The SLA field should adopt an L1.2, or Second-First Language, descriptive label for usage-based competency. I believe the existing L1-L2 nomenclature is insufficient and possibly demeaning to individuals who have achieved competency in acquired L2.
In SLA research, L1, the “first language,” is the “native” language, while the “second language” refers to language external to the “home” environment. Bilingualism admits the possibility of “two first languages,” but the L1-L2 implication is hierarchical with L1 by definition an unattainable status for the target language learner.
“Multi-competence” (see Cook, 2006) is a useful concept since it mitigates the L1-L2 distinction and dignifies the non-native learner. Some L2 learners become extraordinarily multi-competent. Besides novelist Joseph Conrad, examples include: Hollywood leading man Laurence Harvey from Lithuania; Czech-born Robert Maxwell, the British MP and media mogul; and Arthur Binard from Michigan, awarded the prestigious Nakahara Chuya Prize in Japanese poetry.
Multi-competence also applies to high-functioning target language users lacking native knowledge of some high saliency elements. For example, citizens of countries with several active languages (as Africa’s lingua franca, Swahili has 30 million L2 users), non-native EFL teachers, scientists publishing in L2 EAP, and foreign athletes (such as gaikokujin rikishi) are all multi-competent.
However, I believe L2 is no longer second when elemental to livelihood. This correlates with Hall, et al. (2006) advocating multi-competence which takes a usage-based view on language knowledge “grounded in and emergent from language use in concrete social activity for specific purposes that are tied to specific communities of practice” (p. 235).
The L1.2 label complements this usage focus that calls for new concepts and terms. At least, L1.2 limits the hierarchical intent of L1-L2 terminology in an increasingly multilingual world. It could also be usefully ascribed to English as lingua franca in World Englishes discussions.
- Cook, V. J. (2006). Interlanguage, multi-competence, and the problem of the “second language.” Rivista di Psicolinguistica Applicata VI, 39-52.
- Hall, J. K., Cheng, A., & Carlson, M. (2006). Reconceptualizing multicompetence as a theory of language knowledge. Applied Linguistics, 27(2), 220–240.