Multilingualism is the act of using, or promoting the use of, multiple languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population. Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness. Thanks to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is getting more and more frequent, and triggering therefore the need to acquire more and more languages.
People who speak more than one language are also called polyglots.
A multilingual person, in a broad definition, is one who can communicate in more than one language, be it actively (through speaking, writing, or signing) or passively (through listening, reading, or perceiving). More specifically, the terms bilingual and trilingual are used to describe comparable situations in which two or three languages are involved. A multilingual person is generally referred to as a polyglot. Poly (Greek: πολύς) means "many", glot (Greek: γλώττα) means "language".
Multilingual speakers have acquired and maintained at least one language during childhood, the so-called first language (L1). The first language (sometimes also referred to as the mother tongue) is acquired without formal education, by mechanisms heavily disputed. Children acquiring two languages in this way are called simultaneous bilinguals. Even in the case of simultaneous bilinguals one language usually dominates over the other.
A further possibility is that a child may become naturally trilingual by having a mother and father with separate languages being brought up in a third language environment. An example of this may be an English-speaking father married to a Mandarin Chinese speaking mother with the family living in Hong Kong, where the community language (and primary language of education) is Cantonese. If the child goes to a Cantonese medium school from a young age, then trilingualism will result.
In linguistics, first language acquisition is closely related to the concept of a "native speaker". According to a view widely held by linguists, a native speaker of a given language has in some respects a level of skill which a second (or subsequent) language learner can hardly reliably accomplish. Consequently, descriptive empirical studies of languages are usually carried out using only native speakers as informants. This view is, however, slightly problematic, particularly as many non-native speakers demonstrably not only successfully engage with and in their non-native language societies, but in fact may become culturally and even linguistically important contributors (as, for example, writers, politicians and performing artists) in their non-native language. In recent years, linguistic research has focused attention on the use of widely known world languages such as English as lingua franca, or the shared common language of professional and commercial communities. In lingua franca situations, most speakers of the common language are functionally multilingual.
Definition of multilingualism
One group of academics[who?] argues for the maximal definition which means speakers are as proficient in one language as they are in others and have as much knowledge of and control over one language as they have of the others. Another group[who?] of academics argues for the minimal definition, based on use. Tourists who successfully communicate phrases and ideas while not fluent in a language may be seen as bilingual according to this group.
However, problems may arise with these definitions as they do not specify how much knowledge of a language is required for a person to be classified as bilingual. As a result, since most speakers do not achieve the maximal ideal, language learners may come to be seen as deficient and by extension, language teaching may come to be seen as a failure.
Since 1992, Vivian Cook has argued that most multilingual speakers fall somewhere between minimal and maximal definitions. Cook calls these people multi-competent.
One view is that of the linguist Noam Chomsky in what he calls the human 'language acquisition device '— a mechanism which enables an individual to recreate correctly the rules (grammar) and certain other characteristics of language used by speakers around the learner. This device, according to Chomsky, wears out over time, and is not normally available by puberty, which he uses to explain the poor results some adolescents and adults have when learning aspects of a second language (L2).
If language learning is a cognitive process, rather than a language acquisition device, as the school led by Stephen Krashen suggests, there would only be relative, not categorical, differences between the two types of language learning.
Rod Ellis quotes research finding that the earlier children learn a second language, the better off they are, in terms of pronunciation. See Critical period hypothesis. Many European schools offer secondary language classes for their students, if for no other reason than the proximity of other countries with different languages.
Based on the research in Ann Fathman’s The Relationship between age and second language productive ability, there is a difference in the rate of learning of English morphology, syntax and phonology based upon differences in age, but that the order of acquisition in second language learning does not change with age.
People who have Multilanguage background will find out their native language would influence their second language in any other ages.
In second language class, students will commonly face the difficulties on thinking in the target language because they are influenced by their native language and culture patterns. Robert B. Kaplan thinks that in second language classes, the foreign-student paper is out of focus because the foreign student is employing rhetoric and a sequence of thought which violate the expectations of the native reader. Foreign students who have mastered syntactic structures have still demonstrated inability to compose adequate themes, term papers, theses, and dissertations. Robert B. Kaplan describes two key words that affect people when they learn a second language. Logic in the popular, rather than the logician's sense of the word, which is the basis of rhetoric, is evolved out of a culture; it is not universal. Rhetoric, then, is not universal either, but varies, from culture to culture and even from time to time within a given culture. Language teachers know how to predict the differences between pronunciations or constructions in different languages, but they might be less clear about the differences between rhetoric, that is, in the way they use language to accomplish various purposes, particularly in writing.
Comparing multilingual speakers
Even if someone is highly proficient in two or more languages, his or her so-called communicative competence or ability may not be as balanced. Linguists have distinguished various types of multilingual competence, which can roughly be put into two categories:
- For compound bilinguals, words and phrases in different languages are the same concepts. That means that 'chien' and 'dog' are two words for the same concept for a French-English speaker of this type. These speakers are usually fluent in both languages.
- For coordinate bilinguals, words and phrases in the speaker's mind are all related to their own unique concepts. Thus a bilingual speaker of this type has different associations for 'chien' and for 'dog'. In these individuals, one language, usually the first language, is more dominant than the other, and the first language may be used to think through the second language. These speakers are known to use very different intonation and pronunciation features, and sometimes to assert the feeling of having different personalities attached to each of their languages.
- A sub-group of the latter is the subordinate bilingual, which is typical of beginning second language learners.
The distinction between compound and coordinate bilingualism has come under scrutiny. When studies are done of multilinguals, most are found to show behavior intermediate between compound and coordinate bilingualism. Some authors have suggested that the distinction should only be made at the level of grammar rather than vocabulary, others use "coordinate bilingual" as a synonym for one who has learned two languages from birth, and others have proposed dropping the distinction altogether (see Baetens-Beardsmore, 1974 for discussion).
Many theorists are now beginning to view bilingualism as a "spectrum or continuum of bilingualism" that runs from the relatively monolingual language learner to highly proficient bilingual speakers who function at high levels in both languages (Garland, 2007).
Bilinguals who are highly proficient in two or more languages are reported to have enhanced executive function, different organization in some cortical areas, and are better at some aspects of language learning compared to monolinguals.
There is also a phenomenon known as distractive bilingualism or semilingualism. When acquisition of the first language is interrupted and insufficient or unstructured language input follows from the second language, as sometimes happens with immigrant children, the speaker can end up with two languages both mastered below the monolingual standard. Literacy plays an important role in the development of language in these immigrant children. Those who were literate in their first language before arriving, and who have support to maintain that literacy, are at the very least able to maintain and master their first language.
Receptive bilinguals are those who have the ability to understand a second language, but do not speak it. Receptive bilingualism may occur when a child thinks that the community language is more prestigious than the language spoken within the household and chooses to speak to their parents in the community language only. Families who adopt this mode of communication can be highly functional, although they may not be seen as bilingual. Receptive bilinguals may rapidly achieve oral fluency when placed in situations where they are required to speak the heritage language.
Receptive bilingualism is not the same as mutual intelligibility, which is the case of a native Spanish speaker who is able to understand Portuguese, or vice versa, due to the high lexical and grammatical similarities between Spanish and Portuguese.
Definition of "language"
There is no clear definition of what it means to "speak a language". A tourist who can handle a simple conversation with a waiter may be completely lost when it comes to discussing current affairs or even using multiple tenses. A diplomat or businessman who can handle complicated negotiations in a foreign language may not be able to write a simple letter correctly. A four-year-old French child would usually be said to "speak French fluently", but it is possible that he cannot handle the grammar as well as even some mediocre foreign students of the language do and may have a very limited vocabulary despite possibly having perfect pronunciation. On the other hand, it is quite common that even very highly accomplished linguists may speak the language(s) of which they are experts with a distinct accent and to have gaps in their active vocabulary when it comes to everyday topics and situations.
Because the development of spoken fluency requires prolonged exposure to a given language, claims of extensive polyglottism must generally be understood to refer to the mastery of basic communicative skills along with the grammatical rules and (possibly) an extensive vocabulary in the target languages, rather than a near-native level of spoken fluency. In historical times prior to audio and video recordings which can be used to facilitate artificial language exposure, quite unusual circumstances would have been needed for an individual to achieve high-level spoken fluency in several languages. Although it is possible to learn the grammatical rules and vocabulary of a language from books alone, such an individual might not be able to communicate in the language at all, neither understanding the language as it sounds spoken out loud nor being able to produce the sounds him- or herself.
As another example, a person who has learned five different languages such as French, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and Portuguese, all belonging to the closely related group of Romance languages, has accomplished something less difficult than a person who has learnt Hebrew, Chinese, Finnish, Navajo, and Welsh, none of which is remotely related to another.
Furthermore, what is considered a language can change, often for purely political purposes, such as when Serbo-Croatian was assembled from Serbian and Croatian and later split after Yugoslavia broke up, or when Ukrainian was dismissed as a Russian dialect by the Russian tsars to discourage national feelings.
Many small independent nations' schoolchildren are today compelled to learn multiple languages because of international interactions. For example in Finland, all children are required to learn at least two foreign languages: the other national language (Swedish or Finnish) and one alien language (usually English). Many Finnish schoolchildren also select further languages, such as French, German or Spanish. Some large nations such as India with multiple languages, school children may routinely learn multiple languages based on where they reside in the country. In major metros of Central, South and East India, many children may be fluent in four languages (the mother tongue, the state language, the national language (Hindi) and English.) Thus a child of Gujarati parents living in Bangalore will end up speaking his mother tongue (Gujarati) at home and the state language (Kannada), Hindi and English in school and his surroundings.
Multilingualism within communities
Widespread multilingualism is one form of language contact. Multilingualism was more common in the past than is usually supposed[weasel words]: in early times, when most people were members of small language communities, it was necessary to know two or more languages for trade or any other dealings outside one's own town or village, and this holds good today in places of high linguistic diversity such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India. Linguist Ekkehard Wolff estimates that 50% of the population of Africa is multilingual.
In multilingual societies, not all speakers need to be multilingual. Some states can have multilingual policies and recognise several official languages, such as Canada (English and French). In some states, particular languages may be associated with particular regions in the state (e.g., Canada) or with particular ethnicities (Malaysia/Singapore). When all speakers are multilingual, linguists classify the community according to the functional distribution of the languages involved:
- diglossia: if there is a structural functional distribution of the languages involved, the society is termed 'diglossic'. Typical diglossic areas are those areas in Europe where a regional language is used in informal, usually oral, contexts, while the state language is used in more formal situations. Frisia (with Frisian and German or Dutch) and Lusatia (with Sorbian and German) are well-known examples. Some writers limit diglossia to situations where the languages are closely related, and could be considered dialects of each other. This can also be observed in Scotland where in formal situations, English is used. However, in informal situations in many areas, Scots is the preferred language of choice.
- ambilingualism: a region is called ambilingual if this functional distribution is not observed. In a typical ambilingual area it is nearly impossible to predict which language will be used in a given setting. True ambilingualism is rare. Ambilingual tendencies can be found in small states with multiple heritages like Luxembourg, which has a combined Franco-Germanic heritage, or Malaysia and Singapore, which fuses the cultures of Malays, China, and India. Ambilingualism also can manifest in specific regions of larger states that have both a clearly dominant state language (be it de jure or de facto) and a protected minority language that is limited in terms of distribution of speakers within the country. This tendency is especially pronounced when, even though the local language is widely spoken, there is a reasonable assumption that all citizens speak the predominant state tongue (E.g., English in Quebec vs. Canada; Spanish in Catalonia vs. Spain). This phenomenon can also occur in border regions with many cross-border contacts.
- bipart-lingualism: if more than one language can be heard in a small area, but the large majority of speakers are monolinguals, who have little contact with speakers from neighbouring ethnic groups, an area is called 'bipart-lingual'. An example of this is the Balkans.
Multilingualism between different language speakers
Whenever two people meet, negotiations take place. If they want to express solidarity and sympathy, they tend to seek common features in their behavior. If speakers wish to express distance towards or even dislike of the person they are speaking to, the reverse is true, and differences are sought. This mechanism also extends to language, as described in the Communication Accommodation Theory.
Some multilinguals use code-switching, a term that describes the process of 'swapping' between languages. In many cases, code-switching is motivated by the wish to express loyalty to more than one cultural group, as holds for many immigrant communities in the New World. Code-switching may also function as a strategy where proficiency is lacking. Such strategies are common if the vocabulary of one of the http://www.google.com/firefox?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:officiallanguages is not very elaborated for certain fields, or if the speakers have not developed proficiency in certain lexical domains, as in the case of immigrant languages.
This code-switching appears in many forms. If a speaker has a positive attitude towards both languages and towards code-switching, many switches can be found, even within the same sentence. If, however, the speaker is reluctant to use code-switching, as in the case of a lack of proficiency, he might knowingly or unknowingly try to camouflage his attempt by converting elements of one language into elements of the other language. This results in speakers using words like courrier noir (literally mail that is black) in French, instead of the proper word for blackmail, chantage.
Sometimes a pidgin language may develop. A pidgin language is basically a fusion of two languages, which is mutually understandable for both speakers. Some pidgin languages develop into real languages (such as papiamento at Curaçao) while other remain as slangs or jargons (such as Helsinki slang, which is more or less mutually intelligible both in Finnish and Swedish). In other cases, prolonged influence of languages on each other may have the effect of changing one or both to the point where it may be considered that a new language is born. For example, many linguists believe that the Occitan language and the Catalan language were formed because a population speaking a single Occitano-Romance language was divided into political spheres of influence of France and Spain, respectively. The Ukrainian language is considered distinct from Russian partly due to a large number of borrowings from the Polish language in the vocabulary of the former, and borrowings from Turkic languages in the latter. Yiddish language is a complex blend of Old German with Hebrew and borrowings from Slavic languages.
Bilingual interaction can even take place without the speakers switching. In certain areas, it is not uncommon for speakers each to use a different language within the same conversation. This phenomenon is found, amongst other places, in Scandinavia. Most speakers of Swedish and Norwegian, and Norwegian and Danish, can communicate with each other speaking their respective languages, while few can speak both (people used to these situations often adjust their language, avoiding words that are not found in the other language or that can be misunderstood). Using different languages is usually called non-convergent discourse, a term introduced by the Dutch linguist Reitze Jonkman. The phenomenon is also found in Argentina, where Spanish and Italian are both widely spoken, even leading to cases where a child with a Spanish and an Italian parent grows up fully bilingual, with both parents speaking only their own language yet knowing the other. Another example is the former state of Czechoslovakia, where two languages (Czech and Slovak) were in common use. Most Czechs and Slovaks understand both languages, although they would use only one of them (their respective mother tongue) when speaking. For example, in Czechoslovakia it was common to hear two people talking on television each speaking a different language without any difficulty understanding each other. This bilinguality still exists nowadays, although it has started to deteriorate after Czechoslovakia split up.
In Canada there are several areas where French and English meet. It is quite common at dinner to speak only one language and listen in both. One even forgets what language the other person was speaking. With the coming of the 150th year of existence for Toronto the term Sesquicentennial Celebration was coined. Sesquicentennial means one and a half centuries. All across Ontario people suddenly knew what to call this one and a half language ability; sesquilingual. The term is now very universal. This use was first recorded in print in 1983 by William Sherk as seen in his 'Introduction' to 500 Years of New Words, Doubleday Canada Limited, Toronto, Canada; 1983. http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/sesquilingual.
Multilingualism at the linguistic level
Models for native language literacy programs
Sociopolitical as well as socio-cultural identity arguments may influence native language literacy. While these two camps may occupy much of the debate about which languages children will learn to read, a greater emphasis on the linguistic aspects of the argument is appropriate. In spite of the political turmoil precipitated by this debate, researchers continue to espouse a linguistic basis for it. This rationale is based upon the work of Jim Cummins (1983).
In this model, learners receive literacy instruction in their native language until they acquire a "threshold" literacy proficiency. Some researchers use age 3 as the age when a child has basic communicative competence in L1 (Kessler, 1984). Children may go through a process of sequential acquisition if they migrate at a young age to a country where a different language is spoken, or if the child exclusively speaks his or her heritage language at home until he/she is immersed in a school setting where instruction is offered in a different language.
The phases children go through during sequential acquisition are less linear than for simultaneous acquisition and can vary greatly among children. Sequential acquisition is a more complex and lengthier process, although there is no indication that non language-delayed children end up less proficient than simultaneous bilinguals, so long as they receive adequate input in both languages.
In this model, the native language and the community language are simultaneously taught. The advantage is literacy in two languages as the outcome. However, the teacher must be well-versed in both languages and also in techniques for teaching a second language.
This model posits that equal time should be spent in separate instruction of the native language and of the community language. The native language class, however, focuses on basic literacy while the community language class focuses on listening and speaking skills. Being a bilingual does not necessarily mean that one can speak, for example, English and French.
Cummins' research concluded that the development of competence in the native language serves as a foundation of proficiency that can be transposed to the second language — the common underlying proficiency hypothesis. His work sought to overcome the perception propagated in the 1960s that learning two languages made for two competing aims. The belief was that the two languages were mutually exclusive and that learning a second required unlearning elements and dynamics of the first in order to accommodate the second (Hakuta, 1990). The evidence for this perspective relied on the fact that some errors in acquiring the second language were related to the rules of the first language (Hakuta, 1990). How this hypothesis holds under different types of languages such as Romance versus non-Western languages has yet to undergo research.
Another new development that has influenced the linguistic argument for bilingual literacy is the length of time necessary to acquire the second language. While previously children were believed to have the ability to learn a language within a year, today researchers believe that within and across academic settings, the time span is nearer to five years (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992).
An interesting outcome of studies during the early 1990s however confirmed that students who do successfully complete bilingual instruction perform better academically (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992). These students exhibit more cognitive elasticity including a better ability to analyse abstract visual patterns. Students who receive bidirectional bilingual instruction where equal proficiency in both languages is required perform at an even higher level. Examples of such programs include international and multi-national education schools.
Multilingualism in computing
Multilingualisation (or "m17n") of computer systems can be considered part of a continuum between localisation ("L10n") and internationalisation ("i18n"):
- A localised system has been adapted or converted for a particular locale (other than the one it was originally developed for), including the language of the user interface, input, and display, and features such as time/date display and currency; but each instance of the system only supports a single locale.
- Multilingualised software supports multiple languages for display and input simultaneously, but generally has a single user interface language. Support for other locale features like time, date, number and currency formats may vary as the system tends towards full internationalisation. Generally a multilingualised system is intended for use in a specific locale, whilst allowing for multilingual content.
- An internationalised system is equipped for use in a range of locales, allowing for the co-existence of several languages and character sets in user interfaces and displays. In particular, a system may not be considered internationalised in the fullest sense unless the interface language is selectable by the user at runtime.
Translating the user interface is usually part of the software localization process, which also includes adaptations such as units and date conversion. Many software applications are available in several languages, ranging from a handful (the most spoken languages) to dozens for the most popular applications (such as office suites, web browsers, etc.). Due to the status of English in computing, software development nearly always uses it (but see also Non-English-based programming languages), so almost all commercial software is initially available in an English version, and multilingual versions, if any, may be produced as alternative options based on the English original.
- Adamic language
- Bimodal bilingualism
- Cognitive advantages to bilingualism
- Home language
- Language attrition
- Metalinguistic awareness
- Non-convergent discourse
- Second language acquisition
Policies and proposals
- European Commissioner for Multilingualism
- English-only movement
- Language legislation in Belgium
- Official bilingualism in Canada
- Bilingual name
- Bilingual sign
- Childhood Bilingualism Research Centre (in Hong Kong)
- Economics of language
- Linguapax Prize
- List of artworks known in English by a foreign title
- The Multilingual Library
- Category:Multilingual broadcasters
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Topics in second language acquisition LearnersMultilingualism · Heritage language · Multi-competence Learner language Linguistic factorsLanguage transfer · Linguistic universals Individual variation Strategies SLA hypotheses In the classroomFocus on form · Input enhancement Aptitude tests
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