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Deidealization of the native speaker III: What’s a native speaker anyway?

What is a native speaker anyway?

What is a native speaker anyway?

Claire Kramsch, from the University of California, Berkeley, in her paper “The Privilege of the Nonnative Speaker” discusses the definition of the native speaker implying that it may not really have to do with the privilege of birth or education, but with being recognized as such by the relevant speech community.

“…can one still speak of a canonical native speaker addressee? …linguists have started to examine this construct critically, beginning with Thomas Paikeday in his 1985 book “The Native Speaker is Dead!”. In interviews with Paikeday, over forty linguists, including Noam Chomsky, systematically scrutinize the usual definition of the native speaker of a language as someone who has an intuitive sense of what is grammatical and ungrammatical in the language. Paikeday concludes that the “native speaker in the linguist’s sense or arbiter of grammaticality and acceptability of language… represents an ideal, a convenient fiction…”. Because no publisher wanted to touch such a controversial book, Paikeday had to publish it himself, and linguists and educators circulated it under the table. For in language pedagogy the linguistic authority of the native speaker, derived from that of Chomsky’s “ideal speaker-listener”, had been extended beyond grammar to include social behaviour and cultural knowledge as well. Where would teachers and learners take their models from if there was no such thing as a native speaker?

…Originally, native speakership was viewed as an uncontroversial privilege of birth. Those who were born into a language were considered its native speakers, with grammatical intuitions that nonnative speakers did not have. …But such an ability alone does not let one pass for a native speaker. As Bourdieu remarks, ‘Social acceptability cannot be reduced to grammaticality alone’ …So it may be indeed that native speakers are made rather than born.

Defining native speakership as the result of a particular education transforms it from a privilege of birth to one of education. Education bestows the privilege of being not only a native speaker but a middle-class, mainstream native speaker. …Native speakership, I suspect, is more than a privilege of birth or even education. It is acceptance by the group that created the distinction between native and nonnative speakers. …It is not enough to have intuitions about grammaticality and linguistic acceptability and to communicate fluently and with full competence; one must also be recognized as a native speaker by the relevant speech community.”

Well, language learners, after all it seems we still have hope of achieving at least a near-native speakership if we study hard enough, regardless of Chomsky’s definition (whom I really admire anyway… but I will relay on Claire Kramsch and Thomas Paikeday on this one).

If you wish so, you can read the full paper by downloading the PDF from the Educational Resources Information Centre.

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