A person's native language--that is, a language learned from birth.
Contemporary linguists and educators commonly use the term L1 to
refer to a first or native language, and the term L2 to refer to a second language or a foreign language that's
general usage of the term 'mother tongue' . . . denotes not only the
language one learns from one's mother, but also the speaker's dominant and home
language, i.e. not only the first language according to the time of acquisition,
but the first with regard to its importance and the speaker's ability to master
its linguistic and communicative aspects. For example, if a language school
advertises that all its teachers are native speakers of English, we would most
likely complain if we later learned that although the teachers do have some
vague childhood memories of the time when they talked to their mothers in
English, they, however, grew up in some non-English speaking country and are
fluent in a second language only. Similarly, in translation theory, the claim that one should
translate only into one's mother tongue, is in fact a claim that one should
only translate into one's first and dominant language.
"The vagueness of this term has led some researchers
to claim . . . that different connotative meanings of the term 'mother tongue'
vary according to the intended usage of the word and that differences in
understanding the term can have far-reaching and often political
(N. Pokorn, Challenging the Traditional Axioms: Translation Into a
Non-Mother Tongue. John Benjamins, 2005)
"It is the language community of the mother tongue, the language
spoken in a region, which enables the process of enculturation, the growing of
an individual into a particular system of linguistic perception of the world and
participation in the centuries old history of linguistic production."
(W. Tulasiewicz and A. Adams, "What Is Mother Tongue?" Teaching
the Mother Tongue in a Multilingual Europe. Continuum, 2005)
power can . . . backfire when the choices of those who embrace Americanness in
language, accent, dress or choice of entertainment stir resentment in those who
do not. Every time an Indian adopts an American accent
and curbs his 'mother tongue influence,' as the call centers label it,
hoping to land a job, it seems more deviant, and frustrating, to have only an
(Anand Giridharadas, "America Sees Little Return From 'Knockoff
Power.'" The New York Times, June 4, 2010)
"The notion of 'mother tongue' is thus a mixture of myth and
ideology. The family is not necessarily the place where languages are transmitted,
and sometimes we observe breaks in transmission, often translated by a change
of language, with children acquiring as first language the one that dominates
in the milieu. This phenomenon . . . concerns all multilingual situations and
most of the situations of migration."
(Louis Jean Calvet, Towards an Ecology of World Languages. Polity Press,
Side of the Mother Tongue
Gib's friend: Forget her, I hear she only likes intellectuals.
Gib: So? I'm intellectual and stuff.
Gib's friend: You're flunking English. That's your mother tongue,
(The Sure Thing, 1985)
Also Known As: first language, dominant language,
home language, native tongue, native language