Who is a native speaker and what is it they speak?
I do not believe in worrying endlessly about definitions, but some preliminarydemarcation of the field of discourse is, obviously, both necessary and desirable.Fishman (1989:5)
The term "native speaker" is pivotal in a number of areas. Firstly, even in generativelinguistics, the concept of an "ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogenous speechcommunity" (Chomsky, 1965:3) is crucial. While idealising from the data is both permissible and necessary, vagueness about the terms "speaker-listener" and "speechcommunity" may leave us uncertain as to exactly what data we are idealising, which thencasts doubts on such generative shibboleths as "competence and performance" and "coreand periphery". Secondly, it goes without saying that the term "native speaker" and itsassociated terms "mother tongue" and "member of a speech community" are of primaryimportance for sociolinguistics. On a more practical note, in the language teaching profession, being classed as a native speaker is the key to status, expanded jobopportunities and higher pay, which naturally creates a heated debate (one I do not intendto venture into). Finally, the question has important cultural and political implications, particularly for ethnic minorities, emerging nations and speakers of English as an"international language" (Pennycook, 1994).Uncritical use of the term "native speaker" begs two questions. The first is the question of what it is one may be a native speaker of. Words like "language" and "dialect" arethemselves ill-defined. This has led sociolinguists to prefer the term "speech community", but, as I shall argue, this simply moves the vagueness into a different area. Secondly,even if there is no ambiguity about the language, dialect or whatever, the word "native" isnot only vague, but has non-linguistic connotations which are by no means culturally or politically neutral.Problems in defining these terms do not arise from mere lack of rigour; they are inherentin the very concepts we are attempting to define. In this essay, I shall thus adopt more of a philosophical than an ethnographic approach to the problem, and, rather than reviewingthe literature and then attempting to show who has the "best" definitions, shall examinethe various concepts in turn, picking out examples which illustrate the problems involved,and then offering suggestions for an alternative approach to their categorisation.
2. What does a native speak?
As stated earlier, there is no point in describing someone as a native speaker unless weare sure what it is they are a native speaker
. If we say "Susan Chang is a native speaker of English", are we referring to British, American or Singapore English, for example? Inthe case of Singapore English, is this Standard Singapore English, Vernacular SingaporeEnglish or both? Can she also be regarded as a native speaker of, say, Cantonese, and if