Ana Wu: You have written various articles about NNES issues. What do you think of the label "Non-native speaker" of English? Is there anything you would like to see the NNEST Caucus do or initiate?
Professor Canagarajah: The label served a purpose at one time to draw attention to those who spoke English from outside the dominant Anglo communities that traditionally claimed ownership over English. As globalization, the migration of people, and hybridizing of identities and communities become more pronounced, I don’t think the term is useful anymore. Scholars are questioning if there is anything called a pure native speaker in English. English is part of the linguistic repertoire and identity formation of millions of people from their birth. I grew up with English, Tamil, and Sinhala from my childhood. It is difficult for me to say if I spoke English or Tamil first. I can call myself a native speaker of Sri Lankan English if the terms are stretched a bit!
More importantly, the positive experience of being a multilingual is perceived in a defensive and negative way when we use the term “non-native” to describe ourselves. We don’t have to be some “nons”! We can label ourselves more positively and affirmatively. Besides, in using the label “non-native” we are still giving power and meaning to the outmoded concept of native speaker.
The time has come for the NNEST professionals to move from the periphery of the profession to the center. It is time for us to argue that we represent the experience that is the norm for the majority of English speakers around the world—i.e., multilinguals for whom English is an additional language in their speech repertoire and identity. It is time for us to reshape pedagogy and linguistic theories to address the concerns of those who enjoy (or those who desire to develop) hybrid proficiencies and identities as we all do. The time to be defensive, apologetic, and even confrontational is gone. There are no more battles to be fought. There is the serious task of living up to our responsibility of making knowledge that is relevant to the majority of people in the world—multilinguals. Perhaps that’s the label we have to start using—not nonnative speakers of English but multilingual speakers of English.