native language

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International Mother Language Day in Sydney, Australia. Inscription: Conserve your mother language

As a native language refers to a spokesman from early childhood without formal lessons learned language . According to Kluge, the word was probably coined based on the example of the Latin lingua materna (literally: "language on the mother's side").

A language is usually conveyed through a close reference person like the mother (hence “mother tongue”). Associated with the term is also a general idea that the mother tongue is the language that a verbally expressing individual (native speaker) is best at.


The expression “mother tongue” is used in everyday language and can also be found in many specialist books. Although it is only used in a figurative sense and means that this language was spoken at home and not learned in school, there are different considerations:

The Duden defines mother tongue as "a language that a person learns as a child (from parents) [and primarily in language use]."

In addition to native speakers , the English equivalent of native speakers is sometimes used, which means in English that this language was learned as a toddler. Alternatively, one speaks in English of mother tongue .

The US -amerikanischen linguist Suzanne Romaine , according to the term suggests that it is in the native language to the language that is spoken by the mother and learned from it. This is not always true in many societies where people speak multiple languages ​​and couples are often multilingual. It may well be that the child first learns the language of the father , the grandparents or another caregiver because they are the primary caregivers.

The term “mother tongue” is often associated with the fact that the mother tongue is the language that an individual has mastered best compared to all other languages ​​learned. Again, this is not necessarily so, because individuals can e.g. B. learn other languages through migration to other countries and then use them exclusively, so that the competence in the mother tongue decreases or is completely lost.

In linguistics, the term “ first language ” (abbreviation: L1) is preferred to denote the first language acquired in childhood.

Despite the different interpretations, linguists and institutions such as B. the UN , continues to use the expression “mother tongue”, but partly in the more broad sense of “a language that was spoken in an individual's home in early childhood, but not necessarily the language that is currently spoken by him”.

Acquisition of the mother tongue

The psychologist Steven Pinker and the linguist Noam Chomsky assume that young people have innate structures ( universal grammar ) that actively support language acquisition (cf. generative grammar ). Jerome Bruner expands this approach to include a parental “language acquisition support system”, which means that interaction with young children particularly stimulates their learning. Recent research shows that language acquisition can be explained without assuming innate language-specific brain structures ( connectionism , cultural theories ); the neocortex shows high neural plasticity in the early years and the child is usually exposed to extremely stimulating learning environments over a long period of time. It is important that other people have comparable mental structures (intentions, purposes) that the child can share with them through language ( Theory of Mind , cultural theory by Tomasello). Joint action in larger groups seems to have been the reason for the development of language from an evolutionary point of view (Dunbar).

Multilingualism or bilingualism

Bilingualism describes the ability of an individual to speak two or more languages. An individual can e.g. B. become bilingual when exposed to two languages ​​as a child - the language of the mother and that of the father (or another close reference person). In many families the principle “one person - one language” is implemented, i. H. the respective parent speaks to the child in their mother tongue.

Bilingual in the strict sense means that the second language is spoken with as much competence as the mother tongue. In the United States, but also in other parts of the world that has a tendency to observe, any person who reasonably useful foreign languages has knowledge as "bilingual" or " multilingual designate". In terms of language policy, this can be seen as an attempt to upgrade the actual multilingualism of large population groups who speak another mother tongue in addition to the majority language in relation to the pure and perfect monolingualism, which is to be understood as idealized and only presented.

The mother tongue in censuses

Language played an increasing role in the emergence of nations and in international territorial disputes, including in the colonies. In the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1842 it was published that “the true natural boundaries were not determined by mountains and rivers, but by language, customs, memories and everything that distinguishes one nation from another”. The International Statistical Congress held in St. Petersburg in 1860 identified language as the only aspect of nationality that can be at least objectively quantified and represented in tables. The ultimate decision of Congress did not make the mother tongue question compulsory in censuses . It was left to individual governments to decide whether or not such a question was of “national” importance. The Statistical Congress of 1873, however, advocated including this question in all future censuses.

The question of the mother tongue was particularly controversial in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy , a multi-ethnic state, as it was feared that it would encourage the emergence of nationalism . Therefore, this question was not introduced until 1880. Since then, every census has developed into a battleground between the individual nationalities and even the most sophisticated attempts at arbitration by the authorities have remained unsuccessful.

In the Habsburg Empire , it was decided against using the language of public life as a question in censuses, as there was a possibility that this might have been imposed by the government or a party on the population. The Austrian statistician Adolf Ficker in particular advocated taking into account the constant change in language and, above all, linguistic assimilation by not asking citizens about their mother tongue or (literally) about their language, which they were the first to receive from their mothers had learned, but according to their “family language”, that is, according to the language that the individual concerned usually uses in the family circle. In their question of language, censuses therefore for the first time forced everyone to choose not just a nationality but a linguistic nationality.

See also


  • Britta Jung, Herbert Günther: First language, second language, foreign language: an introduction . Beltz, Weinheim / Basel 2004, ISBN 3-407-25731-7 .
  • Christina Kauschke: Children's language acquisition in German: processes, research methods, explanatory approaches . de Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-028388-4 .
  • Suzanne Romaine: Bilingualism. 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-631-19539-4 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Mother tongue  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Suzanne Romaine: Bilingualism . 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-631-19539-4 , pp. 19, 22 .
  2. Mother tongue accessed on September 3, 2019.
  3. mother tongue accessed on Sept. 3, 2019.
  4. ^ Suzanne Romaine: Bilingualism . 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-631-19539-4 , pp. 19-20 .
  5. Britta Jung, Herbert Günther: First language, second language, foreign language: An introduction . Beltz, Weinheim / Basel 2004, ISBN 3-407-25731-7 , p. 56-57 .
  6. ^ Suzanne Romaine: Bilingualism . 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-631-19539-4 , pp. 22 .
  7. ^ Suzanne Romaine: Bilingualism . 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-631-19539-4 , pp. 19 .
  8. ^ Suzanne Romaine: Bilingualism . 2nd Edition. Blackwell, Oxford 1995, ISBN 0-631-19539-4 , pp. 19 .
  9. Christina Kauschke: Children's language acquisition in German: courses, research methods, explanatory approaches . De Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-028388-4 , pp. 121 .
  10. a b c Eric J. Hobsbawm: Nations and Nationalism. Myth and Reality since 1780. Campus, 1990, ISBN 3-593-34524-2 , p. 116 ff.
  11. ^ A b Emil Brix: The colloquial languages ​​in Old Austria between agitation and assimilation. The language statistics in the Cisleithan population censuses 1880-1910. Böhlau, Vienna 1982, ISBN 3-205-08745-3 .