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Call for papers


The International Association for the Integrational Study of Language

and Communication (IAISLC)




The Amsterdam Center for Language & Communication (Research group

Sociolinguistic aspects of Multilingualism)



announce an international conference on


The Native Speaker and the Mother Tongue


Cape Town, Dec. 11–13, 2008


It is an article of faith within mainstream linguistics that linguistic communities should be defined by reference to hypostatised linguistic objects called ‘languages’. 


Quite apart from the implications of this stance for theories of language and communication themselves, it has significant social and political consequences, in that it confers privileged status on certain members of a linguistic community.  Thus privileged are those who have been born and brought up to speak the language from birth, as their ‘mother tongue’, in a family where the parents or other adults were also brought up to speak the language from birth.  Such people are often referred to by linguists as ‘native speakers’ of the language, although the precise definition of this term is disputed.  In this way a potential ranking is established among members of a linguistic community.  This ranking in practice reflects the utility to the linguist of particular persons as potential ‘informants’.  At the top come the native speakers.  Next come those who are almost native speakers but not quite.  Then will come those who did not learn the language until adulthood.  And so on.  On the fringes of the community will be the hangers-on, those whose command of the language is poor or suspect (typically recent immigrants, foreign workers, semi-speakers etc.).


The notion also has implications for the ranking of linguistic communities themselves.  The monoglot community has long been  projected as the ‘normal’ case.  Communities in which two or more languages are spoken, and in which various forms of so-called language interference are rife, are in this theoretical perspective automatically marginalised. 


From the mainstream linguist’s point of view the principal desideratum here is that the language the ‘native speaker’ speaks shall be ‘pure’, uncontaminated by any external linguistic influences.  This concern is supposedly motivated by scruples akin to those in the physical sciences, where it is often important that only unadulterated samples are subject to analysis, for fear of producing unreliable results.  However, it is no coincidence that ‘purity’ features as an important concept in many totalitarian systems of thought, as well as being reflected in linguistic legislation of a plainly chauvinistic character.  For these reasons among many others it would be naïve to suppose that mainstream linguistics is ideologically neutral.   


The integrationist approach to language rejects the myth of the native speaker, as part of its rejection of the orthodox postulate of idealised linguistic communities bound together by shared systems of known rules and meanings. The integrationist agenda offers the prospect of a demythologised linguistics which corresponds more realistically to our day-to-day communicational experience. High on this alternative agenda is the demythologisation of received ideas about the linguistic relationships between the individual and society and the development of alternative perspectives on the construction and maintenance of the individual’s linguistic identity.

This conference aims not only to further the integrationist project itself but, more broadly, to bring together researchers of various theoretical stripes engaged in critical assessment of the notions ‘native speaker’, ‘mother tongue’ and related ideologies. The discourse of monoglot normality has influenced general linguistic theory in many different ways; in historical linguistics, for example, ‘normal’ language change is, typically, the kind of change that happens in languages with a clear ‘genetic’ pedigree. This leads to a treatment of languages that emerge in multilingual settings with only informal linguistic transmission, such as creoles, as ‘exceptional’. Another area in which the discourse of normality creates problem is multilingualism, in at least two ways: (i) the relationship between language and identity is typically seen as a monolingual affair, with multilingual communities usually misrepresented and misunderstood in their linguistic practices; (ii) language shift is related to identity loss, notwithstanding the fact that the multilingual individual can construct her identity on the basis of multiple codes. Thirdly, in the discourse of language endangerment the ‘native speaker’ is constructed as a valuable asset, but in the case of the multilingual individual it is not clear how nativity is assigned.


In recent research in all these fields there have been calls to move beyond a normative, Eurocentric notion of ‘mother tongue’ in order to develop an understanding of, and a theoretical apparatus capable of dealing with, language in heteroglossia as a normal, rather than an extraordinary, phenomenon.


We are particularly interested in contributions on the following topics:


– Identity in multilingual societies

– Creole exceptionalism

– Language rights vs linguistic citizenship

– Maintenance and endangerment of language/identity

– Purism in historical linguistics


Inquiries, abstracts and proposal for papers should be addressed to:


Nigel Love (nigel.love@uct.ac.za)


Umberto Ansaldo (uansaldo@gmail.com)