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115 handout 9 Bilingualism

115 handout 9 Bilingualism - Language Society and Culture...

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Language, Society and Culture, Andrew Simpson, USC Language, Society and Culture Unit 9 Bilingualism 0. Introduction This lecture considers the phenomenon of bilingualism, looking at the following important issues: types and definitions of bilingualism developmental cycles in bilingual speakers whether bilingual speakers mentally have one or two different linguistic systems bilingualism and education bilingualism and language planning attitudes towards bilingualism Background The following is a commonly reported statement: Over half the population of the world is bilingual. But what is exactly meant by this? Such statements are potentially misleading because they overlook an important distinction between individual bilingualism and societal bilingualism . The former refers to individual people who are judged to be bilingual, the latter to societies in general which may be bilingual or multilingual in the sense of containing speakers of more than one language. With regard to societal bilingualism, research suggests that there are actually fewer bilingual individuals in bilingual countries than there are in so-called ‘unilingual’ ones, and the main concern of ‘multilingual’ states has often been the guaranteed maintenance and use of two or more languages in the same nation, rather than the promotion of individual bilingualism among its citizens. Officially ‘multilingual’ states are countries where two or more languages are recognised by the state as official (or national) languages, hence Canada, where English and French have this status, and Switzerland, where French, German, Italian, and Romansh are all official languages. Examples of ‘unilingual’ countries are France and Italy, where only one language has official recognition – but there may actually be many individuals who are bilingual. Definitions of (individual) bilingualism ‘An individual has native-speaker-like control of two languages.’ ‘The practice of regularly using two languages with a high degree of competence’ ‘The ability of an individual to use two or more languages as a means of communication in most situations, and to switch from one language to the other whenever this may be necessary’ 1
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Language, Society and Culture, Andrew Simpson, USC The above rough definitions of bilingualism all make reference to a DEGREE OF PROFICIENCY – ‘native-speaker-level’ proficiency, or alternatively ‘a high degree of competence’. In theory, a person may have different levels of proficiency in speaking, reading and writing skills, so there is a further question – should a speaker be able to read and write as well as speak a second language in order to be classed as bilingual? Many researchers might say ‘no’ to this question. Perhaps we should recognize that there are degrees of bilinguality, with the higher stages requiring not just oral proficiency but also reading and writing skills too. There is also an important distinction between
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