Making the Native-Speaker Debate more Inclusive
by Anthony Schmidt
Anthony Schmidt is editor of ELT Research Bites. He also has his own blog at anthonyteacher.com. Offline, he is a full-time English language instructor in a university IEP program. He is interested in all aspects of applied linguistics, in particular English for Academic Purposes.
One thing that I have always hated about writing letters is deciding between Mr., Ms., or Mrs. First names can be ambiguous, and even if you know they are female (or identify as female), then you must for some reason consider whether they are married or not. So, I was pretty happy to find the newish Mx. as a gender-netural and more inclusive title that is being more used and accepted in the English-speaking world. In a world where inclusiveness is becoming quite the norm (as it should), the -x suffix seems to be becoming more popular. For example, Latinx, as opposed to Latino or Latina, has been enjoying wide usage. In the field of language teaching and applied linguistics, Jean-Marc Dewaele introduces us to the inclusive term LX, which includes first language users but highlights second/third/foreign language users. This term is used as a way to move even further away from the native/non-native speaker dichotomy towards a more accurate representation of multi-competent language users.
Dewaele writes that the debate attempting to define native and non-native speakers is still alive and despite attempts to address it. The term non-native speaker is considered exclusionary, possibly racist, and downright strange – defining a person but what they are not (such as calling “blue-eyed people as ‘not brown-eyed’”). In addition, the native/non-native dichotomy is often conceived of in terms of monolingualism despite not being the norm.
The term L2 user has been an attempt to move away from the native/non-native dichotomy, but L2 seems to stand for all languages beyond the second, and it is used as a measure of comparison to the native speaker. This is despite L1 attrition, L1 variation (based on dialect or education), and L1 use (such as literacy, hearing, signing, etc.).
Dewaele introduces the “value-neutral” term LX (p. 3):
The term ‘LX user’ does not imply any level of proficiency, which means it could range from minimal to maximal and could very well be equal or superior to that of L1 users in certain domains.
Dewaele uses the term LX to shift the focus even further from native speakers towards one that looks at users of languages, which can be any combination of L1s and LXs. It shifts the focus from the monolingual native as a benchmark, abstraction, or goal and allows for more value-neutral comparisons. Dewaele offers an example of this sort of comparison: “We could compare quadrilinguals in their French L3 with quadrilingual French L1 users” (p. 4). What LX does is put both groups of language users on an equal footing without subsuming them to some native ideal. By using the value-neutral term “LX users”, these people are no longer considered to represent a defective version of native speakers of that language.
The practical implications of LX are quite limited, but it does offer a way to reframe how we think of language use. It moves us even further away from value-laden comparisons to an elusive native speaker or L1.
Dewaele, J. (2017). Why the dichotomy ‘L1 versus LX user’ is better than ‘native versus non-native speaker’. Applied Linguistics. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/amw055.
Thanks to Dr. Jean-Marc Dewaele for reviewing my summary.
Why the Dichotomy ‘L1 Versus LX User’ is Better than ‘Native Versus Non-native Speaker