mother tongue

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MOTHER TONGUE. A general term for the language of the childhood home, learned ‘at one's mother's knee’, often used synonymously with NATIVE LANGUAGE. Although the implication is usually clear, there is no necessary connection between a child's use of language and the language of its mother: some children learn the language of a nurse or ayah first; a mother may talk to her child in a language not originally her own; the mother may be dead. The term is often used to mean a national language, such as French whether or not it is the first or preferred language of all members of the nation, as with Basques and Bretons in France. Compare FIRST LANGUAGE/SECOND LANGUAGE.

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moth·er tongue • n. the language that a person has grown up speaking from early childhood.