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More on native capabilities
Thread poster: Balasubramaniam L.

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 11:54
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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Oct 7, 2006

The aim of starting this thread is to take the continuing debate on the importance of nativeness in a language as it applies to translation a bit further.

My main thesis here is germane to international languages like English, French, Hindi, Spanish or Portuguese which have all more or less broken free from their original geographical moorings and have reached unheard of places. It may not apply to geographically well-rooted languages in whose case the main body of speakers still resides in a well-defined, contiguous area.

I have noticed that many translators hailing from as diverse places as USA, Canada, Australia, Finland, Italy and so on, have declared their native language as English.

I am particularly intrigued by the case of USA. USA is an immigrant society to which people from almost all linguistic backgrounds have added their numbers. Because the initial big waves of immigrants were English speakers, people generally tend to identify USA as an English-speaking nation. But is it really so? With rapid influx of people of Spanish origin from its underbelly, as well as a steady stream of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Europe, USA is slowly changing in its linguistic character. At the level of families and individuals, it is now quite possible for thousands of residents of the USA to live with only a nodding acquaintance of English and maintain their roots with their original mother tongues and pass on this competency to their next generations.

Yet, many translators from USA registered with this site have declared English as their native language have also mentioned in their posts at various forums here that they come from non-English-speaking or mixed families with one parent speaking one language, the other another.

How honest is it of such translators to declare English as their native language? In many such cases, there is no dominant linguistic influence on them in their childhood days (when language roots are really established in the brain) and both languages exerted a more or less equal influence on them. In many cases, a third language is also involved, for example, if the parents speak two different non-English languages and the outside milieu is English. In such cases the child grows up without one native language. How honest would it be for a person of such a background to later declare his/her native language as English, merely on the basis that the dominant linguistic culture of USA is English? Obviously in his/her particular case, it was not.

There are also cases of translators who mention that their childhood was spent in a non-English speaking area and still report their native language as English. Can a person claim nativity in any language, even if it is the mother tongue, if he/she has not spent the first six to ten years of his/her life in an area where that language is spoken?

The crucial issue here is the definition of native language. For me it is: the language spoken by both parents and in the family, and the language that exists in the child's immediate surroundings, such as the neighbourhood, friends circle, school and media (TV, radio, etc.). It is these that determine the level of competency that the child picks up in a language.

In immigration based societies like USA, all the factors mentioned above are often not equally active in many situations. Can a child that has grown up under such countervailing influences claim to have English as its native language? Here I am only talking in the purely linguistic sense (in terms of the level of competence he/she acquires over English as compared to a truly English native child). Let me put it in another way. Lets us take two children. One, whose both parents are English and they live in England. The other’s mother is French, married to an Arab (resident of USA), living in a predominately Hispanic neighbourhood where Spanish is quite prominent. Will both these children acquire the same linguistic abilities in English and can they both be considered native speakers of English?

So there is an apparent contradiction in declared nativity and actual childhood situations. Let me clarify that this is no comment on the competence in English of these translators. Many of them have excellent command over English and are excellent translators. But there is still a contradiction - their intial (childhood) situations were not truly native, even though they have declared it as such.

My contention is this. With the world integrating more and more and cultures and languages mixing freely and many languages going global, nebulous concepts like nativity in a language are becoming untenable and we need to move on to more objective yardsticks for evaluating the linguistic abilities of a translator.

My suggestion: In the case of a few international languages like English, French, Hindi, Spanish and Portuguese, the notion of nativity has lost its relevance because of the ever expanding global spread of these languages. English is a special case among these languages. It is rapidly recruiting new speakers and users from other linguistic backgrounds and competency in English in no longer merely reflected by nativity.

Keeping this reality in view, I propose that in the case of this language at least, and may be in the case of the other similar language too, our community should cease to judge competency just on the basis of nativity.

I would welcome your views on this.

[Edited at 2006-10-07 06:20]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 09:24
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
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Nativity is a prejudice Oct 7, 2006

It is never enough to be born as a child of at least one parent a "native" speaker. More important than the parents are the folks who interact with the child most, nowadays these are the children in kindergarten and the teachers there and later at school. Children reconstruct their languages from scratch by using the building blocks offered from the environment. That's why languages change gradually.

The aim of translation is to achieve text that adheres to some standards of quality. If not, it's a bad translation, regardless if the translator was native or not.

Regards
Heinrich


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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Dutch to English
+ ...
You have just proven that nobody is a native speaker of any language Oct 7, 2006

Basically, Balasubramaniam, nobody can call themselves a native speaker of any language. I do not believe it is that relevant to translation either. Your command of the language you translate from and into, however, is. Other human traits are more important. Mainly, being able to apply knowledge gained to new situations.

I view language as a constantly evolving tool used to communicate with other humans. Trying to define it is pointless since by the time you have, it will already have changed again.

After translating for 23 years I know exactly what I am capable of translating and what I am not good at. This has less to do with my nativeness and more to do with my personality. I am a logical person and, therefore, I would never, for example, translate poetry.

I agree totally with Heinrich's statement that nativeness is a prejudice. It is basically laziness because it is used to decide whether a person is capable or not of translating and, yet, it is based on a false premise: it disregards all other issues such as (formal and infomal) education, background and environment.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Flemish to English
+ ...
European situation Oct 7, 2006

Nativeness is a "static" concept.

My mother is nearly illiterate with a "restricted code" (google : Basil Bernstein) use of language (lots of repetitions of the same words) and no knowledge of any foreign language.

If I were a native speaker with her language level, does that makes me fit to be a translator?

Hey, I am a "native" without any education or translation training, therefore I can translate.

I'v put Dutch in my profile. However, that is not my native language either. My native language is a vernacular, a Flemish dialect with French influences, whereas Dutch is the standard language.

In a European-Union with free movement of persons, high speed trains and low-fare airlines like Ryanair, the nativeness issue is "irrelevant". In a global world, internet (tv), satellite dishes and skype (webcam) allow you to live and practise a language on a daily basis even if you are not in the country itself.

As mentioned above, it's the surroundings, possibilites to be in contact with a language and continuous education that matter.

Language assimilitation is something with you must practise every day by paying attention to new words, phrases and expressions.

[Edited at 2006-10-07 09:13]

[Edited at 2006-10-07 09:16]


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:24
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
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young age + community of native speakers = native language Oct 7, 2006

Every human being is born with the ability to acquire the language spoken by the community in which he/she is born and raised. At around the age of 13-14 this natural ability to acquire a language begins to function at a less than optimal level, and any language acquired after this age is unlikely to be learned to a native speaker level in all aspects.

For a person to be considered a native speaker of a language, he/she must have learned it at a young age and as a member of a community of native speakers. This may be the family, the wider community in which he/she lives, or both.







[Edited at 2006-10-07 15:16]


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Flemish to English
+ ...
Regional variant and Basil Bernstein's codes of language. Oct 7, 2006

Michele Fauble wrote:

Every human being is born with the ability to acquire the language spoken by the community in which he/she is born and raised. At around the age of 13-14 this natural ability to acquire a language begins to function at a less than optimal level, and any language acquired after this age is unlikely to be learned to a native speaker level in all aspects.

For a person to be considered a native speaker of a language, he/she must have learned it at a young age and as a member of a community of native speakers. This may be the family, the wider community in which he/she lives, or both.



[Edited at 2006-10-07 15:16]


Could you specify which "aspects"?????

What happens if the parents of a child enjoyed little education and the child grew up in a ghetto. Wouldn't the child, albeit a native speaker, assimilate the "restricted code" (one characteristic is the use of confirmation like "you know" at the end of the sentence) or the regional variant of a language, f.e.: Cockney.

What if a non-native acquired say an MBA (these programmes are entirely taught in English) and lived in an English speaking community for the past ten or twenty years or if a non-native has been translating into English since 1980? Don't you think that this person has developped a feeling for the language over the years.


[Edited at 2006-10-07 19:24]


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Jackie Bowman

Local time: 02:24
Spanish to English
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Interesting question Oct 7, 2006

Balasubramaniam wrote:
Lets us take two children. One, whose both parents are English and they live in England. The other’s mother is French, married to an Arab (resident of USA), living in a predominately Hispanic neighbourhood where Spanish is quite prominent. Will both these children acquire the same linguistic abilities in English and can they both be considered native speakers of English?


I would welcome your views on this.

[Edited at 2006-10-07 06:20]



Dear Balasubramaniam

I think I take the point of your post. And it’s an interesting post, one that warrants discussion.. Thank you for posting it.

You understand, of course, that it invites, by its very nature, an exhaustive exegisis of its content. I don’t have the time for a truly exhaustive exegisis, but I do have the time to make a few points. Here they are …

An educated native speaker of English would not say ‘Lets us take’. Perhaps that was a typo, so let’s [not lets] forget it.

An educated native speaker of English would not say ‘One, whose both parents are English’. He or she would say ‘both of whose parents’.

An educated native speaker of English would not say ‘resident of USA’. He or she would say ‘the USA”.

The question you pose is unanswerable. Anybody who claims to be able to answer it is, by definition, a charlatan.

What is incontestably true is this: the child of a French mother and an Arab father living in a predominately Spanish-speaking neighbourhood of the United States, and who doesn’t learn English, will have very severe disadvantages. Someone so unfortunately placed in linguistic isolation will ghettoize themselves in the United States. It is highly probable that their career will consist of emptying my neighbours’ garbage, or cleaning their toilets, or picking their corn.

Their children might do better, of course. And any human with any sense of decency would hope for it, but those children will only do better if they speak English.

All best
JB


[Edited at 2006-10-07 22:03]


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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:24
Swedish to English
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People without native languages???? Oct 7, 2006

As you can see from my profile, I claim to be bilingual. My father was Scottish and my mother Swedish and both languages were spoken at home. I was brought up in Sweden, but sent to English classes from a very young age.

However, it appears I'm one of the lucky ones. According to your definitions, I do still have a native language - Swedish.

Now let's consider my son. Born in the UK by a Swedish/Scottish mother, father Italian. Which would his 'native' language be according to your criteria? Which language could he honestly declare as his native language?

His story:
Born and educated in England until the age of 7. Then relocated to Sweden for four years before returning to the UK. In Sweden he attended an English speaking school (native English speaking teachers). Now he's back in the UK and and in the test he took last year (SATS2) he's excelled .

His first spoken language was Swedish since he was brought up by me on my own. However, attending nursery from a young age forced him to not just understand, but actually communicate in, English.

According to your criteria about native languages, my son (who translated his first document age 7) could never become a translator. Why not? Because has no native language?

Madeleine


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 11:54
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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TOPIC STARTER
Alternative to nativity yardstick Oct 8, 2006

Dear friends,

Many thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

There seems to be a general agreement that nativity in a language is a poor and fault-ridden measure for judging translating abilities. Translating abilities have to be acquired by a diligent effort and it helps if you happen to stay in the target language area, but that is not the whole story. Of course with modern technology and cheap travel facilities it is quite possible to imbibe the nuances of a language even while technically not in its geographical area. Yet mere nativeness in a language is not synonymous with a good translator.

The ideal of nativeness is something of a chimera that cannot be achieved in many cases. The best translators are actually those who do not fit into the strait-jacket of a native speaker, for translators ride two linguistic horses at the same time, thus compromising on true nativity of either language.

Yet, nativity is still used as a yardstick for measuring translating skills, even on this site. How can we coax our community (which includes outsourcers) to move to a more scientific yardstick for measuring translation skills? And what could this yardstick be?


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 11:54
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Exactly, that is the point I was trying to make... Oct 8, 2006

Williamson wrote:
What if a non-native acquired say an MBA (these programmes are entirely taught in English) and lived in an English speaking community for the past ten or twenty years or if a non-native has been translating into English since 1980? Don't you think that this person has developped a feeling for the language over the years.


But sadly that seems to be the reality in translation circles. If you are not native in a language, to many you are a lousy translator in that language even if "you have acquired an MBA... and lived in an English speaking community for the past 20 years..."

It is rather like the caste-system of India where you are born into a caste and can very rarely change it. You may be an internationally renowned economist or a surgeon but in your own village, you will still be identified by your caste label!

Most of us translators are highly educated people, should we fall for such obvious fallacies?



[Edited at 2006-10-08 04:08]


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 11:54
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Not the first nation for me :-) Oct 8, 2006

Jackie Bowman wrote:
An educated native speaker of English would not say ‘resident of USA’. He or she would say ‘the USA”.


I hope you are not subconsciously guided by the idea that "the" USA is the first nation and it is impolite (if not a punishable blasphemy) to refer to it without the honorific of "the".

For me, USA is just the name of a country, just like India, China or Japan. You would never say resident of the India, or the China or the Japan, would you?

Humour aside, thank you for taking a benign view of my post.

Probably the original post is so long that the central message gets lost in it. It is merely this: nativeness in a language is no measure of translation abilities and what could be a better measure than it.


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:24
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Let's not confuse the issues Oct 8, 2006

Balasubramaniam wrote:


Probably the original post is so long that the central message gets lost in it. It is merely this: nativeness in a language is no measure of translation abilities and what could be a better measure than it.



The issue of the importance of being a native speaker of the target language is distinct from the definition of native speaker. The two issues should not be confused.











[Edited at 2006-10-08 04:43]


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 11:54
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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The situation in India is similar Oct 8, 2006

Williamson wrote:
In a European-Union with free movement of persons, high speed trains and low-fare airlines like Ryanair, the nativeness issue is "irrelevant". In a global world, internet (tv), satellite dishes and skype (webcam) allow you to live and practise a language on a daily basis even if you are not in the country itself.


The situation in India is similar. We have 19 languages in our Constitution and many of our States are organized on a linguistic basis. So we have Telugu spoken mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil in Tamil Nadu, Punjabi in Punjab and so on. Hindi, of course is spoken in the entire northern part of the country which comprises several large states. It is also widely understood in other parts of the country.

What this translates into is that in the border areas between two states, say Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh or Rajasthan (Hindi) and Gujarat, or Karnatak (Kannad) and Tamil Nadu, you have practically the entire population speaking two langauges without effort.

And if a person from such a region migrates to another linguistic area, which happens all the time, he/she quickly picks up another language. This is faciliated by the common thread of Sanskrit running through all Indian languages.

So it is easy to find Indians who have excellent command in two or three Indian langauges. Not mere speaking abilities, but the ability to write correctly and to translate from one to the other.


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:24
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Native speaker vs. native-like competence Oct 8, 2006

Williamson wrote:
Could you specify which "aspects"?????


Well, native-like pronunciation seems to be especially hard to acquire, and speakers of a second language frequently make grammatical errors that differ in kind from those made by native speakers and that often reflect the linguistic background of the second language speaker. There may be errors of vocabulary and other more subtle differences - learners of English use "moreover" 200 times more frequently in their writing than do native English writers.


What happens if the parents of a child enjoyed little education and the child grew up in a ghetto. Wouldn't the child, albeit a native speaker, assimilate the "restricted code" (one characteristic is the use of confirmation like "you know" at the end of the sentence) or the regional variant of a language, f.e.: Cockney.


Variation is characteristic of languages. Native speakers may acquire one or more varieties, depending on circumstances. A native speaker who has acquired a "restricted code" is nevertheless a native speaker of the language, albeit a disadvantaged native speaker.


What if a non-native acquired say an MBA (these programmes are entirely taught in English) and lived in an English speaking community for the past ten or twenty years or if a non-native has been translating into English since 1980? Don't you think that this person has developped a feeling for the language over the years.


Anyone who has acquired a language has acquired "linguistic intuitions" about the language. In the case of non-native speakers, these intuitions may or may not correspond to those of native speakers. To the extent that they do correspond, the non-native speaker has acquired native-like competence.


There seems to be a desire on the part of some who have acquired native-like competence in a non-native language to equate native-like competence with native language, i.e. a native speaker of a language is someone who has acquired competence equivalent to that of a native speaker . This is an invalid definition. I invite others to spot the logical fallacy.































[Edited at 2006-10-08 06:35]


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Ritu Bhanot  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:24
Member (2006)
French to Hindi
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My Native Language Oct 8, 2006

Just wondering what would be my native language

Born in Punjab... childhood spent traveling in different regions of India in multicultural, multilinguistic environment. And later lived in different parts of world... At times, I had no choice but to learn those languages... but it was fun.

I learned a lot and grew as a person. I learnt to appreciate the differences and similarities between different languages.

Anyways, I think that language is like a river and it's nature is to flow... they change, they grow, they live... There are languages that refused to change (like Sanskrit and Latin) and are today regarded as Dead Languages.

New words are added and old usages become redundant.

And we, as language professionals, need to be aware of those changes and accept them. And why do we take refuge in Native Language? As Marijke rightly pointed out
It is basically laziness
... laziness on our part:

We try to justify that I know it better than the other person because it's my native language... yet that other person might be better than me in the sense that he/ she might have participated much more in the growth of the language than I have.

And agencies' laziness:

It's easy to say well I employed a Native Speaker (Declared) so it has to be correct rather than take a risk with a Non-Native Speaker and then prove it that it is Good.

Still it's strange that some agencies actually contact Non-Native Speakers to do Proofreading of translations done by Native Speakers!!!

Anyways, in the end it's all about 'what clicks' and business relations.

And every year we celebrate change, at least once a year, when 'Academie française' accepts a few words of foreign origin in French.

I'm not talking of English 'coz English is much more democratic in this regard.

Life is a celebration and language is so living... in fact, we as translators are really lucky. We are always celebrating Of course, it's hard work but... we really learn a lot more than an average person who has a 9-5 job.


[Edited at 2006-10-08 06:30]


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