Someone just told me "mother tongue" is exactly the same as "native language". I may be wrong, but I think the first one is not a good translation.
Am I wrong?
"Mother tongue" and "native language" are set phrases that both refer to the language one has started learning from birth. One generally associates "mother" with "tongue" and "native" with "language" but it is sometimes found the other way round. "Language" and "tongue" are here synonyms.
I would say "mother" or "native" is not identical though. When using "native" the reference is more to the country/nation. When using "mother" the reference is to the parent (mother or father), which gives it a warmth and personal relationship that the word "native" doesn't have.
I've found a sentence that I think can explain what I mean about "native" and "mother" although native being used here in association with country:
As a parent living far from my native country I have often experienced the fear that my children would not learn their mother language well.
In this whole text the use of "mother tongue" is not identical and I doubt the person who wrote it would have used "native language" (or "native tongue") where she used "mother language".
Multilingualism adds a questionable level of complexity to the established equations.If we were to define the terms based on today's demography then it sure is relevant to consider the following. And FYKI monolingualism is a thing of the past.
"One can have two or more native languages, thus being a native bilingual or indeed multilingual. The order in which these languages are learned is not necessarily the order of proficiency. For instance, a French-speaking couple might have a daughter who learned French first, then English; but if she were to grow up in an English-speaking country, she would likely be most proficient in English."
Wiki defines the concerned terms by establishing a differential approach.
Defining mother tongue:
Based on origin: the language(s) one learned first (the language(s) in which one has established the first long-lasting verbal contacts). Based on internal identification: the language(s) one identifies with/as a speaker of; Based on external identification: the language(s) one is identified with/as a speaker of, by others. Based on competence: the language(s) one knows best. Based on function: the language(s) one uses most.
A native speaker is defined according to the guidelines that:
The individual acquired the language in early childhood The individual has intuitive knowledge of the language The individual is able to produce fluent, spontaneous discourse The individual is competent in communication The individual identifies with or is identified by a language community The individual does not have a foreign accent
Mother tongue and
Native language have similar, meanings and are often actually interchangeable, however there is a subtle difference.
Native language refers to the language of the area the person grows up in. For example, growing up in the United States, your
native language would be English. It's the language used every day everywhere you go by the vast majority of the people there.
Mother tongue refers to the language of the family you grew up in. The language your parents spoke in the house, or to each other out-and-about if applicable. Often, parents will use the same language as that of the region (parents in the U.S. speaking English) however it can differ. Take for example a family of immigrants from Mexico to the United States. In their house and with family/friends they may use Spanish. But at school, restaurants, stores, etc they would use English. In this case, the
native language is English and the
mother tongue is Spanish.
Typically, the two will refer to the same language, in which case they are interchangeable; however, in some cases they may differ.
As someone growing up in a Malaysian-Chinese household, I always consider my mother tongues to be the various Chinese dialects while my native languages are Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) and English, since the latter two I began learning concurrently and have been ever since. So for me, there are very distinctive, though as many of you have pointed out, subtle differences between the two.
Mother tongue and native language mean the same thing. Both words share an etymology. I missed this fact earlier and my thanks to the sharp-eyed commenters who caught it.
Thank you for your interest in this question.
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