LINGUIST List 25.2347

Thu May 29 2014

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Davies (2013)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 10-Mar-2014
From: Laura Dubcovsky <>
Subject: Native Speakers and Native Users
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Alan Davies
TITLE: Native Speakers and Native Users
SUBTITLE: Loss and Gain
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Laura Dubcovsky, University of California, Davis


The book invites the reader to consider the two terms of the title, “Native Speakers” and “Native Users,” from new lenses. In his preface, Davies lays out his thesis: changing the reductionist definition of native speakers as a universal condition given at birth, and instead exploring the capacity of non-native speakers, or in Davies’ terms, native users. What the author argues is for a continuum between native speakers and native users, where “membership can change, it can be added to[...],” and, in both cases, “membership requires work” (p. viii). The book is divided in nine chapters: the introduction (Chapter 1) presents a general overview of the main arguments and lays out examples proposed in each chapter to illustrate Davies’ thesis. Chapters 2 to 8 develop these examples through empirical studies drawing from diverse settings, distant in time and place, to illuminate the author’s proposal of an existing continuum between native speakers and native users. The conclusion (Chapter 9) summarizes Davies’ characterization of native speakers and native users, connecting in an explicit manner the theoretical foundation and practical cases developed throughout the book.

In Chapter 1, Davies uses the comparison between Second Language Acquisition Research (hereafter, SLAR) and Applied Linguistics (hereafter, AL) to reintroduce psycholinguistic and cognitive notions in the native speaker debate, revise the circularity regarding the traditional definition of being a “native speaker,” and question its status of being the norm. After this analysis, Davies concludes that the nature of these terms is more “a political than a linguistic appraisal” (p. 2); therefore, he proposes to investigate “whether the native speaker and the native user are separated from one another by a fundamental difference or by a continuum” (p. 5). The introductory chapter includes an overview of the following chapters, which present varied examples that contrast the theoretical construct of an ideal and isomorphic native speaker with real native speakers who coexist with native users in multilingual and complex societies.

Chapter 2 presents issues of language and identity of négritude, as defined by Anglophone and Francophone traditions in Africa. Davies uses this scenario to review the related string of concepts concerning nativeness: ownership, origin, and identity. He relates this conceptual chain to the well-known Linguistic Relativity Principle (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis), especially in its strong form, because it explores not only how language influences thought, but also how the two share isomorphic qualities. The chapter illustrates the sense of language/identity loss through poems and novels that reveal different perceptions, attitudes, and cultural displacement, highlighting the tension between spoken and written language during the post-colonial era, during which it has increased. After his brief historical trajectory, Davies concludes that his coined term, ‘native user,’ “is almost oxymoronic.” (page #) As he explains, “If you are a speaker, then it is taken for granted that you use the language. If you are a user, then you are not a native” (p. 11).

In Chapter 3, Davies considers what it means to be a native user in the context of postcolonial English in two particular settings: English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) and English as used in India. In the first part of the chapter, the author notices that the simplified version of the Standard English used in the ELF context is definitely different from English as a second or as a foreign language. He also departs from the traditional opposition between native and non-native speakers, since, in ELF settings, communication is established among non-native speakers. Davies defines a native user as “a second-language speaker [who is] therefore not a native speaker of his/her second language. Furthermore s/he is a proficient user of that second language” (pp. 27-28). In the second part of this chapter, the author discusses the use of English in postcolonial India. Usually, scholars associate the “English in India” label with written and more formal language (i.e., “high variety”) and the “Indian English” (IndE) label with spoken and informal language (i.e., “low variety”). Davies highlights that while written language enjoys conformity to a standard variety that represents the “idealized linguistic norm,” spoken varieties still differ considerably, remaining as “a complex, elusive, and problematic entity” (Schneider, 2007: p.172, quoted on p. 34).

Chapter 4 pinpoints the different goals, philosophies and settings of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Second Language learning (SLL) that guide the contrasting characterizations of a native speaker. Notions of innate knowledge, grammatical judgments, and maturation have pervaded the SLA field, supporting the idealized native speaker construct. In contrast, SLL includes social theory and the interdisciplinary work of critical discourse analysis, systemic functional linguistics, and genre theory (among other areas). Rooted in AL, these scholars elaborate a more social construct of native speakers that presents both variability and homogeneity in members of a community of users, while also considering that the Standard Language is typically accessed through education. AL’s major success resides in the attention given to strong language teacher preparation and the development of effective teaching methods; above all, the focus is on a teaching of the Standard Language that enables access for native speakers and second language learners. In the author’s words, “the goal or model of the educated second-language learner is the Standard Language” (p. 51).

In Chapter 5, Davies considers native speakers and native users within the framework of language norms, highlighting that the stability of language is more striking than its variability (Sedlatschek, 2009). He recognizes the central model and the unequal distribution of the norm, as well as the negative consequences that imposing Standard English may bring to those with limited or no schooling, and to those who speak different first languages or non-standard dialects. However, the author embraces the notion that Standard Language is a social and psychological entity, only possible through a two-way process of language and education (Crystal, 1997, quoted on p. 58). As Davies explains, Standard English is acquired through education, and education itself is dependent of the Standard English medium. Therefore, native speakers and native users gain language proficiency through schooling and constant practice. The last part of the chapter addresses main linguistic arguments, such as the effect of Standard English in different English contexts (e.g., areas of England, Australia and the USA),different accents that are distant from British pronunciation, descriptive and prescriptive roles of the Standard Language, political/apolitical considerations of monolingualism as the norm, the spread of English around the world, and the effects of globalization, internationalization and transnationalization on the use of Standard English.

Chapter 6 offers three studies to empirically support the main argument in favor of Standard English as a model for both native speakers and native users. First, the author frames the studies in the context of International English (IE) and World Englishes (WEs) in order to explain the polarizing attitudes toward the spread of English. Then, he explains the purpose of the studies, which aim to prove “whether the model or norm that native users work to in their English performance is the same or different from that of comparable educated native speakers of English” (p. 73). Finally, he summarizes his research. In the first study, Davies and his collaborators analyzed the norm used in English-proficiency tests in Malaysia, Singapore, China, and India, and obtained mixed results, as both international and local criteria were accepted. In the second study, the scholars revisited issues of bias in the English used in international proficiency tests. The essays collected were not sufficient to provide evidence, although bias could not be dismissed. In the third study, Davies and his colleagues analyzed the judgments of both educated native speakers and non-native speakers regarding the performance of native users of English, without obtaining conclusive results about the question of whose norms and whose judgments are to be imposed in these exams.

Chapters 7 and 8 present two seemingly distant linguistic events to illustrate the main arguments developed in this book: the worship of Quakers and examples of textual hoaxes, respectively. Davies treats the Quaker meetings as speech events, following a language learning model that includes: (1) conversation, (2) formal settings, and (3) continuing states of incipient talk. After analyzing fifteen meetings, the author brings to the fore a comparison between the members’ behavior and the nature of the religious and the linguistic community. Among the similarities, the researcher points out that the Quaker worship is open to all, (most) members are amateurs rather than professionals, and, like in other forms of discourse, religious meetings constitute a discourse that must be learned. Above all, they have a norm or standard language, given by silence, which is the unmarked form of the silence/speaking tension prevalent within the Quaker community.

In Chapter 8, Davies pays special attention to advanced levels of reading proficiency. He uses four textual hoaxes to show that only through education readers can reach higher levels of comprehension, interpretation, and critical thinking. As the author claims, reading skills need to be taught, regardless of native speaker or the native user status, to uncover deception and to become critical readers in a second language. The last chapter (9), is a brief summary of previous chapters, which enables Davies to highlight his main arguments about identity “loss and gains” (Chapter 2), the variability of ELF among users and within particular settings (Chapter 3), and the importance of teaching Standard English norms and rules (Chapters 4 and 5), and of presenting evidence through empirical studies (Chapters 6-7-8). Both theoretical foundation and practical examples support the author’s thesis of a continuum of native speakers and users, which reconciles the separation between cognitive and sociolinguistic views derived from SLAR and AL, respectively.


“Native speakers and native users. Loss and gain” brings a fresh look to key topics in SLA and SLL. Davies takes the reader through different scenarios, from Africa to India, from religious to lay settings, and from past to current events, to show common struggles that both native speakers and native users have when trying to become members of a linguistic community. Moreover, long studied concepts, such as Standard Language, norms, proficiency tests and bias, the idealized status of the native speaker, and language change and stability are revisited in light of current uses of English in globalized and post-colonial societies (e.g., ELF, IE and WE). Davies’ deep knowledge of language, literature and cultures is evident through the wealth of empirical data and literary concepts illustrated in each chapter. Last, but not least, the author has the ability to reconcile cognitive and sociolinguistic perspectives, which enable him to strengthen his own viewpoint.

The book is carefully structured through solid arguments, which are richly illustrated by literate examples or empirical studies. The author wisely connects different chapters, using the last paragraph of each of them to introduce the following. This strategy provides a purposeful thread of ideas that makes his thesis flow throughout the entire book. However, less cohesiveness is achieved in Chapter 3, where Davies attempts to combine quite different scenarios of the use of English, and in Chapters 7 and 8, which have seemingly distant examples. The author needed to devote longer paragraphs to the historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts rather than to explicit connections with his major points.

Overall, “Native speakers and native users. Loss and gain” will be of particular interest to students and scholars working on SLA and SLL. The reader will find engaging examples and rich references to literature that will revive his/her interest in exploring the nature and scope of native and non-native speakers and in establishing stronger relationships between theoretical and applied linguistics.


Crystal, D. (1997). “English as a global language”: Cambridge University Press.

Schneider, E. W. (2007). “Postcolonial English: Varieties around the world”: Cambridge University Press.

Sedlatschek, A. (2009). “Contemporary Indian English: Variation and change”. Amsterdam: John Benjamin.


Laura Dubcovsky is a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher education program from UC Davis. She has a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Spanish linguistics with special emphasis on second language acquisition from UCDavis. Her areas of interest combine the fields of language and education. She is dedicated to the preparation of bilingual Spanish/English teachers, and has presented her pre-service course about Spanish across school disciplines in different forums, meetings and workshops, for professionals and parents interested in bilingual education and in English as a second language. She is dedicated to improving the academic Spanish and the effectiveness in teaching second language learners of future bilingual teachers. Her article “Functions of the verb decir ('to say') in the incipient academic Spanish writing of bilingual children,” published in 2008 in Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280, analyzes the writing of bilingual school grade children, from a Systemic Functional Language perspective.

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