Language competence. Widening, or getting behind, the labels.

If you had to describe your English language competence in more than the regular ways, e.g. native-speaker, nonnative-speaker, advanced/intermediate/beginner level speaker, etc. how would you do it?

Here’s one way Adrian Holliday of Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, might see himself being described:

“rather than being classified as a ‘native speaker’ of English, someone like me would be considered a ‘relatively, though by no means always, competent user’ of something which might be defined along the lines of a conglomerate of Englishmiddle class, + academic, + institutional, + international, with specialized cultural reference connected with applied linguistics, a particular biography as a past curriculum consultant in the ‘developing world’ and with long-standing social, familial and emotional contacts with the Middle East – and so on.”
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This basically means that he’s a competent native speaker.

Please compare:

  1. John is a 23 year old Englishman from London.

  2. John doesn’t like being pigeonholed this way. He tells people that he is from Albion +alive +male +born 21/07/1985 +southern +urban +neurotic +commuting +gap-minding +jug-eared.

Thanks for that humorous observation, Ralf. What’s your reply to this part of my post?

I’m an English speaker +born in Germany +raised in Ireland +educated middle-class +exposed to linguistic heat sources +good accent mimic.

And you? Honestly…

I’m a Batu speaker whose mother, in her second marriage, married well, if late. Stepfather influenced Nigerian and British English + nursing discourse + native-speaker husband tuition and lots of ESL classes and doing quite well thank you with the English language but still a long way to go.

Would you also apply this to yourself?

Yes, I would. But I don’t see how this definition contradicts the term ‘native speaker’. It only contradicts your wry notion that native speakers should not be privileged to express their sentiments on standard usage.

What do you think about this? - every learner should be allowed to write dictionary entries that are used to teach other learners how to use English. And those should then in turn be entitled to re-render the dictionary!

I’ve not heard many native-speakers in the field of English language education admit the same.

Would you allow any native-speaker to do the same?

Here we go again. Experts, yes. Please don’t ask me who those experts are.

Care to answer my question?

This of course is one of the prohibited terms.


I’d say the same to you regarding your question. Expert learners - don’t ask me who they are - might indeed be qualified enough to do what you suggest, right?

The thread question is:

Care to reply to it, MrP?

Well, M., in terms of vocabulary, grammar, phrasing, idiom, spelling, punctuation, and of course allusion (or perhaps that should be “hinterland”), I would say that your style of English and mine are quite similar. From which I infer that you and I probably have quite similar backgrounds.

So in answer to your question:

I suppose yes; that must apply to me too. :?


You are of course referring to the English I use here, right? Mind, on one side of things, you do sound awfully like our ward matron at times. So there may indeed be some influence from nursing in your language make up.

MrP, do you find Ralf’s usage quite similar to your own?

Hey, Ralf, do you feel that being born in Germany has influenced, or influences, any part of your English usage in any way?

Not the birth itself, but maybe attending kindergarten. These days, using German on a daily basis leads to occasional lapses in English.

Proof for your theory about non-native speaker serviceability?


I think I can state with some confidence that the influence of things medical (and things African) is about equally evident in our respective idiolects.



I do not like labels that much, but sometimes have fun with seeing how I view things at a given moment.

So right now I consider myself to be an English speaker + born in a one cow village + working class upbringing + middle class educational & personal development + moved around a lot in England + relatively settled in a village city + crucially means it is hard to pin point my accent (birthplace).

Thanks, Stew. Nice to get beyond the labels, innit?