The language we want to include in the ANC is produced by native speakers of “American English“, which in this case refers to speakers who represent the language as spoken in the United States. Before you ask, Canadians are not included–their use of English is influenced by British English (they use British spelling, for example), and there are many subtle differences in phrasing influenced by culture. (Please note that we like Canadians a lot–our programmer is a Canadian, but he provides us daily proof of the differences in U.S. and Canadian language usage!)
Surprisingly, after consulting with the American Dialect Society, we discovered there is no agreed-upon definition of who can be considered a native speaker of English (or any language, for that matter). So, the best we can do here is to provide some idea of what we want to represent, in order for contributors to make a decision about whether or not they qualify. Our goal is to include materials that reflect American usage of English, which includes not only American spelling, but also phrasing that is common in the U.S.–such as the use of “different from” or “different than” rather than “different to”, as the British say. In general, we are looking for texts in which things are said the way Americans say them, at least some or most of the time.
The more spontaneous–that is, unedited–the materials you may want to contribute are, the more important it is that they were produced by real native speakers. Texts produced by a “questionable” native speaker that have been published and heavily edited by an American publisher are more likely to be appropriate for inclusion in the ANC than, say, transcripts of blogs, chats, etc. that have never been edited.
To provide some starting guidelines for determining whether or not you are a native speaker of American English, here is an excerpt from an essay on the Writer’s Block website by John Humpert:
Native speakers spend all or substantial parts of their developmental years (childhood and adolescence) within a particular language-bound geographic area. They acquire the language because they are immersed in it. In everyday home life, in social activities, and at school, native speakers converse with other native speakers. Given substantial exposure to multiple cultures, some children grow up as native speakers of several languages.
In contrast, a near-native speaker usually acquires language skills after childhood, and relies less on family and social immersion to learn the fundamentals. While nursery rhymes, parent-child interaction, playtime with peers, and wonderfully receptive minds help children internalize their mother language, adults typically struggle with a desire to “figure it out.” For grown-ups, classroom instruction, self-study books, cassettes, or software are quicker, more accessible means to learning a language; the trade-off is that these methods are less thorough. In addition, adults lack the “sponge” dynamic of the youthful mind. If you don’t know what I mean, sit down with a six-year-old and play a game of Concentration or Husker Du?
Personal, political, or economic events motivate a person to commit significant time to learn a second language. Eventually, that person acquires fluency, which includes the ability to reasonably predict what could be said or written next in a given situation, just like native speakers.
This provides a good starting point for a definition of a native speaker of American English: if you spent your linguistically-formative years in the U.S., then there is a good chance you qualify as a native speaker of American English.
That is, of course, unless your language was polluted by some other brand of English, like British or Australian, or possibly even Canadian. If you have had significant exposure to another kind of English, then your English, however American it may have been at one time, is probably influenced by your surroundings–especially if you have been in another English-speaking culture for several years, and definitely if some of those years include childhood and/or adolescence.
We have made up a list of criteria that you can refer to in order to determine if you qualify as a “native speaker of American English” for the purposes of the ANC. If in doubt, consult these guidelines, and if still in doubt, please contact us and describe your background, and we will try to make a decision.
You are certainly a native speaker if:
- you were born in the United States and lived here all your life.
- you were born in another country, but came to the U.S. by the age of 5 or 6, and have lived here ever since.
- you spoke a foreign language (i.e., not English) in the home, but went to school and have lived in the U.S. all your life.
- you were born in another country but at least one of your parents spoke American English with you in the home (and the other parent did not speak another brand of English), and you have spent your adulthood in the U.S.
You are probably a native speaker if
- you were born in a non-English speaking country but moved to the U.S. before adolescence and have lived here ever since.
- you were born and have lived in a non-English speaking country most of your life, but both of your parents are native speakers of American English and English was the language used in the home.
You are probably not a native speaker of American English (for our purposes) if
- you have spent substantial portions of your life in other English-speaking countries.
- you did not speak American English before adulthood.
We emphasize again that these are not defintive criteria, and if you have any question please contact us to discuss the question.
Also, we note again that if your documents have been edited by a publisher, they may be suitable for the ANC even if you are not a native speaker.