Inventing the Native Speaker

Authors

  • Thomas Paul Bonfiglio University of Richmond

Keywords:

native speaker, mother tongue, vernacular, Middle Ages, religion, nationalism

Abstract

This paper argues that employing the designations “native speaker” and “native language” unreflectively is to engage in a gesture of othering that operates on an axis of empowerment and disempowerment. Bonfiglio examines the ideological legacy of the apparently innocent kinship metaphors of “mother tongue” and “native speaker” by historicizing their linguistic development. He traces the construction of ethnolinguistic nationalism, a composite of national language, identity, geography, and race, which informed the philology of the early modern era and culminated most divisively in the race-conscious discourses of the 19th century. Bonfiglio makes the case that scholarship should scrutinize the tendency to over-extend biological metaphors in the study of language, as even today these encourage, however surreptitiously, genetic and racial impressions of language.

Author Biography

Thomas Paul Bonfiglio, University of Richmond

Bonfiglio publishes in the fields of linguistics, literary, studies, and culture studies. His books include the following: Race and the Rise of Standard American (2002) examines the effect of race-consciousness upon the pronunciation and standardization of American English in the twentieth century. Mother Tongues and Nations: The Invention of the Native Speaker (2010) examines the ideology behind the kinship metaphors of “mother tongue” and “native speaker” by historicizing their linguistic development. It shows how the early nation states constructed the ideology of ethnolinguistic nationalism, a composite of national language, identity, geography, and race. Why is English Literature? Language and Letters for the Twenty-First Century (2013) illuminates the ideological forces that gradually caused “English” to become synonymous with literary studies in the United States and other literary traditions to be seen merely as “languages.” He has also published a book on the German romantic author Achim von Arnim (1987).

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Published

2013-06-01