Mother tongues, mothers, and language

Mother tongues, mothers, and language

For mother’s day, we’d like to go all the way back to our mother tongues.

Mothers. We all have them. We all enjoy them or miss them, or maybe don’t get along that well. But we are talking about a figure so important in our lives, that Freud could not stop going on about her. That they are even present in our language. That there is a language named after them.

Why is it called mother tongue? Is it the same as the native language? Many argue not, and though it’s a subtle distinction, we believe so near to mothers day we should make the effort to explain it. 

The origin

‘Mother tongue’ is an interesting English expression. English tends to have several gender-specific terms that don’t refer to gender-specific ideas and concepts. It’s not the only language that does that, not at all. But it can be frequently found. There are concepts that go back to core experiences in history and our psychology. In this way, there’s a strong association between mothers as primary caregivers. As a predominating figure in our lives who teach us things. Our first home, our first contact, our first lessons come from them. That point of origin gave way to say there is such a thing as a mother tongue. 

Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash

Mother tongue, first language, and native language

A first language, native tongue, and mother tongue don’t always refer to the same thing. Many understand it as the first language or dialect that a person has been exposed to from birth. In some countries, it refers to the language or dialect of one’s ethnic group. So here are some definitions:


Wikipedia even gets to defining “native language” in categories:

Based on origin: the language or dialect one learned first or established the first long-lasting verbal contact.

Based on internal identification: the language one identifies with as a speaker.

Based on external identification: the language one is identified with by others.

Based on competence: the language one knows best.

Based on function: the language one uses most.


The first and most common mother tongue meaning is the language that a child’s mother and father speak. If both parents speak different languages, a bilingual child would have two mother tongues.

Other mother tongue definitions include:

The language a child grew up speaking.

The language of a particular area or ethnic group.

The language from which other languages are formed.

It’s important because it influences learning and language acquisition. It’s the first language structure you learn and works as a reference for every other language you learn next. 


The first language is the language that a child learns to speak first in life. Therefore, if we consider the mother tongue as the language our parents speak, depending on exposure the mother tongue and the first language may not be the same.

On some occasions, even if parents speak the mother tongue at home, children may begin using the dominant community language first if they are exposed to it more. This is why, If both parents spoke English at home and a child learned French at school, the mother tongue is English but the native language could be French.

That’s it for today. We wish you a happy mother’s day. And if it’s mother tongues you want to tackle, you can call on our language experts.

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