David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Thu Nov 26 01:25:46 UTC 1998

Charles complains about informants who aren't sufficiently well

> This is based on one further assumption that surely since this
> person seems 'educated' enough, s/he should know about his/her own
> language. I am very sorry say that this kind of further assumption is
> simply mistaken in most instances where third-world countries are
> concerned. A short explanation for such a situation goes something
> this: It is perfectly possible in many such countries to graduate
> any knowledge whatsoever of your own native tongue and be totally
> of its grammar!!!

Of course, everybody has perfect (tacit) knowledge of their native
language, by definition.  (Except for cases of pathology, or of language
loss due to emigration.) And equally obviously, most people have no
conscious knowledge of their grammar; that's what us linguists are here
for :)

However, with regard to education, my experiences in Indonesia and
Malaysia paint a rather different picture.  In the countries I am
familiar with, "educated" persons are chock full of misconceived notions
that they have been taught about their languages, and therefore often
make worse informants than their uneducated counterparts.



David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Inselstrasse 22, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 44-341-9952310
Fax: 44-341-9952119
Email: gil at

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