Asked 4th Feb, 2016

How advanced must L2 speakers be before native speakers accept their neologisms as acceptable rather than inaccurate?

Language is slippery; languages evolve; languages go off in new directions under new influences.
People can express indifference in British English by saying I couldn't care less. In America, people sometimes express the same notion with I could less less (without the negative). How flexible and creative language is!
In English, people sometimes express resignation by saying  It can't be helped. If you want to cheer a friend up with this feeling, you could say It can be helped. Of course, it is much less common, but my point is that an NS's option to use language creatively is far more acceptable. When NNSs do this, it seems far less likely to be successful.
The Japanese language has a culturally marked expression for It can't be helped. They say sho ga nai This literally means there is no way to do. In contrast, when I once said sho ga aru to my friends, as a kind of language play; i.e. there IS a way to do, my friends just laughed and said that is not correct Japanese, and they wouldn't accept my intended meaning. Well, I knew it was not "correct" Japanese because I had lived here for a long time. But sometimes, advanced NNS speakers just want to be creative, and not be corrected for "mistaken" utterances.
Question: what role do NNSs have to play in language variability, or even shift? I know of research on the ownership of English (e.g. Can you recommend similar research?
Question: What factors influence the acceptability of non-standard (creative) utterances by NNSs in the ears of NSs?
Question: How native-like do NNSs need to be to be able to create neologisms unchallenged? Is there research that describes this change longitudinally?
Question: Is there is a database, book or article detailing non-standard phrases by NSs and NNSs in English, or another language?
I have an early idea for the design of a research experiment to assess the acceptability of non-standard speech by NNSs of varying proficiency. I would be interested in doing this between English and Japanese, or other languages and Japanese, or a language pair including French.
And would anyone be interested perhaps in pursuing this as a joint research project?

Most recent answer

10th Feb, 2016
David Coulson
Ritsumeikan University
Wonderful example!! Thank you so much.

Popular Answers (1)

4th Feb, 2016
Michael W. Marek
Wayne State College
Similar to what Michael said, I think that this is a question that reflects more on the native speaker than the EFL/ESL speaker.
Some native speakers are very judgmental. I think that this is particularly true if they have NOT had international experiences. To someone like that "poor" language use may carry the implication of lack of intelligence or lack of experience.
We know that this is not true.  The more international experiences someone has had, the more likely they are to accept variations in idioms or grammar without being judgmental. 
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All Answers (16)

4th Feb, 2016
Michael Fitze
Frontier School Division Gillam School
I find this to be a really interesting idea for research.  Actually, I am not aware of anything directly on this.  Regarding your initial question, I would think that acceptance of neologisms may be related to the social context as much as to the perceived proficiency of the speaker.  For instance, I would think that neologisms could be endearing in certain intimate contexts, but less acceptable in more formal ones.
Regarding language proficiency, acceptance of a neologism may also relate to the listener's perception of whether or not the utterance is intended to be a neologism, as opposed to a mangled idiom or proverb, etc.
An relevant area of research might be "the lexical approach,"  which posits that language is often learned in set prescribed chunks, as opposed to being assembled grammatically "on the fly." 
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4th Feb, 2016
Michael W. Marek
Wayne State College
Similar to what Michael said, I think that this is a question that reflects more on the native speaker than the EFL/ESL speaker.
Some native speakers are very judgmental. I think that this is particularly true if they have NOT had international experiences. To someone like that "poor" language use may carry the implication of lack of intelligence or lack of experience.
We know that this is not true.  The more international experiences someone has had, the more likely they are to accept variations in idioms or grammar without being judgmental. 
4 Recommendations
Deleted profile
I agree with the two preceding Michaels but hold a stronger view. I think that your focus on NS and NNS is a bit dated and misplaced in an English-use zone like Japan. For instance, I am not a native speaker of North American Englishes and nor do I want to be.
First, English extends into Japanese language culture and practice in as far as neologisms from English are pervasive in Japanese-language orthography. Therefore it is quite possible for people to view what you consider as a neologism as possibly code-switching or mixing to even belonging to different language. naturally this depends on the item in question and context of its use.
Secondly, you mention the example 'shoganai'/'shouga aru', in which I think you are trying to demonstrate a construct rather than an example of English. However, having had this discussion before it went this way: no it is not normal Japanese usage for a person who grew up with Japanese; but for somebody like you (if you did not grow up with Japanese) it it is a quite normal idiomatic construct because of transliteration from, say, English; and further, somebody like you could be engaging in natural rhetorical and pragmatic behaviour in which would 1) allow a disagreement response such as 'shouga aru'  which is appropriate in English which has a repertoire of expressions to express this (eg. it can be helped) and Japanese does not it seems , and 2)  use of the expression 'shouga aru' being regarded as 'not correct Japanese' by both you and your friends, all the same it was used and there do not seem to have been any issue about its comprehensibility, and therefore in the very local context of this language event, it is quite arguable that all of you were co-constructing language repertoire for your small and temporary language community.
In other words, in answer to your first question: a big role potentially (look at ELF research, and also translanguaging and translingual practice as key words - there is lots out there)
Your second question I think you need to have to look at pragmatic moves of what is going on in terms of it being a communication (not just language) event - for instance something ironic like 'shouga aru' might not be taken up by people with a  different ironic sensitivity which could cause negative face inside the small conversation community  
Third question, what 'native-like' means to you might be different from what it means to my friend from India who speaks, well, differently - it is a matter of perspective. Also, it is not even longitudinal or even three-dimensional. A guy called Loveday (1996. Language Contact in Japan) has a continuum, Stanlaw (2004. Japanese English: Language and culture contact) has a similar continuum and a couple of other models (see Chapt 8,9, 10 for cases and analyses of how different social groups adapt and use English alongside and in lieu of Japanese) , and I did a paper ( that considers models beyond any continuum.
Question four: databases - lots. My favourite is the Coxford Singlish Dictionary ( 
I think that you need to renovate any concept of native-speaker that you might have if you wish to move forward. Sticking with old homogeneous notions of native English speaker is just digging a deep hole deeper these days.
Good luck!
3 Recommendations
5th Feb, 2016
Madalena Cruz-Ferreira
Freelance Linguist
Fascinating research topic you propose, David!
Here are a few tips that I hope will be relevant to it.
Q1, similar research. There’s this ‘classic’:
Widdowson, H. G. (1994). The ownership of English. TESOL Quarterly, 28(2), 377-389.
The full paper is available from:
And this one, on Singapore English (note: not Singlish, which is something else altogether – I’m also a fan of the Coxford dictionary, Howard):
Rubdy, R., McKay, S. L., Alsagoff, L., & Bokhorst-Heng, W. D. (2008). Enacting English language ownership in the Outer Circle: a study of Singaporean Indians’ orientations to English norms. World Englishes, 27(1), 40–67.
Q2 and Q3. These blogposts of mine may also have something for you.
On attitudes towards non-native/multilingual acceptability.
‘Attitudes towards language uses’:
‘You speak so, therefore you are so’:
‘You speak so, therefore you think so’:
On ‘natives’ and ‘non-natives’, where I can’t agree more with Howard that the whole concept of linguistic nativeness needs a good spring cleaning: it has applied to monolinguals only.
‘The natives and the speakers’:
‘(Non-)native common ground:
‘Native multilinguals’:
All my best
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5th Feb, 2016
David Coulson
Ritsumeikan University
That looks like a rich and wonderful set of resources, Madalena. Thank you so much!
Michael Fitz,
Thank for your answer. I am interested in exploring the perception by NSs of NNSs speech, and what factors influence this.
Michael Marek,
Thank you for your answer. Yes, NSs can be very intolerant, due to a lack of experience as you mention, of what they view as inadequate speech by NNSs. I will check your paper. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for your considered response. You said, "Sticking with old homogeneous notions of native English speaker is just digging a deep hole deeper these days." Well, I completely agree. I am a big fan of Vivien Cook, as I am sure you are too. I believe you also know well about plurilingualism; do you know the work advanced in this area in Japan by Kensaku Yoshida?
1 Recommendation
5th Feb, 2016
Jennifer Jenkins
University of Southampton
A far more relevant distinction for today, and which the other responses hint at, is monolingual and multilingual. This certainly applies in the case of users of English as a lingua franca, but also, I'd argue, in any lingua franca use. The issue of whether or not something is 'nativelike' then becomes irrelvant. In line with this, I've recently proposed reconceptualising English as a lingua franca as 'English as a multilingua franca' (2015 article 'Repositioning English and multiligualism...', available on my RG page).
3 Recommendations
5th Feb, 2016
David Coulson
Ritsumeikan University
Thank  you very much, I am really grateful for your feedback, Jennifer, and I am interested in your work in applied linguistics. I will search for your paper on-line. Language learners frequently hope to be accepted in a target language community, and not 'othered', but may sometimes feel frustrated by the exclusionary behaviour of some native speakers. The possibility of reaching a stage of being creative in L2, such as coinages and other forms of creativity, without being corrected was my concern. I know that second language users cannot, by definition, be native speakers, but at very advanced levels of proficiency, whether creativity as a L2 user can come to be accepted at face value if intonation, grammatical accuracy, or some other factors sufficiently approximate native-likeness. I am not implying that this is a pedagogical goal, but that it might be interesting to explore the factors that determine increasing acceptance as an L1-approximating L2 user. I acknowledge your comments, but the pursuit of not being 'othered' may still be a valid desire by some L2 users.  
5th Feb, 2016
Jorge E. Benavides B.
University of Nariño
Dear all,
The fact that the number of speakers of English as a foreing language around the world is almost four times that of native speakers of English makes the argument of ELF a valid and strong one. Therefore, in the near future there would be no more EFL but ELF speakers, and consequently the notion (definition) or difference between NS's and NNS's of Engish would become almost irrelevant.
Jorge Benavides
3 Recommendations
5th Feb, 2016
Tomokazu Ishikawa
Otaru University of Commerce
While Jorge uses the word “foreign”, I’m sure he never means that “Multilingual ELF users” (Jenkins 2015: 74) are dependent on national ENL varieties even in an international setting.  Indeed, his comments have reminded me of what’s written in Jenkins (2000: 229 – Available on the web page:
Let’s see what will happen in another fifteen years!
2 Recommendations
5th Feb, 2016
Ali Karakaş
Mehmet Akif Ersoy University
Dear David,
When non-standard forms used by NNESs, these forms are often labelled as 'incorrect' and 'inaccurate'. Usually, attitudes towards deviant language use are negative irrespective of how proficient NNESs are. Thus, the questions need to be reformulated because in their current form, they portray NESs as the SOLE authority to judge NNESs' language use and make a decision on their creative and innovative language use; whether their non-native ways of doing English are correct or incorrect.
As Jorge stated, we should not ignore the present socio-linguistic demographics of English speakers, namely the comparatively  higher number of NNESs compared to that of NESs. Besides, as Jenkins rightly put, now the distinction between monolingual and multilingual speakers is far more relevant and important. It should also be born in mind that creativity is always existent in the talks of multilingual speakers who use English as a lingua franca. whether they are advanced or beginner, I think, the main criterion should be on how effectively not only NNESS but also NESs use language and get things done in their exchanges. All in all, judging acceptability of deviant and innovative linguistic forms  should not be at the hand of NESs, most of who are monolingual and often fail to have effective communication with multilingual speakers as many NESs cannot adjust their way of using English to those of NNESs due to the lack of pragmatic and intercultural communication skills.
I'd like to end my post with a poem by Jalal ud-Din Rumi:
Time to Say New Things
Jalal ud-Din Rumi
  How good it is to migrate every day!
  How beautiful it is to stop somewhere every day!
  How nice it is to flow without freezing and getting muddy!
  What word that belongs to yesterday,
  Is gone, my loved one, with yesterday,
  Now is the time to say new things.       
I also believe that now is time to say new things and discuss new notions (which have already been suggested and discussed by ELF(A) researchers, e.g. Mauranen's (2012) term 'similects against variety; Jenkins' (2015) new conceptualizations of NNESs as multilingual ELF user - see Tomo's post above; Baker's (2009, 2011, 2015) conceptualization of successful language user as 'intercultural speaker')  regarding English, its speakers and its global use, leaving behind what has already become irrelevant and out-dated. 
3 Recommendations
6th Feb, 2016
David Coulson
Ritsumeikan University
Jorge, Tomokazu, Ali, many thanks for your answers. I have lived in Japan for 25 years, and speak Japanese very well. But there seems to be a barrier to acceptance, as I have mentioned, when I use this language in an intentionally creative manner, albeit influenced of course by my knowledge of other languages. This bugs me, as it is natural for everyone to be creative with language especially L2 users, perhaps, as we bring unique resources and influences from all our languages; being knocked back really denies my equal participation in this language. However, unlike English which is a Hyper-central language (de Swaan), Japanese is a Local language and quite clearly not a Lingua Franca, in the meaning it is used with English.
Friend 雨が降り出しちゃった。しょうがない。テニスをやめよう。
David *しょうがあるよ。ほら、晴れそう。とにかく行こうよ。
Friend (笑)それは正しい日本語じゃないですよ。
David 知っている。でも言えるだろ。
Friend 言えません。
Friend: It has started raining. Can't be helped. Let's give the tennis a miss.
David: *It can be helped. Look, it's clearing up. Let's just go.
Friend: (Laughing) That's not correct Japanese, you know.
David: I know that. But you can say, if you want.
 Friend: It is not said.
Such an interaction happens to me quite often. I know that this is not "normal" Japanese; I am interested to know whether Japanese people would accept this as normal IF spoken by a Japanese person, and under what conditions. Some Japanese say, "no Japanese would say that". I disagree with such an assertion. So my original question is, at what stage, if ever, of proficiency would a Japanese speaker, or speakers of various languages, accept such an NNS utterance as an acceptable neologism, and under what conditions?
6th Feb, 2016
Mohamed Miliani
University of Oran
What factors influence the acceptability of non-standard (creative) utterances by NNSs in the ears of NSs? As I see it, multilingual/multicultural contexts (like mine where dialects of Arabic and varieties of Berber, of Modern Standard Arabic, of French and Spanish languages intermingle) may help create acceptable neologisms or utterances. Besides, I also believe that certain discourse-communities of NNSs (researchers, scientists in computing, doctors, etc.) may produce/create utterances that can be acceptable to NSs because of their competence in other world languages.
2 Recommendations
7th Feb, 2016
David Coulson
Ritsumeikan University
That is really interesting Mohamed, and something I had not considered yet. Concerning technical discourse-communities, can you suggest any examples of non-standard but acceptable neologisms or original phrases than they have introduced to their discourse-communities? Many thanks
Deleted profile
Hello David! Sorry I am doing this on my small tablet at home, so maybe lots of type -apologies!
Thanks for your long post-cum-feedback to my post. I shall check out links tomorrow at work.
Just a note about a versmall-scale survey I did for a paper which comes out in my uni's kiyo (in-house journal) soon about ambiguous multi-polarity of 'ain't'.
Basically Imgot back 22 usable questionnaires from 4 multi-lingual and 18 bilingual English-users, the task being to make responses to rhetorical questions, some of which contained 'ain't'. My hypothesis was that people not growing up with English may mis understand the gist and respond with the wrong polarity form. This turned out to not be the case, which I put down to people's grasp of the pragmatics in the situations being sufficient to provide appropriate and usually accurate responses. 
The sample included just 4 people growing up with Japanese, but I could get a good variety by approaching oversee research students and so on (not easy in a place like Kochi Uni). Anyway, an interesting but far from generalizable finding was that people who grew up with more than one language all avoided (or at least made) responses involving the need for polarity forms incorporating the verb to be. Rather they all responded in-context relying on deixis (is. Some reference to something they seem to have perceived the interlocutor to be conscious of).while just a couple of the respondents who reported growing up with just one language did the same. Four responded with, say, 'Yes, ...' instead of 'No, ...' While the rest could do it without any problem with the form expressing polarity the right way.
So, while I put this down to the extended application of pragmatic sense over focus on form, I find it plausible that people who grow up with more than one language better able to cope with variation away from standard forms, hybridity, or whatever label one wants to attach to it.
Somewhere in his book , Translingual Practice (2013 I think) Canagarajah makes a point that Western/European tradition of language study is to demark quite clearly particular languages rather than engage with the eventuality that people might, can and do use more than one language at one time and certainly do bring linguistic resources of more than one language to a language event, in a kind of Vivien Cook multicompetence sense.
I would like to investigate this more, including with the variable of different media, their use, people's familiarity, use, experience with and preference for them.
To sum up, I suppose my message is to pay attention to the pragmatics and people's aptitude and likelihood of picking up on it in a language or communication event.
I hope this helps.
10th Feb, 2016
Mohamed Miliani
University of Oran
hello David,
I have asked a friend of mine who is doctor. If an algerian surgeon orders his assistant in French : “fais la peau” he means in his jargon “suture la peau” (suture the wound). However, the more frequent use of ‘fais la peau’ (familiar style) means kill someone. That is the kind of NNSs' use of a world language with nuances that are brought by a given discourse community. I guess a french doctor will be able to decipher the meaning. I will send you more examples of this kind.
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