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A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1) is a
language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most languages have a writing system composed of glyphs to inscribe the original soun ...

language
or
dialect The term dialect (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of th ...
that a person has been exposed to from birth or within the
critical period In developmental psychology and developmental biology, a critical period is a maturational stage in the lifespan of an organism during which the nervous system is especially sensitive to certain environmental stimuli. If, for some reason, the orga ...
. In some countries, the term ''native language'' or ''mother tongue'' refers to the language or dialect of one's ethnic group rather than one's first language. The first language of a child is part of that child's personal, social and cultural identity. Another impact of the first language is that it brings about the reflection and learning of successful social patterns of acting and speaking. Research suggests that while a non-native speaker may develop fluency in a targeted language after about two years of immersion, it can take between five and seven years for that child to be on the same working level as their native speaking counterparts. On 17 November 1999, UNESCO designated 21 February as
International Mother Language Day International Mother Language Day is a worldwide list of minor secular observances#February, annual observance held on 21 February to promote awareness of Linguistic diversity, linguistic and cultural diversity and to promote multilingualism. ...

International Mother Language Day
.


Definitions

One of the more widely accepted definitions of native speakers is that they were born in a particular country (and) raised to speak the language or
dialect The term dialect (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of th ...
of that country or region during the critical period of their development. The person qualifies as a "native speaker" of a language by being born and immersed in the language during youth, in a family in which the adults shared a similar language experience to the child. Native speakers are considered to be an authority on their given language because of their natural acquisition process regarding the language, as opposed to having learned the language later in life. That is achieved by personal interaction with the language and speakers of the language. Native speakers will not necessarily be knowledgeable about every grammatical rule of the language, but they will have good "intuition" of the rules through their experience with the language. The designation "native language", in its general usage, is thought to be imprecise and subject to various interpretations that are biased linguistically, especially with respect to bilingual children from ethnic minority groups. Many scholars have given definitions of 'native language' based on common usage, the emotional relation of the speaker towards the language, and even its dominance in relation to the environment. However, all three criteria lack precision. For many children whose home language differs from the language of the environment (the 'official' language), it is debatable which language is their "native language".


Defining "native language"

*Based on origin: the language(s) or dialect one learned first (the language(s) or dialect in which one has established the first long-lasting verbal contacts). *Based on internal identification: the language(s) one identifies with/as a speaker of; *Based on external identification: the language(s) one is identified with/as a speaker of, by others. *Based on competence: the language(s) one knows best. *Based on function: the language(s) one uses most. In some countries, such as
Kenya ) , national_anthem = " Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu"() , image_map = , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Nairobi Nairobi () is the Capital city, capital a ...

Kenya
,
India India (Hindi: ), officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous country, the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest ...

India
, and various East Asian and Central Asian countries, "mother language" or "native language" is used to indicate the language of one's
ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identity (social science), identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups. Those attributes can include common sets of traditions, ancest ...
in both common and journalistic parlance ("I have no apologies for not learning my mother tongue"), rather than one's first language. Also, in
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bord ...

Singapore
, "mother tongue" refers to the language of one's
ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who identity (social science), identify with each other on the basis of shared attributes that distinguish them from other groups. Those attributes can include common sets of traditions, ancest ...
regardless of actual proficiency, and the "first language" refers to English, which was established on the island under the
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. ...

British Empire
, and is the
lingua franca A lingua franca (; ; for plurals see ), also known as a bridge language, common language, trade language, auxiliary language, vehicular language, or link language, is a language or dialect The term dialect (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a ...
for most post-independence Singaporeans because of its use as the language of instruction in government schools and as a working language. In the context of population censuses conducted on the Canadian population,
Statistics Canada Statistics Canada (StatCan; french: Statistique Canada), formed in 1971, is the government agency, agency of the Government of Canada commissioned with producing statistics to help better understand Canada, its population, resources, Economy of ...
defines ''mother tongue'' as "the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual at the time of the census." It is quite possible that the first language learned is no longer a speaker's dominant language. That includes young immigrant children whose families have moved to a new linguistic environment as well as people who learned their mother tongue as a young child at home (rather than the language of the majority of the community), who may have lost, in part or in totality, the language they first acquired (see
language attrition Language attrition is the process of losing a native or first, language. This process is generally caused by both isolation from speakers of the first language ("L1") and the acquisition and use of a second language A person's second language, or ...
). According to
Ivan Illich Ivan Dominic Illich (; 4 September 1926 – 2 December 2002) was a Roman Catholic priest, Theology, theologian, philosopher, and social critic. His 1971 book ''Deschooling Society'' criticises modern society's institutional approach to educatio ...
, the term "mother tongue" was first used by
Catholic The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ri ...

Catholic
monks to designate a particular language they used, instead of
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...

Latin
, when they were "speaking from the pulpit". That is, the "holy mother the Church" introduced this term and colonies inherited it from Christianity as a part of colonialism. J. R. R. Tolkien, in his 1955 lecture "
English and Welsh "English and Welsh" is J. R. R. Tolkien's inaugural O'Donnell Memorial Lecture of October 21, 1955. The lecture sheds light on Tolkien's conceptions of the connections of race, ethnicity An ethnic group or ethnicity is a grouping of people who ...
", distinguishes the "native tongue" from the "cradle tongue". The latter is the language one learns during early childhood, and one's true "native tongue" may be different, possibly determined by an inherited linguistic taste and may later in life be discovered by a strong emotional affinity to a specific dialect (Tolkien personally confessed to such an affinity to the
Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) was a form of the English language spoken after the Norman conquest of England, Norman conquest (1066) until the late 15th century. The English language underwent distinct variations and developments following ...
of the
West MidlandsWest Midlands may refer to: Places * West Midlands (region), a region of the United Kingdom **West Midlands (county), the metropolitan county in the West Midlands region ** West Midlands conurbation, the large conurbation in the West Midlands region ...
in particular). Children brought up speaking more than one language can have more than one native language, and be
bilingual in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, Washington (state), Washington. Seattle is the largest city in both the U.S. sta ...
or
multilingual in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, Washington (state), Washington. Seattle is the largest city in both the U.S. sta ...

multilingual
. By contrast, a ''
second language A person's second language, or L2, is a language that is not the native language A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1), is a language A language is a struc ...
'' is any language that one speaks other than one's first language.


Bilingualism

A related concept is bilingualism. One definition is that a person is bilingual if they are equally proficient in two languages. Someone who grows up speaking Spanish and then learns English for four years is bilingual only if they speak the two languages with equal fluency. Pearl and Lambert were the first to test only "balanced" bilinguals—that is, a child who is completely fluent in two languages and feels that neither is their "native" language because they grasp both so perfectly. This study found that *balanced bilinguals perform significantly better in tasks that require flexibility (they constantly shift between the two known languages depending on the situation), *they are more aware of the arbitrary nature of language, *they choose word associations based on logical rather than phonetic preferences.


Multilingualism

One can have two or more native languages, thus being a native ''bilingual'' or indeed ''
multilingual in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, Washington (state), Washington. Seattle is the largest city in both the U.S. sta ...
''. The order in which these languages are learned is not necessarily the order of proficiency. For instance, if a French-speaking couple have a child who learned French first but then grew up in an English-speaking country, the child would likely be most proficient in English. Other examples are
India India (Hindi: ), officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous country, the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest ...

India
,
Indonesia Indonesia ( ), officially the Republic of Indonesia ( id, Republik Indonesia, links=yes ), is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania between the Indian Ocean, Indian and Pacific Ocean, Pacific oceans. It consists of more than List of islands ...
, the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas or ''Filipinas'' ), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republik ...

Philippines
,
Kenya ) , national_anthem = " Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu"() , image_map = , map_caption = , image_map2 = , capital = Nairobi Nairobi () is the Capital city, capital a ...

Kenya
,
Malaysia Malaysia ( ; ) is a country in Southeast Asia. The federation, federal constitutional monarchy consists of States and federal territories of Malaysia, thirteen states and three federal territories, separated by the South China Sea into two reg ...

Malaysia
,
Singapore Singapore (), officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign state, sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude () north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bord ...

Singapore
, and
South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over Demographics of South Africa, 59 million people, it is the world's List of countries by population, 23rd-most populous nation a ...
, where most people speak more than one language.


Defining "native speaker"

Defining what constitutes a native speaker is difficult, and there is no test which can identify one. It is not known whether native speakers are a defined group of people, or if the concept should be thought of as a perfect prototype to which actual speakers may or may not conform. An article titled "The Native Speaker: An Achievable Model?" published by the Asian EFL Journal states that there are six general principles that relate to the definition of "native speaker". The principles, according to the study, are typically accepted by language experts across the scientific field. A native speaker is defined according to the following guidelines: #The individual acquired the language in early childhood and maintains the use of the language. #The individual has intuitive knowledge of the language. #The individual is able to produce fluent, spontaneous discourse. #The individual is communicatively competent in different social contexts. #The individual identifies with or is identified by a language community. #The individual does not have a foreign accent.


See also

*
Heritage language A heritage language is a minority language A minority language is a language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Mos ...
*
Child of deaf adult A child of deaf adult, often known by the acronym "coda", is a person who was raised by one or more deaf Deafness has varying definitions in cultural and medical contexts. In medical contexts, the meaning of deafness is hearing loss Hearing ...
*
Human Speechome ProjectThe Human Speechome Project (" speechome" as an approximate rhyme for "genome") is an effort to closely observe and model the language acquisition of a child over the first three years of life. The project was conducted at the Massachusetts Institut ...
*
Third culture kids Third culture kids (TCK) or third culture individuals (TCI) are people who were raised in a culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the ...
*
List of languages by number of native speakers This article ranks human languages by their number of native speaker A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1), is a language that a person has been exposed to f ...

List of languages by number of native speakers
*
Statistical learning in language acquisitionStatistical learning is the ability for humans and other animals to extract statistical regularities from the world around them to learn about the environment. Although statistical learning is now thought to be a generalized learning mechanism, the p ...
*
Native speaker A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1), is a language that a person has been exposed to from birth or within the critical period hypothesis, critical period. In so ...
*
Father Tongue hypothesisThe Father Tongue hypothesis proposes that humans tend to speak their father's language. It is based on the discovery, in 1997, of a closer correlation between language and Y-chromosomal variation than between language and mitochondrial DNA Ele ...
* Native Tongue Title


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:First Language Language acquisition Sociolinguistics Identity (social science) Cultural heritage