working definition of a native speaker is “a
person who has spoken a certain language since early childhood” (McArthur, 1992). Davis (1996) and Cook (1999) deconstructed this
into attributes such as: subconscious knowledge of rules, intuitive grasp of
meanings, ability to communicate within social settings, range of language
skills, creativity of language use, identification with a language community,
the ability to produce fluent discourse, and knowing differences between their
own speech and that of the standard form of the language. Until the 1990s it was
tacitly assumed that the only owners of a language were its native
speakers. The objective of L2 learning
was therefore to become as like a native speaker as possible; any differences
counted as failure. The native
speaker construct has however become increasingly problematic in SLA
the one hand it is a highly idealised abstraction. Native
speakers of any language vary from each other in many aspects of grammar,
pronunciation and vocabulary
for dialectal, social and regional reasons.
So which native speaker should be used as a model? For French is it an
inhabitant of Paris, Marseilles, Geneva, Quebec City, Parimaribo
The choice of native speaker is related more to the status of particular
varieties than to any properties of language. Additionally any native speaker
commands different genres of language rather than possessing a single monolithic
speech varies from one moment to the next, accommodating to speaker, situation,
topic and other factors. Hence the model of the native speaker in SLA research
needs to allow for substantial variation.
the other hand this seemed to be one group exercising power over another
(Phillipson, . Since
Boas, linguistics has refrained from value judgements about different groups of
speakers. Treating the native speaker as the model for SLA is falling into the
same trap of subordinating the group of L2 users to the group of native
speakers, to which they could never belong by definition. The alternative is to
treat successful L2 users as the model against which L2 users are measured. This
led to the description of L2 user speech in its own terms (Jenkins, 2000) and to
research on L2 grammar
and vocabulary centred around the VOICE project (Vienna Oslo International
Corpus of English) into English as Lingua Franca (Seidlhofer, 2004).
research has then been questioning its faith in the native
speaker as the only true possessor of language, leading some to reinforce
the importance of an idealised speaker of a standard form of a language, others
either to a more flexible version of the native
speaker or to the establishment of a non-native model. The issue has been
closely related to language teaching both in terms of the model that students
should be offered in the classroom and of the relative merits of native speaker
and non-native speaker teachers.
A. (1996) “Proficiency or the native speaker: what are we trying to achieve in
ELT?” in G. Cook & B. Seidlhofer (eds.), Principle
and Practice in Applied Linguistics (pp. 145-157). Oxford,
UK: Oxford University Press
V.J. (1999) “Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching,” TESOL
Quarterly 33, 2, 185-209.
Jenkins, J. (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press
T. (1992) Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford,
UK: Oxford University Press.
R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford,
UK: Oxford University Press.
B. (2004) “Research
perspectives on teaching English as a lingua franca,” Annual Review of
Applied Linguistics, 24, 209-239.