The status of non-native speaker in the context of English as a Lingua Franca


This paper examines the complex concept of native and non-native speaker, a dichotomy which is central to studies of language acquisition, and inevitably informs almost all of language teaching and assessment. The non-native speaker has often been side-lined in linguistic theory. In areas such as applied and sociolinguistics, it has often been dismissed as a poor imitation of a native speaker. However, in the specific area of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), it has been argued that the contribution of the non-native speaker is more relevant than that of the native speaker (Kachru 1985; Seidlhofer 2005, 2011). In this paper, we will examine the concepts of native and non-native speakers and pose the question of how far the concept of native speaker is appropriate or useful in the era of English as a global lingua franca used among predominately non-native speakers. We will first look at its place in general linguistic theory (Chomsky 1965/1968/1981; Pinker 1994). Then, by analysing the processes of first and second language acquisition (Selinker 1972; Krashen 1982; Krashen and Terrell 1983), we will identify the differences between native and non-native speakers. Next, we will discuss the arguments that have been made against elevating the native speaker to the status of sole legitimate point of reference for language teaching and assessment (Cook 1999; Graddol 2007; Rinvolucri 2001). After this, we will examine the contributions that non-native speakers can play in the evolution of language: the way that specific languages (in this case English) – popularly perceived as the property and heritage of native speakers – can be seen to have been shaped not only by native speakers but also by the contribution, direct and indirect, of non-native speakers (Brutt-Griffler 2002; McWhorter 2007; Christiansen 2021). Finally, we will argue that the native – non-native speaker distinction is not useful in the context of ELF, it being a variation of English which manifests itself differently on each occasion depending on the linguistic competence of the speakers and their respective linguacultural backgrounds. Rather, we argue, one should talk about a third category, that of the highly proficient user (as identified by Graddol 2007), to describe all those speakers, native or non-native of English, who have reached an advanced level in those linguistic, communicative competences that are required to perform effectively specifically within ELF.


DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v53p77

Keywords: native speaker; non-native speaker; ELF; language teaching; language assessment


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