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Elsewhere on this forum, I mentioned people who have been brought up bilingually, but who have spent vitually all their lives, apart from holidays - even extended ones - in the country of one of the languages and therefore miss the unconscious updating (vocabulary, idioms, pronunciation, syntax) in the other language which occurs when you are in daily contact with it.

I know people (for example, the children of an Englishwoman married to a Mexican, who live in Paris) who can speak three languages with a degree of fluency.  I have a French friend, educated largely in the USA, who comes very close to complete fluency in French and (American) English.  But every now and again he says something which jars.

What does "fluency" really mean?

Is it possible to be truly fluent in more than one language?  A lot of people aren't fluent even in their own language.

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To your last question, I would personally suggest that for the definitions to be useful, we have to say that native speakers of a language (unless they have an actual speech pathology) are fluent in their native language. So from this point of view, if you have a case where e.g. a French family that moved to the US when the child was young, and later in life you don't judge that the child speaks French "fluently", then the child simply isn't a native speaker of French (or, put another way, despite being of French parents, they didn't acquire French). Personally, I think the definition of "native" becomes unuseful otherwise.

Then, there is obviously some graduation where a bilingual speaker is ostensibly "fluent" in their "native" languages, but perhaps with minor differences between a monolingual in one of those languages.

Although only a small part of the overall picture, one interesting area is specifically pronunciation, because phonetic phenomena are more susceptible to reliable, repeatable objective measurement than, say, use of idioms. And there is some concrete evidence for differences in the phonetic details of primary bilingual speakers compared to monolingual speakers in the languages in question-- specifically that the bilinguals, rather than "not acquiring" differences, may actually exaggerate slightly differences between the two languages-- but maybe not enough for an average native speaker to judge them as being "not native".

Crumbs!  I've looked at the "concrete evidence" mentioned and decided that I had joined this forum for enjoyment and enlightenment, not as an academic pursuit.  Hard going. (But I'll have another go later.)

Obviously (as is the case with all discussions), you need to define your terms.  If you want to say that any native speaker (without a disability) is "fluent", then so be it.  Nevertheless, if that's how you choose to define it, then we need to think about whether someone who professes fluency in more than one language meets that definition.  It is, I suppose, possible to be a native speaker of more than one language, if you take "native" literally (a speaker of French and Flemish born in Belgium, for example).

But I should like to know whether, for example, a second or third generation person of Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin in England is really fluent in the language of their parents/grandparents.  My experience is that, in many, though not all, cases, there are identifiable phenomena in their use of English which indicate dual language experience.  Fluent in both?

My grandmother (sorry to go back to her) ended up speaking French with an English accent and English with a French accent.  Not just accent, but usage.  My father spoke "fluent" French, with an atrocious accent.  I speak French with an immaculate accent, such that I am usually thought to be French in France, but a frequent lack of familiarity with modern French usage.  I also forget words and constructions.


But this is perhaps not the sort of topic with which this forum deals.  Is there one which does?

 What about the Semantics Forum?

They have a subforum called Linguistics.

 but maybe the other subfora  could be worth a look.


( if it walks like a duck....)

A discussion of bilingualism is absolutely within the realms of this forum if you want to have the discussion here.

Another forum you may want to check out where by essence various bilinguals tend to hang out is the ProZ translator's web site, which has a forums section. It's not specifically a linguistics forum, so you will likely get more "anecdotal" responses... but they can also be valuable.

I hear you! My boyfriend grew up in German speaking Switzerland in a French speaking family. Although he grew up speaking both every day, he was missing a lot of vocabulary in French, because he'd never needed to use it before, as he discovered when he moved to another (French speaking) part of the country. Now he's missing the unconscious updating you were talking about, but for Swiss German this time...


Though I must say that, sometimes, these things that jar may simply be a local variant, like the little differences between French spoken by a French, Swiss or Belgian person, or someone from Quebec.

I think you have to be careful not to be hyper-critical when it comes to language questions. We all make mistakes. When someone who you know and acknowledge to be a "native speaker" of your language says something that you personally wouldn't say, you think "oh, that's an odd way of saying X" - or sometimes you just ignore it (human brains are very good at editing out extraneous language noise). 

But when a non-native or suspected non-native says something that "jars", you think eh, that's not right. There's something "wrong" with their language ability.

The mighty xkcd says it best:

That said, the line between cultural knowledge and linguistic knowledge can be very blurry. Someone who's been out of the culture for a long time may well say weird things. Does that count as a deterioration of their language faculty? I'm not sure.


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