International Conference


The Native Speaker and the Mother Tongue



Cape Town, Dec 11-13, 2008


Go to: Call for PapersProgramme





Nigel Love (University of Cape Town)


Mr N. Speaker inculcates the father tongue


The native speaker in linguistic theory


Integrational linguists would endorse many of the views expressed in Thomas Paikeday’s well known book The Native Speaker is Dead! (Paikeday Publishing, Toronto, 1985), at least in so far as native speakers of languages are supposed to be objectively and determinately identifiable denizens of the real world.  However, integrationists are interested in where the idea of the native speaker comes from and what role it plays in, among other things, (i) the construction of social and linguistic identity and (ii) linguistic theory.  It is the latter question that will be addressed here.          


Sean Bowerman (University of Cape Town)


What use to linguists  is the native speaker?


Descriptive linguistics has attempted, via various routes, to address the question, ‘what is a possible human language?’.  An important informant in many, if not most, of these attempts is the native speaker.  Who is this native speaker, and what is his / her mother (parent?) tongue?


The attempt to diagnose whether language exists by itself has always been a frustrating one, because language only appears in ‘measurable’ form surrounded by a number of attendant performance factors, which arguably have nothing to do with language per se, but which influence at least its production and reception.  Hence the Chomskyan ideal speaker / hearer, a native speaker unaffected by performance factors, so that his or her performance exactly mirrors his or her competence.  Clearly, such a creature does not, and cannot, exist.


Another stumbling block in the path of the descriptive linguist is the ubiquitous phenomenon of language planning.  Myriad reasons—some more factual than others—are given for this enterprise: to resurrect a dying variety, to (re)valorise a marginalised variety, globalisation, mobility, socioeconomic realities, political ideology, and so forth.  Like Chomsky’s ideal speaker / hearer, the concept of native speaker in applied linguistics and sociolinguistics becomes all but meaningless when faced with the linguistic (and interface) realities of this and every age. 


Thus, in two quite divergent fields within linguistics, the principal subject is a mythological  native speaker.  This paper deals with the concept of the native speaker in linguistics, with a focus on two particularly sanitised versions: the native speaker as an informant in generative syntax, and the native speaker as beneficiary or victim of language planning.  Starting with the proposal that Universal Grammar—by which I mean the young human’s potential to acquire any language—is the only native language, I will explore the notion of the native speaker in linguistics.  What do linguists really mean when they use this term in their various fields, and is it a legitimate object of linguistic inquiry?





Chris Hutton (University of Hong Kong)



Who owns language? Mother tongues as intellectual property


An important aspect of mother tongue ideology is that native speakers are held in some sense to own their own language. This relates to Romantic theories of ownership which imply privileged access to, and authority over, personal and group identity and its components, including language. Ownership of language in this sense is an aspect of self-ownership. Issues concerning ownership have arisen in relation to English and English standards. The argument is often made that, with linguistic globalization, native speakers no longer 'own' the English language and have forfeited this Romantic form of ownership and its attendant rights. By contrast, indigenous knowledge and culture is often seen as best defended by the assertion of exclusive or monopoly proprietorship over cultural knowledge and practices, and this can involve hostility to the documenting of indigenous languages by anthropologists and linguists. This paper explores different understandings of language ownership and language rights, using debates in the law of intellectual property (which does not in general recognize languages as objects capable of being owned) to frame its discussion.




Edda Weigand (University of Münster)


Linguists and their speakers


Language, the object of study of linguistics, does not exist on its own, like rocks. As an ability of human beings it depends on human beings, on speakers. So we would expect that speakers play a role in any linguistic theory. This is not the case. Nor are the speakers, if they play a role, the same figures, the same speakers. Linguists feel free to choose or create a concept of language which is, from the very outset, damaged by methodological exigencies.


Methodological exigencies derive from theory construction. Competence theories are based on rule-governedness and compositionality. Compositional concepts of language and their concept of the speaker as the ideal speaker/hearer have been radically demolished by Baker/Hacker and criticized as ‘language myth’ by Harris. Performance theories focus on ever-changing individual speech events. The concept of the ideal speaker changed to the native speaker and to the individual speaker. The concept of the standard language contrasts with existing varieties of language. What counts as convention is no longer decided by the native speaker but by frequency in a corpus.


Even if performance models stress the point that they aim to describe ‘reality’, what they describe is the ‘reality’ of speech. Speech, reduced to the empirical level, does not do justice to what people do with speech. Human beings use their ability to speak in integration with other abilities, mainly of cognition and perception. Language represents an integrated part of human beings’ ability to interact. To describe it, we need an integrational theory which starts from the object and derives its methodology from it. Such a theory has to cope with individuality because the speaker is in any case an individual speaker. Nonetheless, language use cannot mean use of private languages. Can the concepts of a standard language and of a lingua franca in a multilingual world be completely abandoned? The concept of the individual’s identity changes in a changing world. These are issues linguists have to address if they want to develop a language theory which is of social, political and practical relevance.


The lecture introduces the ‘Mixed Game Model’ (e.g., Weigand 2007) as a holistic theory which starts from human beings and their abilities and describes how they try to resolve their social needs and purposes in dialogic action games on the basis of principles of probability.




Baker, G.P./Hacker, P.M.S. (1984): Language, Sense and Nonsense. Oxford: Blackwell.

Harris, Roy (1981): The Language Myth. London: Duckworth.

Weigand, Edda (2007): The Sociobiology of Language. In: Dialogue and Culture ed. by Marion Grein & Edda Weigand, 27-49. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: Benjamins.



Jan Wawrzyniak (University of Warsaw)



Native speaker, mother tongue and natural semantic metalanguage


Anna Wierzbicka’s semantics of primes and universals, unequivocally grounded in the two theses of the language myth, is hereby presented as a failed attempt ‘to develop an understanding of, and a theoretical apparatus capable of dealing with, language in heteroglossia as a normal, rather than an extraordinary, phenomenon’. But it is an instructive failure: through dis/analogies between the native speaker and the specialist, it not only stresses the need to come to grips with one’s own metalanguage as part of any linguistic undertaking, but also shows, indirectly, how useful integrationism is in this respect.




Noël Christe, Adrian Pablé, Marc Haas (University of Lausanne, Switzerland)



Language and identity in Swiss bilingual communities


The Swiss Confederation is composed of 26 political entities called “cantons”. The territory is also divided into linguistic areas, whose borders often differ from those of the “cantons”; they are not fixed. They have evolved through time and there is no political aim to achieve stability. The population is generating those mutations. When more than half of the citizens of a town or a village speak a different national language than the administrative one, the village and its territory switches and officially adopts the language of its majority. According to the National Office of Statistics, twelve communities have changed their linguistic belonging between 1980 and 2000. In the bilingual canton of Fribourg, for instance, the localities Wallenried and Cougevaux switched official language, from German to French and from French to German, respectively. This raises a core issue regarding the relationship language-identity.


The two villages are communities in which two national languages are being spoken, but within which only one is officially recognised. Is there a clear geographical cut between the two languages, or are there informants in a mixed zone who are using both languages? As Love (1998) argues, languages are artificial – or ‘second-order’ – constructs (there is not a single ‘French’ or ‘German’). Nonetheless, the myth of the ‘fixed code’ could be regarded as necessary for the speakers in their communicative experience. They can refer to a label which they can recognise. An artificial frame is therefore a basis to become creative with individuals never met before. How do people in multilingual communities make sense of this issue? Do they use “codes” and do they switch them? Is there a ‘mixed code’? If yes, this would prove the irrelevancy of a ‘fixed code’ theory. Despite the strong idea of correctness of languages, do informants use creative forms to communicate in multilingual areas?


What does it mean for the population to switch official language?  The ‘language community’ myths are strong ideas among the informants: therefore, how do they consider the official switch from one code to another for the respective users of both? Will German speakers feel a loss if their village becomes officially French, and will the French feel more bound to their place if it adopts their language, or is that an irrelevant question for the speakers themselves, as they generally communicate both ways? The core question at issue is: how do the inhabitants of a place identify with their area and to what extent is this identification linked with what they think is their mother tongue?


The question “What difference is there between French and Swiss German?” might generate answers which show the ongoing interpretative activity of the informants according to the situation. Some will think that the differences are on the level of the language, others on the level of the population. The latter interpretation shows how language is closely associated with identity in general representations. Those stereotypes are abstract conveyers of ideological assumptions, often fertile grounds for social and ethnic discriminations. Will a multilingual community make people more aware of this fact and therefore more open-minded regarding users of other languages, or rather value only two (or more) “groups of speakers” and thus maintain linguistic hierarchies?


The purpose of the present study is also to show how informants differ in their answers according to the context of communication. The same question might generate answers which (i) illustrate how the informants make sense of the inhabitants’ self-representations (foreigners and immigrants will also be questioned, to see how they consider their own linguistic knowledge), (ii) reveal something about the supposed identity of the interviewer (French and German, but also English, will be used for the investigation). If the interviewer is showing linguistic skills in the two different “codes”, will the informants use both to communicate? Another focus of this study is to ask informants whether a certain language has a better position (in the hierarchy of informants) according to the administrative, professional and social position.


One of the conclusions we might get is the following. In Wallenried, there is a German and a French high school, but education is offered in a single language per school. Macro-social distinctions seem here at stake to prevent people from learning hybrid codes. This fact enlightens the existence of an ideological conception of language in state politics, despite the multilingual status of the country. The differences that exist between two languages could therefore be regarded as learnt, while the folk (including linguists) usually attribute the differences to the essence of the languages themselves.




Love, Nigel. 1998. “Integrating Languages”. In Harris, Roy and George Wolf (eds.). Integrational Linguistics. A First Reader. Pergamon Press, 96-110. 


Harris, Roy. “Introduction to Integrational Linguistics”, Oxford, Pergamon Press 1998



Alex V. Kravchenko (Baikal National University of Language and Law)



Native speakers, mother tongues, and other objects of wonder



It is routine practice in orthodox linguistics to appeal to native speakers as ‘informants’ in defining ‘facts’ about a particular language spoken by a particular community. These facts serve the goal of identifying individual languages as separate semiotic systems governed by specific sets of rules. The latter may differ considerably from language to language while having the same function of ‘organizing’ verbally expressed thoughts which humans ‘exchange’ in communication. Since symbols (words) and rules are ‘in the head’ in the special ‘language organ’, they are responsible for linguistic ‘competence’ which underlies actual ‘performance’. A native speaker's competence is genetically pre-wired, which invokes the concept of ‘mother tongue’ as something ‘pure’, passed on from mother to child. Not surprisingly, linguistic performance of ‘native speakers’ is believed to be exemplar for communication in a given tongue, a kind of standard to be achieved by those whose ‘mother tongue’ is different and whose cultural identity, for that reason, is also different. This is what orthodox linguistics wants us to think, and this is where it errs.

As culturally constrained behaviour, languaging is grounded in the complex cognitive dynamics in real space-time. Verbal patterns are virtual; as such they depend on socio-cultural contingencies in the developmental history of an individual. As a result, individuals speaking allegedly the same ‘mother tongue’ may differ in their command of language (both at the ‘competence’ and ‘performance’ levels) to a degree when successful communication may become problematic. When chosen as ‘informants’, they will often differ in their judgments on ‘grammaticality’ of particular verbal patterns. Thus, the empirical value of ‘linguistic competence’ allegedly characteristic of native speakers, appears to be questionable. This brings up the question of whether a community of native speakers sharing the same ‘mother tongue’ is, in fact ‘monoglot’, thus differing in some essential aspects from communities in which two or more languages are spoken, and whether the way native speakers construct their identities differs from how it is done by non-native speakers.

Moreover, the notion of ‘mother tongue’ itself is controversial; for example, due to different socio-cultural contingencies on the developmental time-scale, the language my mother spoke was not exactly the same kind of language that my best friend's mother spoke, although they both were ‘native speakers’ of Russian on the historical time-scale. Importantly, over our developmental history my friend and I, although speaking the same ‘mother tongue’, constructed different linguistic/cultural identities, one of us appearing to be much more ‘Russian’ than the other. As a father, I have spoken English (which is not my ‘mother tongue’) to my children from the day they were born, never once addressing them in my ‘mother tongue’. Psychologically, they have neither perceived English as a foreign language, nor their father as a non-native speaker. To them, English is a ‘father tongue’ which, along with their mother tongue, has impacted on their identity. Although fluent in English, are they native speakers of English? I don't know. Do they suffer from split identities? Certainly not. Are they Russian? I don't have an answer to this question.



Jesper Hermann (University of Copenhagen)


 The notion of ’personal identity’ as a joker in a multilingual language community

Our commonsense notions of identity and language turns out to be of no avail when they have to be used in a society recently turned multilingual, as the case of Denmark shows. For more than a hundred years, an abnormally monoglot prevailing culture was the norm. However, recent migrations have during the past thirty years or so forced us to wake up to a new reality. The paper addresses this situation as a question of developing some more realistic and scientific notions to deal with the impossible clashes between outdated, un-scientific ideas both of language and of identity and of their possible marriage-nexus.


George Braine (Chinese University of Hong Kong)



The nonnative speaker movement: achievements and challenges 


The nonnative speaker (NNS) movement has shown remarkable progress since its beginning in 1999. In areas such as employment, research, publications, and leadership in professional organizations, the achievements of NNS teachers and scholars have been unprecedented in North America. However, most NNS English teachers live and work beyond North America, and, in many countries, discrimination against NNS English teachers is still rampant. This is clearly seen in countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and even in China. Eliminating or reducing such discrimination is the challenge facing the ELT profession in general and the NNS movement in particular.


In this presentation, I will first summarize the growth of the NNS movement in North America, and then explore the issues facing NNS English teachers, especially in some Asian countries. While discrimination must be confronted, I will also argue that NNS teachers also have the responsibility for improving their language and teaching skills.




Maria Recuenco Pen)alver (University of Namibia)


Vassilis Alexakis’s mother tongue: what is the identity of a Greek-French/French-Greek Writer?


Vassilis Alexakis is an artist (novelist, filmmaker, cartoonist, journalist...) born in Greece in 1943. In 1961 he went to France by the first time when he got a grant to study Journalism in Lille. Having finished theses studies, he returned to Greece in 1964 to do his military service. Three years later, the coup d'état in Greece and the installation of the military regime (Colonels’ regime, 1967-1974) forced him into exile. He returned to France, this time to Paris, where he settled till nowadays that he is travelling constantly between France and Greece, living a life divided between two countries and two languages. His works, drawn from two cultures, and produced in Greek and French, explore the relationship between identity and language, are complete with multicultural themes, and references to the memory and the self, and exile, loss, and gain.


Due to his languages, the reception of his books in his homeland and his adoption country is quite curious: Alexakis is considered as a foreigner writer (French author) in Greece and as “the most Greek of the French writers” in France.


Two of the most famous and intereseting Alexakis’s works are dedicated to languages: La langue maternelle (1995) [The mother tongue] and Les mots étrangers (2002) [Foreign words] (translated into English in 2006 by Alyson Waters).


In The mother tongue, Nikolaïdès, the protagonist, (Alexakis’s alter ego, as in many of his works) pays homage to his death mother. Living between two languages, French and Greek, Nikolaïdès’ return to Greece after his mother’s passing, but this visit to the homeland reveals to him that the linguistic diglossia he suffers is only part of a much more complex diglossia. The book is a narrative of nostalgia but also and primarily one of dispossession and of a search. The excuse of a quest (for the meaning of the Delphic “Epsilon”) leads the protagonist through quite complicated corridors of language, culture, and identity.


Foreign words is a meditation on language and loss, and also on the power of words to change the way we see ourselves, and we see the world. The protagonist of the novel, that has been wandering for almost 30 years from one country and one language to the other, feel at the age of 52 years old, the need to learn and write yet another language, Sango, an idiom spoken only in the Central African Republic. Multiculturalit, identity, self-determination, emigration, culture, and others, are woven into an intimate portrait of a man struggling to come to terms with the death of his father and the fact that he is now "all alone one".




Nora Norahim (Malaya)

Language choice in the Bidayuh community in Sarawak


The paper discusses the results of a study which examines the language choice patterns of a sub-group of a “major minority” in Sarawak. Despite a population of 167,000 speakers, the Bidayuh language displays some characteristics of an endangered language. The proximity of the Bidayuh speech community to the capital city increases susceptibility to movement away from the mother tongue among its speakers. The community is taking steps to prevent this from happening. This study attempts to ascertain the direction of the changing language choice patterns of its community members, and the extent to which this change is threatening the position of the mother tongue. Data for the study was collected from 64 respondents through in-depth-interviews, and observations of their language behaviour in daily interactions. Interviews with community leaders elicited answers to such questions as: “if opportunity and access to the dominant language is present, and incentives, especially socio-economic, will these motivate a shift to dominant languages among members of this community?”(Christina Bratt Paulson, 1994:34). Inter-speaker variations at individual and group level are examined as these are closely linked to social diversity and would reflect some form of linguistic change in progress, including changes in community language-use patterns (Gal 1979).




Florence Dupré (Université de Réunion)

Creole versus French in Reunion: diglossia, identity and sociolinguistic representations


The language of slave ancestors, the French-based créole réunionnais arose in a complex socio-historic and socio-linguistic context during which the slaves were unable to  speak their own native language on account of  the particular organization of the colony. Since then, some Reunion Creole native speakers have had a dual relationship with their mother tongue: pride and uneasiness are clearly mingled. This ambivalence towards their native language results from several elements which all go back to the colonization period. Colonization is fundamentally the cornerstone of the linguistic insecurity of Reunion Creole native speakers. Indeed, the social, economic and linguistic organization of the island set up by French colonists from the 17th century, i.e. slavery, was the socio-economic background to the genesis of Reunion Creole, which means that it was initially the means of communication of the colony’s most inferior  and destitute group.


Besides, the linguistic monopoly of the French language in its local variety is another reason for the stigmatization of Reunion Creole. In the French/Creole diglossia in Reunion Island, French represents social, economic and linguistic prestige linked to its status of national language.  Since colonization, it is the language of the social “élite” and French is synonymous with education. As public sphere language, it is thus the language of power in Reunion.  This omnipresence inevitably pushed Creole towards marginality and, to some extent, towards informal illegitimacy right from its creation.

This linguistic hierarchy is a situation with which Creole speakers live more or less easily. For some, the bilingualism is “additive”, but “subtractive” for others. Nevertheless, the speakers have all come to understand that mastering what is traditionally called “standard” French is a key to socio-economic integration, which does not mean surrendering their native linguistic heritage and practices. Besides, since the 1970s, the Reunionese Creole identity has been expressing itself through various sources such as literature, music, theatre, radio or screen productions. Creole speakers are finding different ways of reinstating their particular voice and linguistic identity.



Amos Chauma (University of Malawi)



Language Maintenance and Endangerment : The Case of Chilomwe  in Malawi


During the past decade, arguments on endangered languages have constituted one of the major issues in language education. They have mostly been concerned with how to save or revitalize languages in danger of extinction. Available evidence in the literature on endangered languages suggests that a large proportion of the world's languages are in imminent danger of coming to have no native speakers in the next few generations.


The current state of Malawi consists of a variety of ethnic groups most of which have their own languages. The last population census that took place in 1998 revealed that Malawi had more than fourteen Bantu languages. The majority languages were identified as Chichewa with 57.2% of the population claiming to be native speakers; Chinyanja 12.8%, Chiyao 10.1%, Chitumbuka 9.5%, Chisena 2.7%, Chilomwe 2.4%, Chitonga 1.7% and other languages 3.6%.  The other languages enumerated in the census are Chikhokhola, Chingoni, Chinkhonde, Chilambya, Chisukwa, Chinyakyusa, Chiswahili, Chimambwe, Chibandia, Chinyiha, and Chindali. The census also noted that Chichewa was the most understood language (76.6%). Given the almost one-to-one correspondence between language and ethnic group, the number of languages enumerated in the census roughly represents the number of indigenous ethnic groups in Malawi.

The Lomwe are one of the four largest ethnic groups living in Malawi.  They are located primarily in the southeast section of Malawi with the largest concentration being in Phalombe district.  Others live in Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Zomba, and Liwonde in Machinga. Smaller numbers are scattered throughout the southern region of Malawi.  


The Lomwes do not speak Chilomwe. They prefer to be associated with their ethnic groups but not the language perhaps because they accept the fact that their languages are no longer viable now as was the case before. While a handful Lomwes  are trying hard to revive the languages, the majority are disinterestedly going about using Chichewa  and Chitumbuka languages respectively.


Since the Chilomwe language is not being passed on from the older to younger generations, the result is constant disuse of the native language and their ultimate disappearance as they are no more taught to children who are often embarrassed to speak them even if they have some knowledge.


Consequently Chilomwe is dying out, with only the oldest still speaking it but cannot communicate with the younger generations. Many of the younger Lomwes now speak in Chichewa language which is other peoples’ language. This undoubtedly is a problem since language is a social phenomenon by means of which individuals and groups construct personal identities.


Since languages are perpetuated by children who learn from their parents, the case of Chilomwe language which is no longer learned as a mother tongue is therefore beyond mere endangerment but doomed to extinction like species lacking reproductive capacity.


The purpose of the paper therefore is to critically explore the endangerment and maintenance  levels of the Chilomwe language in Malawi. The paper discusses factors leading to the endangerment, efforts  to revitalize Chilomwe, the challenges facing those attempts and whether or not the revival efforts are worth undertaking.



John McKeown (Abu Dhabi)


“One hasn’t got time for the waiting game”: promoting bilingual and bicultural community through the development of shared practice


Creating a community of shared practices is an approach to working together that profoundly affects schooling by positively, and efficiently, moving reform forward. Initiating and sustaining the concept is challenging: it requires staff to focus on learning rather than teaching, to work collaboratively on matters related to learning, and to be accountable for results that fuel continued improvement.  Under these circumstances, creating shared common goals amongst diverse faculty requires a multi-faceted approach. Working together to construct shared practice produces a repertoire of experience and expertise that develop mutually beneficial aims and creates rapport between teachers and trainers from different backgrounds or countries.  Specific practical curriculum and administrative examples can be put to immediate use to develop trust between participants from different cultures. Implementing these strategies builds bridges with teachers previously grounded in a teacher-centered pedagogical style and offers opportunities to develop a student-centered methodology. _________________________________________________________________________________________


Umberto Ansaldo (University of Amsterdam)


Identity alignment in multilingual communities: The Malays of Sri Lanka


This paper introduces the notion of identity alignment as an alternative to the notion of shift in multilingual communities where language contact leads to the evolution of new varieties. The notion of identity alignment in multilingual ecologies (Lim and Ansaldo 2006, 2007) implies two significant things. First, that identity can be defined by being multilingual. This requires a loose view of ‘community’, shifting and constantly adapting and renegotiating identities in an ever-changing ecology (Djité 2006: 12). The notion of “simultaneous identities” (Woolard 1999: 20-21) in this context is not new. It suggests that, instead of assigning one language a preferential status in a multilingual community, one’s linguistic identity is shaped by the plurality of linguistic codes itself, regardless of the order in which they were acquired. Secondly, as observed by Le Page and Tabouret-Keller (1985), concepts such as ‘native language’ and ‘mother tongue’ come to mean little in multilingual settings, where more than one language is spoken from birth (1985: 189). Ferguson (1982: vii) suggests that we “quietly drop” the notion of mother tongue from professional linguistics, a call heeded by Rampton (1990: 107), who argues that the related notions of expertise, inheritance and affiliation do not adequately identify sociolinguistic situations and that it is inaccurate to view people as belonging to only one social group. We discuss these issues in the light of the Malay vernacular of Sri Lanka.


The evolution of Sri Lanka Malay (SLM) can be seen as a process of interacting and negotiating linguistic identities in a new environment. In the Malay community of Sri Lanka we clearly see a multiple linguistic and cultural identity that is both Lankan and Malay. The former identification is manifest in the absence of a wish to ‘return’ to Malaysia or Indonesia, while the latter is expressed in the interest in revitalizing the Malay language in the community. In colonial times, the Malays had within their multilingual repertoire Malay, Sinhala, Tamil, English, and these different linguistic varieties served various functions and allowed various identity alignments, including the evolution of a new vernacular unique to the Malays of Sri Lanka. These interactions and negotiations are still ongoing, albeit with different linguistic codes involved, due to economic, cultural and political changes. This can be seen in the growing importance of the use of English in the household, at times replacing the SLM vernacular, and the recent addition of Bahasa Melayu, the standard variety of Malaysia, to their repertoire, which may eventually replace SLM. Where SLM is still be the primary language (especially in the home domain), it is far from being exclusive; code-mixing with Sinhala and/or Tamil is frequent and both these languages occupy very significant functional roles as languages of education and economic opportunity. In other words, the Sri Lanka Malays can be seen as having a pluralistic identity, and are not conflating or changing identities; rather, their identity is simply multifaceted and open to negotiation, as is their linguistic repertoire.



Djité, Paulin G. 2006. Shifts in linguistic identities in a global world. Language Problems and Language Planning 30.1: 1-20.

Ferguson, Charles A. 1982. Foreword. In B. Kachru (ed.), The Other Tongue: English Across Cultures. Oxford: Pergamon, vii-xi.

Le Page, Robert and Andrée Tabouret-Keller. 1985. Acts of Identity: Creole-Based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity. Cambridge University Press.

Lim, Lisa and Umberto Ansaldo. 2006. Keeping Kirinda vital: The endangerment-empowerment dilemma in the documentation of Sri Lanka Malay. Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication Working Papers 1: 51-66.

Lim, Lisa and Umberto Ansaldo. 2007. Identity alignment in the multilingual space: The Malays of Sri Lanka. In Eric A. Anchimbe (ed.), Linguistic Identity in Multilingual Postcolonial Spaces. Cambridge Scholars Press, 218-43.

Rampton, Ben. 1990. Displacing the native speaker: Expertise, affiliation and inheritance. In Roxy Harrison and Ben Rampton (eds.), The Language and Ethnicity Reader. London: Routledge, 107-12.

Woolard, Kathryn A. 1999. Simultaneity and bivalency as strategies in bilingualism. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 8.1: 3-29.



Rajend Mesthrie (University of Cape Town)



Native speaker, vernacular universals and New Englishisms: towards an empirical investigation.


Jack Chambers (2003) has raised the question why it is that certain features recur in the sociolinguistic variationist literature on L1 English.  He terms these ‘vernacular universals’ since they tend to be weeded out or decrease in frequency in prestige and more formal styles.  Some candidates from Chambers (2003: 265-6) are:

    (a) Use of alveolar for velar nasal in forms like fishin’ and walkin’.

    (b) word-final consonant cluster simplification  (e.g. fas’ for fast)

    (c) default singulars like invariant was to the exclusion of were

    (d) conjugation regularization (e.g. He walk)

    (e) multiple negation (e.g. I ain’t giving nothing to nobody)


A parallel set of features has been claimed to exist for non-vernaculars – i.e. L2 varieties of English that are spoken fluently and habitually by people in the colonial and postcolonial world (aka New Englishes).  These similarities across L2 varieties of English were termed Angloversals by Christian Mair (2003) and Universals of New Englishes by Kortmann and Szmrecsanyi (2004).   Perhaps a better term (with more restricted connotation) is New Englishisms (Simo Bobda 2000). Some syntactic New Englishisms include:

    (i) The use of invariant question tags (e.g. isn’t it?)

    (ii) Use of be + -ing with stative verbs

    (iii) Use of resumptive pronouns in relative clauses.

    (iv) Use of inversion in indirect questions: (Do you know what will she say?)


For phonology there are many similarities within New Englishes like the use of a 5-vowel system (plus some diphthongs), the tendency towards syllable timing, postponement of stress relative to current RP norms (e.g. faciliıtate) and the replacement of / θ / and / ð / by something other than a fricative. 


I propose that speakers undergoing language shift form a crucial test case in resolving whether there are qualitative differences between vernacular universals and New Englishisms, or whether these have the status of dialect differences.  I take a view of language as an aggregate of acoustic speech signals, whose defining feature is being continuous (or indiscrete). Everyone, by virtue of being human and interacting in a human community, has the ability to process at least one language holistically, i.e. without segmenting the speech signal consciously. With adequate interaction one is able to speak this language – i.e. transmit its continuous signals without segmenting it consciously. Some people in multilingual societies might acquire more than one language natively in this way.  In typical colonial bilingualism English is transmitted largely by education – i.e. breaking up the speech signals and teaching them in analytic units. The two modes of transmission are different.  For the vernacular the speech signal is ‘caught’ unsegmented by interaction and of course segmented unconsciously by our mental faculty for language.  For colonial bilingualism the speech signal is ‘taught’ – i.e. segmentation precedes interaction.  It is possible that the two modes result in different properties to the speech signal. In the ‘taught’ approach there would, ceteris paribus, be less cluster simplification, less assimilation, less use of vowel reduction, more explicit marking of clausal relations etc.  In the ‘caught’ approach the child learner enters into the historical evolution of the language, with the speech signal being subject to the vagaries of variation and change.  The child learns the semantic system of her native language and the historical oddities of its speech signals in flux.  If we accept this, and wish to test the native speaker construct further, then we should observe what happens when an L2 becomes L1.  I propose to do this with 2 native speakers born in India who claim English as their L1.



Timothy Reagan (University of the Witwatersrand  and Central Connecticut State University)



What is my native language? The conceptual challenge of the prelingually deaf


The concepts of ‘native language’ and ‘mother tongue’ are, under the best of circumstances, somewhat problematic. Like the concept of ‘language’ itself, these phrases, it can be argued, do not refer to actual entities at all, but rather function as heuristic devices that are used to facilitate discussion about what are in fact immensely complex matters.  Thus, some scholars have argued, with respect to the term ‘language’ that “in its most commonplace and everyday uses, the term ‘language’ is both ahistorical and atheoretical” (Reagan, 2004, p. 43), and furthermore, that the writers who have suggested that we need to speak to Englishes, rather than of English, are correct as far as they go – but they do not go quite far enough.  Not only are there multiple Englishes, but there are quite literally millions of different Englishes.  Nor does this observation apply solely to English; it is true of each and every language.  There are Frenches, Russians, and Navajos, but no English, French, Russian or Navajo. (Reagan, 2004, p. 46)


The terms ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native speaker’ present similar conceptual problems.  Romaine, for instance, has noted that “like ‘language’ and ‘dialect’, ‘mother tongue’ is not a technical term and there are many problems with its use” (1994, p. 37).  Apart from the obvious embedded assumption that children acquire their L1 from their mother (when in fact in many societies they acquire their father’s language as their L1), there are also problems with presupposing that ‘native speakers’ are simply those who have acquired a language “as children in a natural setting” (O’Grady & Dobrovolsky, 1996, p. 1), as is commonly done in linguistics.   What we are actually discussing here, of course, is the fact that what constitutes an individual’s ‘native language’ or ‘mother tongue’ is in fact socially constructed and constituted.  In short, the concepts of ‘native language’ and ‘mother tongue’, like that of ‘language’, are reflections of what is basically a positivistic view of the world in general, and of language and language behaviour in particular (see Reagan, 2005a). 


The case of the deaf presents an especially interesting example of the limitations of traditional discourse about ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native language’.  The vast majority of deaf individuals are born to hearing, and non-signing, parents. Once a child is identified as having significant hearing loss, under the best of circumstances intervention begins – perhaps through the introduction of a sign language, perhaps through intensive oral and aural rehabilitation, and perhaps through surgical interventions such as those provided by cochlear implants.  In some instances, a combination of these different approaches is used.  What is important to note here is that in most cases the deaf child’s exposure to language (whether spoken or signed) is delayed. 


Such delays, in turn, have developmental consequences that are difficult to address later on in the child’s education. 


This situation is intriguing in that most deaf children do not in fact actually have a ‘mother tongue’ or ‘native language’ in a meaningful sense.  The language of the parents (unless it is already a signed language) is not the child’s L1; indeed, to learn this language will require extensive educational efforts.  Nor, initially, is the natural sign language of the surrounding deaf community the child’s ‘native language’ since he or she is most likely to learn that language only after being placed in an educational setting.  As Peter Matthews has noted, echoing the view of mainstream linguists, a ‘native language’ is “a language that people have acquired naturally as children, as opposed to one learned later, e.g. through formal education” (1997, p. 238).   Indeed, most deaf children actually learn to sign from other deaf children in residential schools for the deaf.  Thus, such individuals quite literally do not have a ‘native language’ or ‘mother tongue’: prior to either the acquisition of a natural sign language, such as American Sign Language or South African Sign Language, or extensive intervention in terms of the deliberate teaching of speaking and lip-reading skills in a spoken language, such persons are arguably alingual. 


In this paper, I will explore the implications of the concepts of ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native language’ for the deaf, with particular emphasis on the situation of the prelingually deaf individual being raised by hearing parents (see Reagan, 2007a; Reagan, Penn & Ogilvy, 2006).  Although my central concern will be with the educational implications for such children, I will also discuss issues related to the language rights of such individuals, and how the challenge of conceptualising ‘mother tongue’ and ‘native language’ for such persons may impact the discourse related to that dealing with language rights, linguicism, and linguistic citizenship (see Jokinen, 2000; May, 2005; Muzsnai, 1999; Reagan, 2005b, 2007b; Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994, 2000).



Ana Deumert, Yolandi Klein, Oscar Sibabalwe Masinyana (University of Cape Town)






(2, 3)


“A place where the world can be seen from a different set of eyes”: language choice, use and multilingual identities in South African electronic media



The historical dominance of English on the WWW has supported the popular belief that the language of electronic communication in general is English; and in some cases English has been shown to replace a user’s first language (cf. Leppänen 2007). However, languages other-than-English occupy a small, but important (and growing) niche in the various manifestations of electronic communication (including SMS), especially in multilingual societies (Danet & Herring 2007). This can also be seen in South Africa: Afrikaans chat rooms, for example, have attracted participants steadily and consistently for almost ten years, Afrikaans blogging is thriving, and more recently a number of African language blogs have emerged, in particular, on popular platforms such as Facebook. Although the sociolinguistic analysis of electronic communication is by now a recognized and well-developed research field in the US and Europe (cf. Crystal [2001] 2006, Baron 2000 and Herring 1996 for three seminal publications), only very limited research is available for low- and middle-income countries – despite the fact that the fastest growing markets are found in these, mostly highly multilingual, nations (cf. Sullivan 2006, Lafraniere 2005).


Following from previous work (Deumert 2006, Deumert 2008, Deumert & Masinyana 2008), this paper will discuss the sociolinguistics of language choice and use in electronic communication in South Africa. The take-up of electronic technologies is most notable among the ‘youth’ (teenagers and young adults) for whom various forms of on-line communication constitute a day-to-day communicative experience, giving rise to new expressions of literacy (Banda 2003). Language practices of the ‘youth’ are generally seen as highly dynamic, showing rapid linguistic innovation (Bucholtz 2000). Electronic communication, in particular, is a space which young people have identified as their own, and shaped in ways which often run counter established (socio)linguistic norms. As noted on the (now defunct) isiXhosa-English blog Darkie’s Place: It is ‘a place were the world can be seen from a different set of eyes’.


Drawing on SMS, chat and blogging data by multilingual users, our paper will focus on the negotiation of multilingual identities, as well as the creative development of new types of multilingual literacies which draw on a wide range of communicative resources, including mixed languages, code-switching, puristic ‘standard’ norms, as well as the new conventions of English (as used in these media across the world).



Banda, F. 2003. A Survey of Literacy Practices in Black and Coloured Communities in South Africa: Towards a Pedagogy of Multiliteracies. Language, Culture, and Curriculum 16, 106-129.

Baron, N.S. 2000. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where it is Heading. London: Routledge.

Bucholtz, M. 2000. Language and Youth Culture. American Speech 75, 280-283.

Crystal, D. 2006. Language and the Internet. Second Edition. Cambridge: CUP.

Danet, B. & Herring S. (eds.) 2007. The Multilingual Internet. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deumert, A. 2006. Semantic change, the internet, and text messaging. In: The Encyclopaedia of Language and Linguistics, vol. XI. Eds. K. Brown et al. Oxford, Pergamon Press, 121-124.

Deumert, A. 2008. Mobile Phone Behaviour and Community Service Terminals – Focus Group Data Analysis. Report prepared for CitizenSurveys, January 2008.

Deumert, A. & Masinyana, S.O. 2008. Mobile Language Choices – The Use of  English and isiXhosa in Text Messages (SMS), Evidence from a Bilingual South African Sample. English-World Wide 29, 117-147.

Herring, S. (ed.) 1996. Computer-mediated Comunication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Lafraniere, S. 2005. Cellphones Catapult Rural Africa to 21st Century. New York Times, 25/8/2005. 25africa.html.

Leppänen, S. 2007. Youth language in media contexts: Insights from the functions of English in Finnland. World Englishes 26: 149-169.

Sullivan, K. 2006. In War-torn Congo: Going Wireless to Reach Home. Washington Post, 9/7/2006. AR2006070801063.html.



Zeynep F. Beykont (University of Melbourne)



Heritage language maintenance in an English-dominant context: a study of Turkish youth in Victoria


The Turkish community in Australia offers an interesting case for a study of immigrant bilingualism and native/heritage language maintenance.  Throughout its forty years in Australia, this group has resisted rapid language shift to English.  Particularly in Victoria, Turkish appears to be one of the best-maintained immigrant languages with only 4% of the first generation and 16% of the second generation reporting to have shifted to use English exclusively in their daily lives (ABS, 2001; Kipp & Clyne, 2003).  Internationally, theory-driven research has long sought to identify specific factors that promote heritage language maintenance or shift (Clyne, 1967; Cummins, 1981; Fishman, 1966, 2001; Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981; Smolicz, 1981; Veltman, 1983).  My research contributes to this literature by examining the unique demographic characteristics, language attitudes, and language practices in the Turkish community that have promoted heritage language maintenance.


In this seminar, I propose to discuss youth perspectives on the importance and viability of sustained Turkish bilingualism in Victoria.  Data to be presented were drawn from youth surveys (n=818) and follow up one-on-one youth interviews (n=177).  Youth surveys collected information on participants’ immigration and educational history; extent of exposure to Turkish at home, in the neighbourhood, and via the ethnic media; daily Turkish use with parents, siblings, relatives, and friends; years of participation in Turkish language classes; self-assessment of Turkish and English skills; and views on the viability of Turkish maintenance in Australia.  Youth interviews gathered young people’s recommendations on the necessary informal and formal supports to pass Turkish on to the future generations.


Analyses revealed that an overwhelming majority of young informants strongly believe that Turkish maintenance is essential (a) for developing a unique bilingual identity in the English-dominant context of Australia; and (b) for the health and cultural survival of individuals, families, and the larger multicultural Australian society. Participants argued that the available policy, program, and community supports are not sufficient to pass Turkish on to the future generations and offered specific recommendations to prevent acceleration of language shift beyond second or third generation.




Stephanie Rudwick (University of KwaZulu-Natal)



Zulu linguistic varieties and their ethnic identities in post-apartheid South Africa


While there are several comprehensive studies on ‘language and ethnic identity/ethnicity’ (Gudykunst 1988, Dow 1991, Fishman 2001, Joseph 2004) there is only one recent study  (Fought 2006) which addresses the questions how ethnic identity affects linguistic variation and dialects within one language and how different varieties may index one and the same ethnic identity. Similarly, the link between the Zulu language and Zulu ethnicity and identity has been investigated too one-dimensional and monolithic in past research (Rudwick 2004, 2008). This study, in contrast, focuses on the before mentioned questions with reference to Zulu ‘mother-tongue’ speakers in the province of KwaZulu-Natal by looking at three Zulu based linguistic varieties spoken in the province (isiHlonipho, isiTsotsi and isiNgqumo). The three varieties are examined with reference to their inherent elements of ethnic identity, i.e. ‘Zuluness’. The study explores with qualitative methodology whether, to what extent and how isiZulu-speakers who make use of any one of these different Zulu varieties ascribe significance to their ethnicity and what meaning these individuals ascribe to other identities. Furthermore, it is investigated how the reference points and cultural constituents of Zulu peoples’ ethnicities and their other dominant identities may complement or stand in contrast to each other. On the basis of qualitative interview data the study argues, inter alia, that there are a number of linguistic resources available for Zulu speakers in indexing an ethnic identity as a Zulu person. The research analysis considers that the choice of any linguistic variety is context-dependent and multifaceted, particularly in a multilingual and multicultural space like South Africa.




Dow, J. R. (1991). Language and Ethnicity. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Fishman, J. (2001). Handbook of Language and Ethnic identity. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fought, C. (2006). Language and Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gudykunst, W.B. (ed.) (1988). Language and Ethnic Identity. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Joseph, J.E. (2004). Language and Identity. National, Ethnic, Religious. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.

Rudwick, S. (2004). “‘Zulu - we need it for our culture’: Umlazi adolescents in the post-apartheid state”. South African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 22 (3&4): 159-172.

Rudwick, S. (2008). “Coconuts and Oreos: English-speaking Zulu people in a South African township? World Englishes 27(1), 101-116.




Chaise LaDousa (Hamilton College, NY)



Constriction of the “mother tongue”: school and language ideology in Northern India


In keeping with the symposium’s themes of exploring and interrogating the notions of “mother tongue” and “native speaker,” I consider constructions of languages emergent from the school system in Banaras, a city of approximately 2,000,000 in northern India.  I do so, in part, because they offer the opportunity to critique sociolinguistic work on northern India for the different ways it used the notion of “mother tongue” and “native language” to ignore the institutional milieu – schooling – through which they emerge in everyday life.  It is true that “mother tongue” is an incredibly salient notion in northern India, and that what language variety can be said to constitute the “mother tongue” exhibits great variety in a single locale.  But the rich body of scholarly research on language difference in India has largely ignored ethnographic approaches such as the one I offer wherein schools emerge as a key site for people to imagine the significance of language in social life. In order to indicate what an ethnographic approach to the intersection of language difference and school difference might illuminate, I reflect on audio-taped conversations in Banaras, Uttar Pradesh between people from various class and school backgrounds and myself to show that one language variety, Hindi, emerges as the only “mother tongue” authorized for school use.  More importantly, I show that such ideological work underpins a specific kind of narrative about what it means to be able to succeed in school but remain faithful to one’s “mother tongue.”  In doing so, I hope to contribute to one of the symposium’s goals: demonstrating the sociopolitical underpinnings of the notion of “mother tongue.”




María Carmen Parafita-Couto (ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University, Wales), Eva Rodríguez-González and Kathryn Fennig (Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Miami University, Ohio) 


On the unity of language contact tapestries


The present study will explore bilingual language interactions within the framework of sociolinguistic and syntactic theories to question the existence of a native language in multilingual societies. Languages coexist with societies as a wide spread phenomenon where language contact situations are not an exception, but rather a norm (Gafaranga, 2007). Indeed, it is hard nowadays to talk about “mother tongue” languages from the purest and most traditional point of view. Languages are not “contaminated” but influenced by others in such a way that the dividing line between the so-called ¨mother language” and the “target/acquired” languages is vanishing rapidly. Researchers agree that bilingual language interaction generates a process where two languages and societies collide in a specific geographic area and one of those languages will sometimes need to reshape its status by assimilating, borrowing and adapting to the other language (Winford, 2003). Language contact situations constitute symbols of new identities where the speaker and his/her language use are the ones that define a common linguistic ground where two different languages may co-occur or influence each other. Any attempt to study the linguistic skeleton of language contact phenomena should convey an interdisciplinary approach where social and linguistic hypotheses are interwoven to account for the same phenomenon: linguistic identity of emerging/changing societies. The present study will evaluate a linguistic theory which has been prominent in bilingualism research, namely, the Matrix language Framework (Myers Scotton, 1993, 2002) and its contributions to account for codeswitching/language alternation. Samples from Spanish-English (USA) and Cindau-Portuguese (Africa) will be surveyed to highlight the difficulty in finding a matrix language. Data from these language contact phenomena support Chan’s (2008) claim that data which conforms to the Matrix Language Frame Model may well be the outcome of efficient processing, and the Model itself turns out to be an epiphenomenon. Implications that arise from these data are that (i) the role of each language in code-switching behaviors is underscored, and (ii) the notion of “pure” native language is challenged.



Chan, B. (2008). Code-switching between Typologically Different Languages.Talk given at the ESRC Research Centre on BilingualismSeminar Series. Bangor University.

Gafaranga, J. (2007). Talk in two languages. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Myers-Scotton, C. (1993). Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure in Codeswitching. Oxford: Clarendon.

Myers-Scotton, C. (2002). Contact linguistics: Bilingual encounters and grammatical outcomes. 2002.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Winford, D. (2003). An Introduction to Contact Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. Language in Society.