1

Having been a non- native speaker, several times I had been asked to write my name IN VERNACULAR or IN MOTHER TONGUE during my college days. I couldn't tell apart the subtle difference and thought of them to be synonymous those days.

According to the Wikipedia article, VERNACULAR is the language spoken by a group of people inhabiting a particular region/ country which is regarded as of low - status.

Mother tongue is in some countries the language/ dialect of one's ethnic group rather than the first language — the one exposed to, from his birth.

Thus, to reach a conclusion,

  1. The definitions of both terms overlap to a certain degree.

  2. The definition of mother tongue seems little VAGUE.

Which out of the two is MORE REFINED & FORMAL to denote one's first language? I ask this on the grounds:-

  1. The term vernacular has derogatory connotation.

  2. On the contrary, I think that mother tongue is a SUBSET of vernacular and not vice versa. (In most cases, one's mother tongue is the product of their vernacular.)

Also, I'm personally of the opinion that if somebody asks you to use your vernacular, it indicates imperialistic approach of the instructor as witnessed by the excerpts given below. (I'm taken by the retro-noir-word "ANGLO-VERNACULAR").

8
  • I think you intended to say "tongue", not "tounge".
    – Hot Licks
    May 18, 2023 at 3:19
  • Thanks for pointing out the typo May 18, 2023 at 3:38
  • 4
    Your 'mother tongue' is specific to you, 'the vernacular' is specific to the area where you live. May 18, 2023 at 7:54
  • 1
    "More refined and formal" is rather vague. What exact context are you planning to use it in?
    – alphabet
    May 18, 2023 at 18:21
  • 1
    Lots of people have names that aren't in their mother tongue, e.g. descendants of immigrants may have a name in an ancestral language. Not sure why or how you would be asked your name in your vernacular, or why you need us to explain what vernacular means. Do you want to tell people they're wrong?
    – Stuart F
    May 18, 2023 at 22:51

1 Answer 1

3

Asking which of the two is more refined or more formal is misguided, because they have different meanings and operate within different ways of classifying languages/dialects.

Everybody has a mother tongue (i.e. a native language). The term mother tongue is neither informal nor particularly formal. (I suspect that some people could object to it on the ground that its use ignores those who were, in their early childhood, raised by somebody other than their mothers, but it doesn’t seem that this objection has had much influence on its use.)

The question ‘How do you write your name in your mother tongue?’ always has an answer. Somebody whose native language is Greek will respond to that question by using Greek characters, somebody whose native language is Japanese will respond by using Japanese characters, etc. The question ‘How do you write your name in the vernacular?’, on the other hand, may be confusing to many people. They may wonder ‘Which vernacular?’ Somebody whose native language is the standard contemporary Greek does not think of writing his name in Greek characters as using a vernacular.

I suspect that the OP has encountered such questions in a country in which there are many ethnic groups with distinct languages, but in which only a small number of languages are designated as official, and in which, moreover, most people learn one of the unofficial languages as their mother tongue. In such a setting, vernacular may be a standardly used term for the unofficial languages. Understanding the term that way, however, presupposes some familiarity with the difference between the status of different languages in that country, which an audience outside it may not possess (and which may not be important to them even if they do know about it). Because of that, mother tongue or native language are better terms than vernacular to use for this purpose when communicating with English-speaking audience of an unknown background.

(Incidentally, although it would be odd to ask in the present-day Europe, what somebody name in the vernacular is, such a question would have been perfectly apt a few centuries ago, when Latin was the language of formal communication in most of Western Europe.)

3
  • Very impressive answer indeed! May 19, 2023 at 1:20
  • I take it for granted :- gist of your answer is using term mother- tongue is better in the sense that it's less stigmatizing May 19, 2023 at 1:45
  • I don't think that the term vernacular is inherently stigmatising, but its use in a particular context may be stigmatising - to pronounce a judgement on whether it is, one would have to be familiar with the overall social circumstances in which it would be used. My point was that mother tongue or native language captures what is probably intended here more accurately and in a way that will be readily understood across the English-speaking world.
    – jsw29
    May 19, 2023 at 15:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.