholinguistic argument and concerns the claimed need for all normal development to take place in the language of the home. It is an argument for the rewarding of first language importance in child development and therefore may be regarded as a claim not just for the fact of native speaker status but for its pre-eminence.

Commentators take up very different positions on the issue of native speaker power. But we can, I think, postulate that they separate into those writing from the foreigner perspective and those writing from the 'other-native' perspective. The foreigner view is of two kinds, 'traditional' and 'revisionist'. The traditional view is that native speakers have special advantages but that these advantages are not unfair, just given; and in any case it is possible for non-natives working in professions such as language teaching to gain high levels of proficiency and to use their own learner background to deploy particularly relevant pedagogic skills. Medgyes (1999) provides an excellent summary of this type of view, as do several of the contributors to Braine (1999). They argue that being a NNS teacher of English is a powerful position to be in.

The traditional foreigner

Medgyes looks for cooperation between native and non-native speaking teachers

'The ideal NEST and the ideal non-NEST arrive from different directions but eventually stand quite close to each other' (Medgyes 1999: 74). Or as Kramsch and Lam (1999) make clear from the title of their chapter ('Textual identities: the importance of being non-native') being a non-native has advantages. This is an appealing view, given the fact that by far the majority of the world's language teachers are teaching what is to them as foreign language. A supportive view, though not directly concerned with the language of teachers is found in Mohanan (1998) who takes a very traditional line:

'For a given speaker, a non-native system is one that s/he has acquired after the acquisition and stabilisation of some other linguistic system' (Mohanan 1998: 50). And he challenges those who argue the issue from the position of righting social justice: 'the plea for "endonormative" standards as a means of preventing social injustice contains a logical contradiction. We should be willing to abolish all standards or to accept exonormative standards' (ibid: 53).

What Mohanan is drawing our attention to here is how even a variety which is subordinate to a distant standard (say Singapore English to British English) has the tendency to assume a dominant normative status with respect to some marginalised speakers (such as Singlish) in Singapore. And Annamalai makes a similar point with regard to the relation betweenTelugu and Tamil in India and ponders whether bilingual speakers of both may be regarded as native speakers of Tamil:

'Nativity ... is a shifting construct and is correlated with political perceptions' (Annamalai 1998: 154).

Holborow (1999) offers a similar argument from a Marxist perspective. 'Often attempts to revive and impose a former national language can be a nationalist cloak under which new rulers' interests are hidden'. (Holborow 1999: 79). The traditional foreigner view is, at bottom, an acceptance of the strong view, that the NS is so by virtue of early childhood experience. That is seen to be an inescapable fact and it is pointless to pretend otherwise.

The revisionist foreigner

Observing the sense of deprivation of which Medgyes writes, Seidlhofer (2000) takes the bold step of recommending the abandonment of the traditional native speaker model, echoing Kramsch who suggests that it is time to 'take our cues not from monolingual native speakers ... but from the multilingual non-native speakers that constitute the majority of human beings on the planet' (1995: 49). The problem with such boldness is that it takes learners into a mapless setting. For indeed the state of mind she describes among non-native speakers of English as a lingua franca is surely one of anomie. Seidlhofer quotes Medgyes on non-native speaking teachers of English:

'We suffer from an inferiority complex caused by glaring defects in our knowledge of English. We are in constant distress as we realize how little we know about the language we are supposed to teach' (Medgyes 1994: 10). (Sceptics among us might wonder how far this lament applies to native speakers also). But the point Medgyes is making is that native speakers do not need this knowledge in an explicit form, while NNS do because that is their way into the language.

And so Seidlhofer recommends that attention be given to the variety of English used by speakers of English as a Lingua Franca (EliF) communicating with one another. She claims that the appeal to the native speaker (NS) as model for all English is not appropriate now that the numbersof EliF speakers far outnumber theEnglish L1 speakers, especially since the L1 model is neither desired by nor relevant to the kind of communication between EliF speakers 'it is important to realise that native-speaker language use is just one kind of reality, and not necessarily the relevant one for lingua franca contexts.' (Seidlhofer 2000: 54). So it is English as a lingua franca that needs to be investigated and described, now that EliF is spreading 'with a great deal of variation but enough stability to be viable for lingua franca communication' (ibid: 54).

Seidlhofer proposes a research project which works towards 'mapping out and exploring the whole spectrum of Englishes across the world' (ibid: 65). Such a project may be thought timely now that the methodology exists for the compilation of a corpus of English as a lingua franca. Indeed, work on such a corpus ('the Vienna EliF corpus') has already begun. The end point of the research is to provide a description of EliF use which 'would have potentially huge implications for curriculum design and for reference materials and textbooks'.

It is understandable that Seidlhofer should wish to overturn the native speaker model. 'There is', she claims, 'really no justification for doggedly persisting in referring to an item as "an error" if the vast majority of the world's L2 English speakers produce and understand it' (ibid: 65). As she points out, this iconoclasm is widely shared in the linguistic imperialism English post-colonialist literature (Phillipson 1992, Canagarajah 1999, Medgyes 1994, Paikeday 1985).

The other native

The 'other native' view is very well represented in both the Braine (1999) volume and in the Rajendra Singh (1998). A number of the contributors to the Braine volume are involved in teaching English in North America where they have met with prejudice about their lack of native speaker status. And so the prevailing theme of the book is critical, protesting at not being accorded the same status as native speakers. This was, it will be remembered, the complaint of Thomas Paikeday (1985), pointing to his experience of job discrimination. But it is worth noting that such discrimination is typically found in mother tongue English settings. In the great majority of situations where English (or any language) is taught, the teachers are not native speakers but members of the local community who themselves have acquired the language they teach as a foreign language. What the argument is really about whether language use in a NVE setting which involves English and no doubt other languages as well provides participants with sufficient exposure to English to make them native users and furthermore in so doing to give them everything that the traditional native speaker has acquired in absorbing the language from childhood. Such native users - this is agreed - speak a different variety of English, a NVE, but this is, it is argued, in no way inferior to the variety spoken by those brought up in the UK or in any other setting Kachru (1982) has called the inner circle. And it therefore follows, so the argument runs, that there should be no discrimination (in teaching or in any other occupation) on the grounds of group membership of such NVEs.

This is the argument that R. Singh (1998) puts forward. It is the post colonial argument. It is the argument that says that American English is different from British English and yet is not regarded as being full of errors. Therefore, Indian English (etc) should be considered different not inferior. It is an argument that appeals to social justice. So much is clear. But is it an argument that convinces in applied linguistic terms?

Singh (1998) is not comfortable with the term'native speaker', preferring to speak of 'native user'. In this his approach is similar to that of Ikome (1998) and Kandiah (1998). For Ikome, 'native speaker' is a political designation for social empowerment or for peer recognition (1998: 37).

Kandiah attacks: 'the mainstream discourse on the native speaker (which) can be seen to be a strongly normative discourse that is heavily invested ideologically against considerable numbers of people on our globe.' (1998: 92). He insists that 'it ought not to be necessary to repeat here the demonstration that these varieties of English (the NVEs) are the equal of any other variety of the language, being not mere hodge-podges of errors, mere deviations from the norms of the 'mother' language, but viable rule-governed systems in their own right which sustain and are sustained by speech communities of their native users.' (ibid: 93).

He admits that the argument is not fundamentally about what distinguishes one variety from another, nor about whether a variety of native users (rather than native speakers), maintained by a speech community largely made up of non-monolingual speakers of English whose English has not necessarily been acquired as their first childhood language, should be regarded as 'the equal of any other variety'. What the argument is about is whether the boundary between the NVE and the OVE is seen to be a real boundary by the NVE native users.

This is the appeal to the Barth social boundary theory (Barth 1970) and ultimately is about the attitudes of native users to their own NVE. 'The critical feature of the group then becomes self-ascription and ascription by others on the basis of features, signs, signals, value orientations and standards which the actors themselves regard as significant and by which they judge themselves and expect others to judge them.'(1970:96).

Barth's model of ethnicity is helpful here since what it does is to emphasise, as Kandiah realises, membership before content. This is the conclusion that Medgyes comes to, quoting Davies (1991):

'I believe that (native speaker) membership is largely a matter of self ascription, not of something being "given"' (Davies 1991: 8). And he continues: 'We should bear in mind, however, that such a choice carries responsibilities in terms of confidence and identity'. (ibid: 16)

Medgyes is concerned with the status of an individual near-native speaker, unlike Kandiah whose concern is for group membership. The confidence Medgyes refers to applies equally to both. But while the Medgyes individual near-native needs to identify with the norms of English, both in a linguistic and a cultural sense, which in his case means the norms of OVEs, the identity Kandiah is concerned with is identity with the NVE group; and confidence for him means asserting that the English variety which his NVE members speak relates to the norms of their own NVE. This is the post-colonial imperative, that just as the Australian native speaker of English no longer admits allegiance to the norms of British English, similarly the NVE native user (say of Singapore English) no longer takes account of the norms of British English.

How far the norms differ is an empirical question, but it seems likely that as far as the written language is concerned, the differences are minimal. I am still of the opinion I expressed in 1991, that:

'on linguistic grounds Singaporean English does not exist, but nor of course does British English ...what does exist is the individual speaker. If a speaker identifies him/herself as a native speaker of Singaporean English then that is a sociolinguistic decision.' (Davies 1991: 67). Which means, of course that it is a decision about identity.

International English

We have considered three ways of coping with the sense of losing one's identity as a native speaker, the traditional foreigner, the revisionist foreigner and the other native. There is a fourth way, that of a globalised international language. One approach would be via an artificial language such as Esperanto or Idaho, where everyone gives up their national identity (or adds to it) for the sake of an international ideal of community. The other approach is via an existing lingua franca, such as English, and here we are close to the revisionist foreigner position where we discussed the proposal of Barbara Seidlhofer. The difference between that and what has come to be known as International English is that International English is not just for L2 users but for all. The question which arises for applied linguistics is whether International English (Kachru 1985, Smith 1983, Davies 1989) means a special variety of English with its own norms which are distinct from any national official standard English, or whether it means a use of English in international conferences and settings, for example the United Nations, academic conferences, trade missions, business negotiations. If the latter, then International English becomes like English as a Lingua Franca. My own view is that International English usually means using one or the other Standard English in international settings. Therefore, from an applied linguistic point of view it is more appropriate to designate the activity as English as an International Language rather than as International English. The emphasis is then firmly put on the use of English and not on a separate language.

6. Conclusion

Disputes and differences of opinion about the native speaker arise because the concept is interpreted differently. That is why it has been referred to as both myth and reality (Davies 2003). Discussions of the native speaker concept get trapped in the very different ideas of what is being talked about. One main type of approach sees the nativespeaker as the repository and guardian of the true language - this is the linguistic view; the other, the social view, concerns the native speakeras the standard setter. The two views are related and merge into one another.But what they reflect is that different positions can be taken on the basis of interest in and concern for the same phenomenon, because what is at issue is the individual speaker in relation to his/her social group, and to its community norms, ie the standard language. At bottom thenative speaker is both metaphor and embodiment of the language-parole and of the competence-performance distinctions.


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Further Reading

Bialystok, Ellen 1997 'The structure of age: In search of barriers to second language acquisition' Second Language Research 13: 116-137

Coulmas, Florian (ed) 1981 Festschrift for the Native Speaker The Hague: Mouton

Davies, Alan 2003 The Native Speaker: Myth and Reality Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Kaplan, Alice 1993 French Lessons: A Memoir Chicago University of Chicago Press

Paikeday, Thomas M. 1985 The Native Speaker is Dead! Toronto and New York: Paikeday


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