In linguistics and foreign language teaching, there are various terms to describe languages one knows or is learning, e.g.:

  • L1, first language, native language, mother tongue; a language one acquired from birth.
  • L2, second language; a language one learned or is learning, it not their mother tongue.
  • Target language, in the context of language learning, the language one is trying to learn.

What term can be used to describe a language that a subject does not know, they are not currently learning, and it is not their "target" of study?

  • The term should be fairly precise, such that readers can readily recognize that this term is neither a L1 nor a target language nor a partially learned language.
  • A term used in academic writing in the fields of linguistics, foreign language teaching, or second language acquisition studies is preferred, but if none is available, a new term that is consistent enough to fit in a set along with the other examples will be fine.
  • That would be "LATIN". Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 5:26
  • I find it, quite frankly, unbelievable that this question has a close-vote for “unclear what you’re asking” and two for “must specify how word will be used”. The question is very clearly and precisely asked, and it describes quite accurately how the word will be used. Commented Jun 3, 2014 at 13:22
  • I'd say "That's Greek to me!"
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 12:24

2 Answers 2


Somewhat surprisingly, I don’t think there is a term for such a language at all. At least, I have never come across it, though it would certainly be a logical and useful term to have.

There are a few words that can be used to describe this notion, but the ones I can think of are all (slightly) ambiguous and not set terms.

What I would probably use is simply an unfamiliar language. In the context, this should be clear enough, though it could also imply a language that the person simply has never heard of (like Adyghe or Nuxálk to most people), or even one that has a very different structure to what the person is familiar with (so both Hungarian and Nuxálk could theoretically be said to be very structurally unfamiliar to an English speaker).

Other options include non-mastered language (though you could argue that a language you only speak at a very basic level is ‘non-mastered’, too), unstudied language (though that could also be a language that has just received too little academic study in general), or non-known language (though that could also be a language that we just don’t have any information about, like Minoan).

You could also, if coining non-transparent terms is an option, extrapolate from Wikipedia’s user language template, where a complete lack of proficiency in a language is denoted by a zero 0 (so en-0 means ‘cannot communicate in English at all’), and call such a language a 0-language or zero-language.


The closest existing terminology I could find to a language one does not know and is always learning is:

Idioglossia (plural idioglossias)

(linguistics) An invented form of dialect, language, or speech used by children, typically twins, and intelligible only to its speakers. SynonymsEdit (invented form of language used by children): cryptophasia, idiolalia Related termsEdit idioglottic twin speech twin talk

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