by Juliette Morgan
Native English speakers only, please. This phrase is included on many job descriptions where it is believed that applicants could be from various geographical locations around the world. The idea is that someone who was born speaking a language is automatically going to have superior speaking and writing skills when compared to someone who learned the language at some point later in life.
Many people do adhere to the idea that language will come more naturally to native speakers. They believe that there are subtleties and nuances within each language that non-native speakers simply cannot grasp at the same level.
The question is, this; Is this always true? What happens if the non-native speaker is more than someone who simply picked up a second or third language? What if they are a philologist, someone who specializes in the in-depth study of languages? Is there a point where the intense, scholarly study of the intricate details of language and its various uses can cause one’s skills to surpass those as a native speaker.
We’ve all heard people praise someone’s ability to speak a language not their own by stating something along the lines of ‘She speaks English better than most people who were born here!’. Is it possible that this could literally be the truth in some cases?
First What is a Philologist?
A philologist is someone who studies the use of languages. They often explore languages from a grounds up, historical perspective, in many cases their work focuses on written literature. It involves exploring the evolution of language, and also must include the ability to consider historical perspective, such as the influence of historical events on the development of language.
Philologists often work in academic settings. In most cases, this involves providing instruction to students of language. However, their careers are hardly limited to this. They assist in providing context when translating or retranslating historical documents, their input can be used during political or business related discourse when the knowledge of the subtleties of a specific language is needed.
Without the talents of philologists, classical texts, including the bible would be even more rife with bias and unfair influence in their translations.
Comparing Philologists With Native Speakers
“I don’t know. That’s just how we speak.” to. “The use of this term is the result of the combination of this phrase from this group of people, and this from another group. The term came of use due to this political social event.” The two statements very clearly define the differences between a native speaker and a philologist. For the native speaker, the details about their language are simply a part of their identity. This is great because there is a naturalness to their speaking and writing. The philologist, on the other hand, can articulate the hows and whys behind all of this. They understand the history and politics behind language development.
Situations Where Philology Might Trump Native Language Mastery One obvious area where a philologist might have greater strengths is any area where academic understanding is more important than having a current grasp of the popular use of a language. Anytime where historical or scholarly text is on point is going to be a situation where it is best for an educated language expert will prevail.
In politics, treaties between nations can be decades if not centuries old. Newly elected politicians need to be able to understand the nuances of these. Mistranslating these could result in seriously diplomatic issues. A smart politician will rely on a philologist or linguist to help them understand the texts that they need to understand.
Now, let’s think about literature and other written works. A philologist doesn’t just know how to translate a document. They understand a historical context and how language was used during various historical periods. For example, a poem written two centuries ago might make references to the color red. However, a philologist might understand that the color reference actually is a reference to passion or anger. This knowledge will be reflected when they write their translation. A native speaker would simply translate the word literally. Unfortunately, poor translations of various written works have been the cause of many sociopolitical problems throughout world history.
Situations Where a Native Speaker Might be More Effective Than a Philologist
Just like there are situations where an educated language expert is the best choice, sometimes a native speaker is the one for the job. The first situation is in the business world, especially in the areas of employee relations and sales and marketing. The ability to understand the common use, even slang can come in very handy in retail and other direct sales environments.
The service industry is also a place where native speakers can shine. Their ability to understand language in daily use, and to speak that language comfortably and clearly is very important.
Some other jobs where native speakers are likely to have an advantage are:
- Law Enforcement
- Primary And Elementary Education
- Healthcare And Medicine
- Legal Affairs
- Warehouse Factory And Manufacturing Work
None of these require a need to understand the historic use of language or to consider political factors or entomology. Instead, these jobs require a thorough knowledge of a language including the abilities to think, speak, and write absolutely fluently.
When Can The Two Work Together
In some cases, both philologists and native speakers might have abilities that can be of use. One of these areas could be politics. Picture a national politician trying to reach out to people in a specific region. If they have translation help from both a philologist and a native speaker, they can help tailor their message to the local community. They can also understand the needs of that local community by listening to a native speaker’s interpretation.
Any situation where multiple languages are involved may require both an academic mastery of a language along with a native mastery.
Neither the philologist or the native speaker is inherently more valuable. There are simply situations where one person’s talents may be more useful than the others.