First language

The monument for the mother tongue ("Ana dili") in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan

A first language, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1) is a language that a person has been exposed to from birth[1] or within the critical period. In some countries, the term native language or mother tongue refers to the language of one's ethnic group rather than one's first language.[2] Children brought up speaking more than one language can have more than one native language, and be bilingual or multilingual. By contrast, a second language is any language that one speaks other than one's first language.


A lesson at Kituwah Academy on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina. The language immersion school, operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, teaches the same curriculum as other American primary schools, but Cherokee is the medium of instruction from preschool onward, and students learn it as a first language. Such schools have proven instrumental in the preservation and perpetuation of Cherokee.

One of the more widely accepted definitions of native speakers is that they were born in a particular country raised to speak the language of that country during the critical period of their development.[3] The person qualifies as a "native speaker" of a language by being born and immersed in the language during youth, in a family in which the adults shared a similar language experience as the child.[4] Native speakers are considered to be an authority on their given language because of their natural acquisition process regarding the language, as opposed to having learned the language later in life. That is achieved by personal interaction with the language and speakers of the language. Native speakers will not necessarily be knowledgeable about every grammatical rule of the language, but they will have good "intuition" of the rules through their experience with the language.[4]

Sometimes, the term "mother tongue" or "mother language" is used for the language that a person learned as a child at home (usually from their parents). Children growing up in bilingual homes can, according to this definition, have more than one mother tongue or native language.

In the context of population censuses conducted on the Canadian population, Statistics Canada defines mother tongue as "the first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual at the time of the census."[5] It is quite possible that the first language learned is no longer a speaker's dominant language. That includes young immigrant children whose families have moved to a new linguistic environment as well as people who learned their mother tongue as a young child at home (rather than the language of the majority of the community), who may have lost, in part or in totality, the language they first acquired (see language attrition).

Mother tongue

International Mother Language Day Monument in Sydney, Australia, unveiling ceremony, 19 February 2006

According to Ivan Illich, the term "mother tongue" was first used by Catholic monks to designate a particular language they used, instead of Latin, when they are "speaking from the pulpit". That is, the "holy mother the Church" introduced this term and colonies inherited it from Christianity as a part of colonialism.[6][7]

In some countries, such as Kenya, India, and various East Asian countries, "mother language" or "native language" is used to indicate the language of one's ethnic group in both common and journalistic parlance ("I have no apologies for not learning my mother tongue"), rather than one's first language. Also, in Singapore, "mother tongue" refers to the language of one's ethnic group regardless of actual proficiency, and the "first language" refers to English, which was established on the island under the British Empire, which is the lingua franca for most post-independence Singaporeans because of its use as the language of instruction in government schools and as a working language.

J. R. R. Tolkien, in his 1955 lecture "English and Welsh," distinguishes the "native tongue" from the "cradle tongue." The latter is the language one happens to learn during early childhood, and one's true "native tongue" may be different, possibly determined by an inherited linguistic taste and may later in life be discovered by a strong emotional affinity to a specific dialect (Tolkien personally confessed to such an affinity to the Middle English of the West Midlands in particular).

On 17 November 1999, UNESCO designated 21 February as International Mother Language Day.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Moedertaal
العربية: لغة أم
armãneashti: Limba di dadã
asturianu: Llingua materna
azərbaycanca: Ana Dili
تۆرکجه: آنا دیلی
বাংলা: মাতৃভাষা
Bân-lâm-gú: Bó-gí
беларуская: Родная мова
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Родная мова
български: Роден език
bosanski: Maternji jezik
brezhoneg: Yezh vamm
Чӑвашла: Тăван чĕлхе
čeština: Mateřský jazyk
dansk: Modersmål
Deutsch: Muttersprache
dolnoserbski: Maśeršćina
eesti: Emakeel
Ελληνικά: Μητρική γλώσσα
español: Lengua materna
Esperanto: Gepatra lingvo
Frysk: Memmetaal
한국어: 모어
हिन्दी: मातृभाषा
hornjoserbsce: Maćeršćina
Bahasa Indonesia: Bahasa ibu
íslenska: Móðurmál
italiano: Madrelingua
עברית: שפת אם
ಕನ್ನಡ: ಮಾತೃಭಾಷೆ
ქართული: დედაენა
kaszëbsczi: Rodnô mòwa
қазақша: Ана тілі
Kiswahili: Lugha ya kwanza
Ladino: Lingua madre
latviešu: Dzimtā valoda
lietuvių: Gimtoji kalba
Limburgs: Modertaal
magyar: Anyanyelv
मैथिली: मातृभाषा
македонски: Мајчин јазик
Malagasy: Teny nibeazana
മലയാളം: മാതൃഭാഷ
मराठी: मातृभाषा
Bahasa Melayu: Bahasa pertama
монгол: Төрөлх хэл
Nederlands: Moedertaal
Nedersaksies: Modersproake
नेपाली: मातृभाषा
日本語: 母語
нохчийн: Ненан мотт
norsk: Morsmål
norsk nynorsk: Morsmål
occitan: Lenga mairala
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Ona tili
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਮਾਂ ਬੋਲੀ
Papiamentu: Lenga materno
português: Língua materna
română: Limba maternă
Runa Simi: Mama simi
русский: Родной язык
sardu: Limba mama
සිංහල: මවු බස
Simple English: First language
slovenčina: Materinský jazyk
slovenščina: Materni jezik
српски / srpski: Maternji jezik
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Maternji jezik
svenska: Modersmål
தமிழ்: தாய்மொழி
татарча/tatarça: Туган тел
తెలుగు: మాతృభాష
ትግርኛ: ቋንቋ ኣደ
Türkçe: Ana dili
українська: Рідна мова
Tiếng Việt: Ngôn ngữ đầu tiên
粵語: 母語
中文: 母語