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Native speaker intolerance

Native speaker intolerance

‘On n’aime pas quelqu’un qui parle notre patois mal’: Native speaker intolerance towards new speaker speech

In a study on new speakers of Athabascan, Gary Holton gives a touching account of how native speakers of these obsolescent varieties ‘laugh mercilessly at their grandchildren’s efforts to learn’ and practice with their reference group. As a result of this linguistic intolerance, new speakers of Athabascan have sought refuge by taking their efforts instead to online discussion groups, pushing a language of largely oral only tradition into new domains of usage.

I've come across a similar case in the context of Francoprovençal: a much understudied grouping of Romance varieties spoken traditionally in parts of France, Switzerland, and Italy by less than 1% of the total regional population (~ 150,000). Emerging new speakers of Francoprovençal form part of the focus of my PhD on variation and change in these varieties.

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The 'new speaker' label

The 'new speaker' label

The ‘new speaker’ label focuses on the experience of multilingual individuals who adopt and use a language of which they are not native speakers. It is a relatively recent construct.

The term originated in minority language sociolinguistics but has now come to be used in critical sociolinguistics more generally to engage with debates around ‘nativeness’.

In the context of minority languages and revitalization projects such as BasqueBretonCatalan, CorsicanGalician,Irish, ManxOccitan, etc., this discussion has been more recent. In the past, the focus was to a large extent concerned with native speaker communities.

The new speaker category emerged in the context of minority language research and discussions amongst a small group of European-based researchers concerned with overlapping issues of legitimacy, linguistic authority and language ownership in post-revitalization situations, specifically in the context of Catalan and comparative work on Galician and Irish.

The specific use of the term ‘new speaker’ in fact drew inspiration from the Galician category of neofalante (literally neo or new speaker).

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