Bilingualism and Multilingualism

Tej K. Bhatia

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online April 2013 | | DOI:
Bilingualism and Multilingualism

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  • Linguistics
  • Anthropological Linguistics
  • Language Families
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics



Bilingualism and Multilingualism is an interdisciplinary and complex field. As is self-evident from the prefixes (bi- and multi-), bilingualism and multilingualism phenomena are devoted to the study of production, processing, and comprehension of two (and more than two) languages, respectively. However, in colloquial usage the term “bilingualism” is used as a cover term to embody both bilingualism and multilingualism. Although this use of “bilingualism” has been objected to strictly on etymological grounds, it is a common practice since the inception of the field (see Weinreich 1953 cited under General Overviews) to apply to the term for multilingualism as well as to the dialects of the same language. For the reasons of convention, concision, and convenience, the term “bilingualism” is used as a cover term to include both bilingualism and multilingualism in this article. Still in its primary stages of exploration, bilingualism is a rapidly growing area of linguistics, which is grounded in interdisciplinary approaches and a variety of conceptual frameworks. In linguistics, bilingualism owes its origin largely to diachronic and sociolinguistics, which deal with linguistic variation, language contact, and language change. However, on theoretical and methodological grounds, bilingualism was/is viewed as a problematic area of linguistics prior to and after the emergence of Chomskyan linguistic revolution (see Issues and Conceptualization). Outside linguistics, bilingualism is also intimately tied with immigrant and marginalized groups and their educational and economic problems. A case in point is the bilingualism and intelligence debate during the first half of the 20th century (see under Effects and Education). The pioneering phase of bilingualism research in linguistics began with the works of Weinreich 1953, Haugen 1953, Mackey 1967 (all cited under General Overviews) and Jakobson 1953 (cited under Issues and Conceptualization) in later half of the 20th century (see also Description and Typology). Since then, research in multiple fields of bilingualism has taken interdisciplinary dimensions. The key research areas represented by the field include: the representation and processing of languages in the bilingual mind/brain, childhood and adult language acquisition, bilingual speech disorders, bilingualism and mixed linguistic systems, effects of bilingualism on individuals and societies, bilingualism and educational challenges, language endangerment, and extinction among others. The oldest accounts of bilingualism can be traced back to Panini’s grammar of Sanskrit, religious texts such as the Bible, and the accounts of classical languages such as Greek and Latin in the context of linguistic prescriptivism, language contact, and spread.

Article.  12386 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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