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Frisian-Dutch couple
Frisian-Dutch couple

The new speaker

In the previous step you watched the video in which Henk and José are talking about their multilingual practices. José is a new speaker of Frisian; she learnt it as an adult, when she started to date Henk. In this step we will share an academic view with you on the new speaker concept. The base of this article step is an article of Alexandra Jaffe (2015).

The term new speaker can be contrasted to the term semi-speaker, which represents something negative, namely a linguistic simplification of the minority language. The figure of the new speaker can be read as a positive thing: it is away from language shift and loss. The term also contrasts with native speaker. The native speaker is authentic, traditional, while the new speaker is new.

Jaffe proposes six criteria in order to define the new speaker:

  1. age of acquisition;
  2. sequence and manner of acquisition;
  3. type and level of linguistic and metalinguistic competence;
  4. frequency and type of use;
  5. self-identification and usage;
  6. social attribution.

We will focus on the last three categories, as these provide the most interesting points of discussion on new speakers.

Frequency and type of use

New speakers have been defined as adults who acquire a socially and communicative consequential level of competence and practice in a minority language. The question is how to identify what level of competence is enough to be “sufficient” and how to measure this. One can have, for instance, linguistic competence or pragmatic competence. Pragmatic competence means knowledge of how people use the language in communication, for example: knowledge of what is considered as polite and how to address people or how to formulate a request. Also, a new speaker can be competent in a standard form of the language or acquire knowledge of a dialect. Finally, metalinguistic competence - or knowledge about the language - is separable from competence in that language.

Another question that can be raised is whether a new speaker is ‘new’ forever, or do certain kinds of competence and use remove the modifier ‘new’? These questions show that the concept new speaker is hard to define.

Self-identification and usage

New speakers differ in the domains in which they use the language. Speakers can use a language in multiple domains of their lives: for example at work and at home, in speech and in writing. Others do not use the new language outside of the classroom. Moreover, there are new speakers who report extensive practice of the language in informal contexts, but very little formal, professional or written experience.

Social attribution

It is certain that one cannot become a new speaker without being recognised as one by some other group. New speakerness is a social status or identity that is the dynamic product of both self- and other-attributions and stances. Taking up an identity as a new speaker is often associated with a display of commitment.

One can for example be aware of limits in one’s knowledge that have been pointed out by native speakers. Or one can be married to someone who speaks the language as a native language, as is the case for José. A new speaker can also be active in promoting the language among colleagues. Some new speakers learn the language by books, others learn it by going to language courses.

Sources:
Jaffe, A. (2015). Defining the new speaker: theoretical perspectives and learner trajectories. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 231: 21 – 44.

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This article is from the free online course:

Multilingual Practices: Tackling Challenges and Creating Opportunities

University of Groningen

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