Here the definitions of the words “native” and “natural” are analyzed in detail so that we may have a better understanding of each.
Several dictionaries were consulted, and the relevant entries are available under Native and Natural in the Definitions Category shown on the right.
For the first phase of analysis the definitions for each word were reviewed and the (Latin) origin of each word was gathered together in a list and the duplicate definitions removed. Several Latin-English dictionaries where consulted to determine the English definition of each Latin term. (Collins Latin Concise Dictionary, The New College Latin and English Dictionary by John C. Traupman, Ph.D., and Notre Dame – Latin Online). The Latin root words and their definitions are listed in a PDF document which you can download or view.
As the analysis makes clear, the various Latin forms of “native” and “natural” do share common roots and overlap to some degree. Both do pertain to “birth”. Also as clear, and perhaps most important to take notice of, is that “native” is almost entirely related to “birth” whilst “natural” encompasses “quality” and “character”.
These results led to needing to determine the extent to which “native” might pertain to anything other than “birth”.
To determine this, all the definitions for “native” where compiled in a table and each definition was reviewed to determine whether it pertained to birth, birth plus additional attributes, or was ambiguous. The details of this analysis are available in a PDF document which you can download or view.
This analysis shows that 57% of the definitions for “native” pertain solely to “birth” whilst only 13% pertain to birth with additional qualifiers. 33% of the definitions were ambiguous in some way. Even including ambiguous and birth-plus in the same group still gives a 57-46 split. (Percentages exceed 100% due to items being assigned to more than one category.)
“Birth only” is strongly indicated as the most accurate definition of “native”.
We now turn to an analysis of “natural”. This was more complex owing to the variety of definitions. To simplify, the definitions were grouped into “families” of related concepts. This resulted in five groups. All the definitions for “natural” where compiled in a table and each definition was reviewed to determine to which family of concepts it pertained.
The details of this analysis are available in a PDF document which you can download or view.
49% of the definitions fell into the “other” category. The natural conclusion is that additional concept families are needed. Upon review it was determined that many of these definitions pertain to “the universe”, “science”, and “philosophy/religion/spirituality”. Of the 21 definitions that fall into the “other” category, 9 are of this type. The remaining 11 are split between self-referencing definitions (4), consanguinity(5), and the truly miscellaneous(2).
With the possible exception of consanguinity, none of these “others” are relevant.
The following definitions apply to “natural”:
genuineness, authenticity – 14%
having particular characteristics – 12%
the normal course – 12%
consanguinity – 12%
untended, uninfluenced – 9%
There is a relatedness among these concepts that draws them together into a whole. When considered in the context of “natural born” meaning “being born in the country to two citizen parents” that whole comes into clear focus. A focus further sharpened since none of these concepts apply to “native”.
Natural and native have “birth” in common, but natural encompasses much more.
These meanings of “native” and “natural” have not wavered since the roots of this country first began to form. Considering the etymology, the general meanings of natural and native have stood for thousands of years.
It is undeniable: natural is more than native.
Natural is “native” plus certain qualities. And very particular qualities. Qualities such as consanguinity. Qualities of genuineness and authenticity. Qualities not requiring any naturalizing influences.
Native is less than natural. Natural subsumes native.
So then, when the US Constitution uniquely specifies “natural born citizen” for the office of President, and for no other office, and when “natural” is so clearly differentiated with such particular distinctions from “native”, reason forces the conclusion that mere birth on US soil – jus soli – is not sufficient for qualification for office.
Native born is not enough. There are the added dimensions of “natural”, notably consanguinity and no requirement for any naturalizing influences (statutes).
If you do find a gross error or take issue with some point, you are welcome to assemble a collection of linguists and etymological scholars to work independently, submit their individual findings to a set of statisticians who themselves will work independently to tabulate the results, and then report back.
Or you can post your concerns below.
(Originally published 2009/04/03)