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Native speakers, especially those who have read a lot of writing or literature for a given language, acquire the ability to "know" whether something is grammatically correct (or not) just from their recognition of patterns and phrases and not necessarily any specific rules of grammar or language usage (i.e. transitive or intransitive verbs, conjugation, etc.)

Is there a term for this?

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    People who can do this are said to speak the language natively. This doesn't mean, however, that they can distinguish grammatical rules from politeness rules or socioeconomic class rules without instruction. As we demonstrate all the time here on ELU. – John Lawler Apr 22 '14 at 17:22
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    It is just a matter of pattern recognition or the lack of it. When we hear the same phrase often enough, we accept it instantly. If we hear: "the bird is on the wings", we can instantly recognize something is WRONG. We don't need to stop and ponder that a bird has two wings and the phrase may be right. – Gary's Student Apr 22 '14 at 17:29
  • @Gary: I've never really believed two wrongs make a right, but if you have enough "wrongs", they can collectively justify themselves. So this version gets my vote of approval: Spring is sprung, de grass is ris. I wonders where dem boidies is. Dey say de boids is on de wing. Ain't that absoid! De little wings is on de boid! – FumbleFingers Apr 22 '14 at 17:53
  • @FumbleFingers I love it!!! You have surely earned your poetic license (perhaps even a poetic PhD.) – Gary's Student Apr 22 '14 at 17:57
  • @FumbleFingers Where does one find such funny poems? – rogermue Apr 22 '14 at 18:19
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It is called linguistic competence.

Linguistic competence is the system of linguistic knowledge possessed by native speakers of a language. It is in contrast to the concept of Linguistic performance, the way the language system is used in communication.

  • Excellent. That seems like a better term than "native speaker". – Andrew Mao Apr 22 '14 at 20:02

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