Can Native Speakers Be Wrong?

I think they can, but there are two standards by which to judge it.

Standard one deals with dialect. Is what they are saying consistent with their dialect?
For example, if I said “y’all” it would be consistent with what other people of my dialect say. It’s an accepted part of the language from that point of view. So therefore it would be correct by that standard.
However, it’s not a free for all. If I were to say, “It’s a doggy dog world!” as I heard someone say yesterday, that would be wrong. The idiom does not go like that in my dialect or any other.

Now, an interesting point is if I went around saying things not consistent with my dialect like “Bloody ell!” and whatever else I can’t think of. To me that would be incorrect by this first standard, or at least very out of place.

Standard two deals with the standard. Is what they are saying consistent with whatever standard is generally accepted. For example, y’all is not generally accepted as standard English so therefore it would be wrong if you are judging it based on standard American English.

A lot of people are on either extreme of this.
They either think a native can never be wrong or that if it’s not with the standard, it is wrong. I’m curious.

I agree that even natives make mistakes in their language. I still make mistakes in English. I think it’s mostly due to how I have gone up and took a lot of slang in, that it may sound correct to me, but be horribly wrong, if you was to follow the standard English word by word. But when I talk to other people, it’s completely understood and we go on like nothing has happen. I do say y’all alot due to me living in Texas, which y’all is not even an English word, but then again half the stuff you listen to on the radio, mainly from the Rap, Hip-Hop environment, is not even correct English. But the world goes on.

I would say that, in terms of pronunciation, natives are perfect. And in terms of correct phrasing and grammar, they can generally be considered to be perfect compared to the learner. Amongst natives, you will find some who are much better at grammar than others, some who know all the rules etc. You will also find natives who don’t express themselves well, don’t read much, or who aren’t very educated. In my experience, a well-read, educated non-native advanced leaner will make fewer mistakes in writing than a poorly educated native who reads very little.

I find it interesting that, with English for example, native speakers in different countries have many different words and sometimes completely different expressions, but it doesn’t prevent communication. Usually natives can figure out what the other is trying to say. If an American decides to move to Australia, for example, there will be lots of phrases that they are not used to. But being a native, it won’t take long to get used to them (whether you appreciate them or not is another matter!). Every generation, or even sub-generation of young people invents its own sets of phrases, and these are constantly changing. I don’t think it’s necessarily ‘wrong’, just not standard usage. You can decide which phrases you wish to use. I remember when I first heard someone say ‘It’s on like Donkey Kong’, I was like ‘whatttt?’

If a phrase is in use then I think a linguist would say that it is not and cannot be wrong. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the dictionary or not. Dictionaries reflect language usage, they don’t define it.

The corpus I use for modern language use is the World Wide Web. In other words, if I can Google a phrase and find it in use on (preferably several) pages written by native speakers, it’s not wrong. Maybe obscure, regional, colloquial, archaic or a neologism…but not wrong.

Cue a huge argument about Internet language use?

'Nuff said!

I am convinced that native speakers make mistakes. And in more than 15 years as a translator I have been provided with countless source texts (written by native speakers ) which were full of mistakes. When it comes to determine what is considered to be correct or incorrect usage I do not really rely on the Internet, at least not with regard to spelling or grammatical structures (unless I find information on sites such as the Duden site for German for example). I sometimes search the Internet if I’m not sure about the usage of idiomatic expressions. In these cases I make sure that I only include texts written by native speakers. I have found that in the case of idiomatic expressions mistakes made by native speakers are rather rare. As for grammar, however, I know from experience that there are many native speakers that make lots of mistakes (and I am not suggesting that I’ve never made any mistake myself).
Just to give you two examples: A very widespread mistake made by German native speakers (as opposed to Austrian or Swiss ones for example) is wrong usage of the “Vorvergangenheit” (“pluperfect/past perfect”). Almost all my German relatives would say sentences like the following: “Ach ja, hier WAREN wir schon mal GEWESEN”, while it should be “Ach ja, hier SIND wir schon mal GEWESEN”. You also hear that quite frequently even on TV.
Austrians tend to use “wie” instead of “als” in sentences like: “Er ist älter WIE ich”, while it should be “Er ist älter ALS ich”.
Wrong usage of cases is also quite frequent among native speakers of German. Where I live many people confuse the third (dative) with the fourth (accusative) case. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether they follow a certain pattern of a regional variant or dialect (which would then make it “correct” again in that special linguistic system) or if they simply don’t know how to use certain words and phrases.

Ad skyblueteapot: I would not consider something correct just because it’s used on the Internet. One striking example of blatantly wrong usage has (unfortunately) become very common in German forums where (mostly young people) seem to have started using the masculine form of the indefinite article irrespective of what the gender of the following noun is. Honestly, I find this almost unbearable and whenever I read something like this I just stop reading and go to another site. Example: Ich hab 'nen Fahrrad. Ich hab 'nen Auto…

Native speakers make mistakes, both occasionally and systematically. Learners are best advised to imitate the most common usage patterns in my view, and by listening to a variety of native speakers they will learn to recognize what the most common usage patterns are.

I would say that native speakers make mistakes, especially in writing. One example is the ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ homophone being used incorrectly.

Even in speaking you can sometimes hear native speakers making mistakes or ‘slips’.

I think there are different types of mistake though. A ‘slip’, if pointed out to a native speaker, could be corrected. An ‘error’ if pointed out to a native speaker couldn’t be corrected.

I would say that, in terms of pronunciation, natives are perfect.

I agree except with unknown words. Sounding words out in English is often impossible.
But otherwise, definitely.

Dictionaries reflect language usage, they don’t define it.

One of my favorite sentences. I wish I could get this through to some people.

lovelanguages - It’s cool to get your feedback.
Interesting about “wir waren gewesen”. I figured that was correct pluperfect and “wir sind gewesen” was present perfect . . . ? Huh. Well I don’t know that much about the tenses even in English, I confess, so I probably was just mistaken.

steve - Sometimes the incorrect usage is the most common.
What do you think in that situation? I’m not really prepared to give up whom, but perhaps we should since it is not really in common use with native speakers unless they are educated. And even then they often slip up with it.

I like the idea that we all, individually, have our own grammar and vocabulary, some sort of personalized image of our language. We form this image based on what we hear around us, most of the time without any idea of how it’s perceived outside of our immediate social group.

Being a native does not imply that if you hear a new word or a new grammatical structure, you will inevitably get it right the first time. It does not imply either that your own personal grammar matches perfectly with the standard grammar of your language.

Yeah, I often find it a bit surprising how a certain combination of words can give off a different impression to different people, even if they are both native speakers and the same general meaning is understood.

SolYViento & lovelanguages

As a north German I tend to use the simple past much more: Gestern war ich noch in London. Ich war dreimal in Berlin. Das erste Mal war’s im November (war’s im November gewesen), die Male danach war’s bereits Frühling (war es bereits Frühling gewesen).

I’d go with SolYViento’s “Wir waren schon einmal da gewesen” = pluquamperfect. Wir sind kurz bei meiner Tante gewesen = present perfect.

I know many natives, Germans and Brits, (me included) who make mistakes. So, native is not always perfect - I totally agree. I am a native = I am not perfect. Chucks!

ad SolYViento:

(…) Interesting about “wir waren gewesen”. I figured that was correct pluperfect and “wir sind gewesen” was present perfect . . . ? Huh. Well I don’t know that much about the tenses even in English, I confess, so I probably was just mistaken. (…)

First of all, I’m sorry for replying so late but I sort of lost track of this thread :wink:
I am afraid I was not really clear in my previous post with regard to the usage of the pluperfect by some Germans (including my relatives). They use the pluperfect when referring to an action which took place before an action in the present and that clearly is wrong (even though that kind of usage seems to be very common in Germany).

As the name itself (pluperfect and in German “VorVERGANGENHEIT”) suggests, you can use that tense only when you refer to an action which preceded another action in the past. It is the same in English. It would be wrong to say: “Listen Robert, I think we HAD BEEN here before” and it is equally incorrect in German to say “Robert, ich glaube, wir WAREN hier schon einmal GEWESEN” (it either has to be “wir waren hier schon einmal” or “wir SIND hier schon einmal GEWESEN”).

I have also noticed that many people confuse the relative pronoun \das\ with the “clause pronoun” \was\ (Satzpronomen - this pronoun refers to the entire clause/sentence preceding the pronoun). You will hear a lot of native speakers (again mostly in Germany) using forms like “Das ist das Mädchen, was ich gestern gesehen habe” (instead of "das Mädchen, das ich gestern gesehen habe).

Austrians also make quite a lot of mistakes (as I mentioned in my previous post). In the area where I live, people find it hard to distinguish between the dative and the accusative. You’ll even hear people say things like “Ich habe ihr gesehen” (instead of “Ich habe sie gesehen”).

Of course, the number of mistakes people make also depends on their education. Besides, one must distinguish between clear mistakes and distinct forms of usage which may be correct (and as such systematic) in a specific dialect.

ad SanneT:

Ich war dreimal in Berlin. Das erste Mal war’s im November (war’s im November gewesen), die Male danach war’s bereits Frühling (war es bereits Frühling gewesen). (…)

I would also say “war’s im November” and “war’s bereits Frühling”. The other two forms are exactly what I was trying to refer to above. In my opinion these formes are incorrect but they seem to be widely used in Germany.

I am pretty sure that you can use the VORVERGANGENHEIT only for actions preceding another action which already took place in the past.

Anyway, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to depict you or any German as speaking improper German. I was merely trying to answer the question raised at the beginning of this thread.

And even though some of the things we say and write might not be in compliance with the official rules of the German language, they obviously reflect the way our language is actually used by native speakers.

@lovelanguages: I think it’s difficult to speak of ‘usage in Germany’ as there are huge differences according to the dialects (roughly you could devide in ‘North Germany’, ‘South Germany’, ‘East Germany’ and ‘West Germany’, I think). As I moved within Germany, I made the experience of being confronted with a very different ‘common’ usage and very different ‘common’ mistakes (if you set ‘standard’ German as the standard, as obviously most would do).

I wouldn’t consider ‘wrong’ usage of tense etc. as a mistake, though. It’s not standard, it’s dialect or slang, but it’s not ‘wrong’, if everyone uses it like this in a certain area. If I want to be accepted as an ‘ordinary Saxon citizen’ it might be better to use the tense just like everyone else does in Saxony and not like it is written down in grammar books.
A mistake would only be something that only you yourself use differently to everyone else, in my opinion.
E.g. I grew up in Swabia, and it is completely uncommon there to pronounce ‘ist’ as in ‘standard German’. Even if you are in the most official position and holding a speech, you won’t do that there. Moreover, people won’t like you, if you do, as you sound stilted and arrogant to them if you do. I wouldn’t consider it wrong to pronounce ‘ist’ like ‘isch’ in Swabia - I’d consider it perfectly correct. It’s a substandard. You will as well never use simple past in Swabia, as it just doesn’t exist in the dialect and therefore people avoid it when talking more or less standard German as well.

However, written language is a different matter. Written language does usually follow the standard. Moreover there is of course the possibility of spelling mistakes (typos).

ad Fingerhut:

(…) think it’s difficult to speak of ‘usage in Germany’ as there are huge differences according to the dialects (…)

You are right, this is why I wrote “by some Germans”.

(…) I wouldn’t consider ‘wrong’ usage of tense etc. as a mistake, though. (…)

I guess, here we’ll just have to agree to disagree :wink:
To me wrong usage of a tense certainly qualifies as a mistake and if anybody studying German as a foreign language would use the pluperfect the way some of my German relatives do, this usage would undoubtedly be marked as wrong at any exam those learners may wish to take.

There are certain differences between dialects and between “slang” and “standard usage” of a language and there are certain regional grammatical pecularities. For example, the different usage of articles in Austria as compared to Germany (der Keks - das Keks, der Joghurt - das Joghurt, die Cola - das Cola) or different usage of auxiliary verbs (“ich habe gestanden” vs “ich bin gestanden”). All these differences, however, will be dealt with in a standard grammar book or textbook for learners of a language.

I have never ever found any grammar or other textbook where the usage of the “Vorvergangenheit” I was referring to in the examples I gave was taught or accepted as correct.

Of course, you will hear lots of people who say and/or write sentences like “He don’t know nothing” in English for examle. This usage may actually follow certain rules in some linguistic “subsystem” (I don’t mean that in any derogatory way, I’m just not a linguist) but it certainly is not correct if you take “standard English grammar” as a basis. I am very much aware of the fact that language and its usage is not as homogenous as it is sometimes portrayed but in my opinion it is not a totally vague system either.

If there were no rules, how would we ever be able to study a foreign language. Patterns of usage are also some sort of rules.

(…) It’s not standard, it’s dialect or slang, but it’s not ‘wrong’, if everyone uses it like this in a certain area. (…)

Again, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree :wink:
“Ich habe ihr gesehen” is widely used where I live but it certainly is not correct “standard German”. Try and tell any child to write that sentence at school and see what grade he or she gets :wink:

It may follow a certain pattern in the local dialect and within that specific subsystem it may be correct, but I think that SolYViento was referring to what we may call “standard language”. I don’t think he was referring to the myriad of diverging forms that exist in local variants of a language.

I know there have been many discussions on what should be considered to be “standard” and what not. Nevertheless there is agreement on a large set of rules (at least in the languages I have studied).

The other examples you gave refer to different pronunciations and that to me is indeed a totally different matter.

(…) A mistake would only be something that only you yourself use differently to everyone else, in my opinion. (…)

So, if I find just one more guy using the same grammatical form as I do, would that make it less of a mistake? I don’t think so. But, of course, that is just my personal point of view.

To sum it up, my understanding was that SolYViento had some sort of “standard version” of language in mind (mostly that’s the one we are taught at school) and was wondering if there were native speakers who consciously or unconsciously deviate from that standard form.

(…) if anybody studying German as a foreign language WOULD USE … (…)

That for example also cleary is a mistake.:wink:

I should have written
(…) if anybody studying German as a foreign language USED (or maybe: WERE TO USE) (…)

I always thought that in the song “Purple Haze”, Jimi Hendrix was singing " 'scuse me while I kiss these guys." I found out years later that I was definitely wrong about that!

Take it from my English writing class, when the teacher was explaining the conjugations of verbs and the looks and confusion of the class. All over: I am, you are, he is, we are, they are. I mean they were really not aware of some of these patterns, and the “s” at the end of verbs used with he/she/it. Not that they wouldn’t be able to do it naturally when they speak, it’s just they’ve never saw it before.

But given the size of the Ebonics speaking population of this area it’s not surprising. Hearing sentences that start with “You is”.

The Atlanta school board wanted to teach African-American Vernacular to it’s children as ‘Standard’.
Which also raises a question about Creole languages, and whether they should be respected as legitimate languages and just just the mutant ‘bastardized’ languages.

And they’ve stopped teaching such grammar to children at least in my State, Missouri.
There are two ways of pronouncing this state’s name, the normal way, like the word “Misery”. (which is true to French). and Missoura, with this awful sounding ‘uh’ sound at the end. The Rural and southern parts say this pronunciation. I hate it, It sounds so ignorant. But many politicians use it, as if to garner some love from the demographic.
The neighboring state isn’t ili-noise, it’s ili-noy. (illinois).

The myth is it is the true French Pronunciation. I think they are referring to the now dead Missouri French.

Maybe, I, who rather studied history of language and dialects and not so much ‘language teaching’, am of a quite liberal opinion on that. I don’t care about the standard too much. If everyone decided to say ‘cheese’ instead of ‘apple’, after a few decades that would be perfect standard. :stuck_out_tongue:

Of course, I’m not saying that there are standards, but I think there is more than one for each language. So there might be a standard for ‘if you write novels’ and another one for ‘if you hang out with guys at the pub in Munich’ and another one for ‘if you’re talking to your elderly grandmother from Berlin’. Of course, it would be most advisable for foreigners to study standards for ‘business dealings’, ‘television’ etc. - but if their only goal is to communicate with their aunt Mary from Liverpool, they might as well just study the ‘slang’ of old Ladies in Liverpool and get along with that. However, one might doubt whether such a ‘substandard’ could be called ‘standard English’ or ‘Standard German’.
Of course, there are natives who are not confident of ‘official standards’ of their native language, who, e.g. never could write a novel or write a proper application form for a job by themselves. But I wouldn’t say, they’re not able to speak their native language properly. :slight_smile: They probably aren’t native novelists.

*that there are no standards