Who owns English? Questioning the native speaker

  • A Davies


Reporting on his study of the Menomini Indians of Wisconsin, Leonard Bloomfield notes that “some persons are felt to be better models of  conduct and speech than others” (Bloomfield 1927:396). Bloomfield was surprised to find such normative attitudes even in “a small community of people speaking a uniform language … without schools or writing” (Bloomfield 1927:394) and eventually decided that “this may be a generally human state of affairs, true in every group and applicable to all languages” (Bloomfield 1927:396). In this paper, I consider the case of English, the disputes about ownership, norms and models which come together in the arguments about the native speaker (Davies 2003). What the Bloomfield quote above suggests is that even when there is no official standard, there is always a norm. I ask the question: which model should be used to develop an official standard for a language/dialect/variety that has no official standard? Can the native speaker, however marginalized, be ignored? In support of my argument, I discuss five current critiques of the native speaker: World Englishes, négritude and the anglophone response, English as a Lingua Franca, judgements by Native Speaker (NS) and non-native speaker (NNS) raters of second language (L2) performance, second language acquisition research and the unbridgeable gulf and conclude by distinguishing between the real and the idealized native speaker, which, in the case of English, is an instantiation of the Standard Language.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0259-9570