I am writing a piece on Propaganda, and I am quoting George Orwell. What I try to say is that the quote gives a an insider's perspective in terms of the era, not of the geographical location.

I want to say something like this:

A perspective native to the time period (the 40s) is provided by Orwell in his BBC Broadcast: ". . . .

  • 3
    A contemporary perspective would be a simpler and more correct phrase. – Chenmunka Mar 20 '14 at 10:37

I love this question.

When I read your sentence, I couldn't find anything wrong with it. It sounded natural to me. Yet when I looked up the word native in the dictionary, I couldn't find a definition that would support such usage.

I checked Collins, I checked Macmillan, I checked Wordnik, I even checked the OED. Over and over again, I found definitions referring to place and region, but definitions referring to time proved elusive. The more I searched, the more I became skeptical.

Then I tried searching for the phrase "native to the era" in Google books, and on the web. Google initially reports 12,000,000 results found, but it doesn't take long to see that's a false number (the actual result is closer to 25 or 30). There are only three hits returned on Google books, and none of them show that phrase.

You wouldn't be the first to use the word to refer to time instead of place; one blogger wrote:

Generation Z is the first generation that can truly be considered native to the era of social networking and high speed Internet.

I would call this a trap word, one that sounds fine when you first hear it, but one that might prompt the careful reader (or the pedant) to say that you are uninformed. If you are writing, I'd avoid this usage and opt for a rephrase.

If you really wanted to stick with it, and were challenged, I did find this vague definition on the Wordnik page:

native (adj.) Naturally related; cognate; connected (with).

That might give you some rationale, but it doesn't seem to be a common sense of the word.

  • THANK YOU SO MUCH! I am quite happy my question stimulated such a interesting lexical riddle! – asef Mar 21 '14 at 15:06

It's perfectly fine to say this, but it would be more natural to say, 'A perspective common to the time period (the 40s)...'


@J.R. dispelled the notion that native has any time-based denotation or connotation. But the interesting thing is that it still works! Why?

English has deeply embedded relationships between words describing space and time. (This has been studied extensively. See Google Search: spatio-temporal relations in language.) In this case, native to the time period (the 40s) is a metaphor that is almost precise.

While this phrasing may not be ideal for formal writing, it does work: it's clearly understandable. And there is some evidence that the phrase "native to the culture" may have gained a level of usage. (See Google Ngram and Google Ngram via corpus.byu.edu). While "native to the time/era" seems rare, "native to the culture" has some non-trivial usage.

A minimal change that would make the metaphor more subtle would be the following:

  • A perspective native to the culture of the 40s is provided by Orwell in his BBC Broadcast:

In other words, the usage "native to the culture" has risen to the level of some usage, but maybe not to the level of accepted idiom. I'm not recommending this usage, but it is linguistically interesting. :)

  • The problem is that "native" means "born in" or "as a very young child". The original poster's usage is about the attitudes of adults, who were not born during the decade in question. – Jasper Mar 7 '15 at 7:19
  • @Jasper I don't see that as "the problem", I see that as "the definition". Definitions don't preclude using a word metaphorically; that's the whole point of metaphor, is it not? It is the perspective that was born of, growing in, or belonging to the culture of the 40s. I'm suggesting that "native to the culture" has risen to the level of some usage, but maybe not to the level of idiom. I'll clarify in the Answer. Thanks! – CoolHandLouis Mar 7 '15 at 7:53

Another way to think about an insider's perspective into a time period is that it represents something essential about the period, so you could say:

A perspective representative of the time period is provided...

But if you only want to say that the perspective came from someone who lived during the period, without worrying whether it captures anything important about the period, you could simply say:

A perspective from the time period...

Combining that with the suggestion from @Chenmunka, you would get the nice-sounding:

A comtemporary perspective from the time period...

"Native" is actually incorrect usage here, not as much from a semantic viewpoint (people will understand it), but more from a pragmatic viewpoint (people wouldn't use it that way). The example quote JR gives about Generation Z being "native" to the digital era has to deal with the recently coined term "digital natives", i.e. people who have lived their entire lives since birth in the era of internet, social media and websites, etc. It creates a "digital world" metaphor, and some people are natives, while other people (older people) are strangers and foreigners. So I wouldn't generalize that use of "native" to the kind of example you provided in your question.

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