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1. Bilingualism is a natural phenomenon worldwide.

Unwittingly, however, monolingualism has

been used as a standard to characterize and define bilingualism/multilingualism in linguistic
research. Such a conception led to a “fractional,” “irregular,” and “distorted” view of
bilingualism, which is becoming rapidly outmoded in the light of multipronged, rapidly
growing interdisciplinary research. This article presents a complex and holistic view of
bilinguals and multilinguals on conceptual, theoretical, and pragmatic/applied grounds. In
that process, it attempts to explain why bilinguals are not a mere composite of two
monolinguals. If bilinguals were a clone of two monolinguals, the study of bilingualism would
not merit any substantive consideration in order to come to grips with bilingualism; all one
would have to do is focus on the study of a monolingual person. Interestingly, even the two
bilinguals are not clones of each other, let alone bilinguals as a set of two monolinguals. This
paper examines the multiple worlds of bilinguals in terms of their social life and social
interaction. The intricate problem of defining and describing bilinguals is addressed; their
process and end result of becoming bilinguals is explored alongside their verbal interactions
and language organization in the brain. The role of social and political bilingualism is also
explored as it interacts with individual bilingualism and global bilingualism (e.g., the issue of
language endangerment and language death).

Other central concepts such as individuals’ bilingual language attitudes, language choices, and
consequences are addressed, which set bilinguals apart from monolinguals. Language acquisition is
as much an innate, biological, as social phenomenon; these two complementary dimensions receive
consideration in this article along with the educational issues of school performance by bilinguals. Is
bilingualism a blessing or a curse? The linguistic and cognitive consequences of individual, societal,
and political bilingualism are examined.

2.Bilingualism as a Natural Global Phenomenon: Becoming Bilingual

Bilingualism is not entirely a recent development; for instance, it constituted a grassroots

phenomenon in India and Africa since the pre-Christian era. Contrary to a widespread perception,
particularly in some primarily monolingual countries—for instance, Japan or China—or native
English-speaking countries, such as the United States, bilingualism or even multilingualism is not a
rare or exceptional phenomenon in the modern world; it was and it is, in fact, more widespread and
natural than monolingualism.

Department of States recognizes only 194 bilingual countries in the world. There are approximately
239 and 2,269 languages identified in Europe and Asia, respectively. According to Ethnologue, 94%
of the world’s population employs approximately 5% of its language resources. Furthermore, many
languages such as Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Bengali, Punjabi, Spanish, and Portuguese are spoken in
many countries around the globe. Such a linguistic situation necessitates people to live with
bilingualism and/or multilingualism. For an in-depth analysis of global bilingualism, see Bhatia and
Ritchie (2013).

3. Describing Bilingualism
Unlike monolingualism, childhood bilingualism is not the only source and stage of acquiring two or
more languages. Bilingualism is a lifelong process involving a host of factors (e.g., marriage,
immigration, and education), different processes (e.g., input conditions, input types, input
modalities and age), and yielding differential end results in terms of differential stages of
fossilization and learning curve (U-shape or nonlinear curve during their grammar and interactional
development). For this reason, it does not come as a surprise that defining, describing, and
categorizing a bilingual is not as simplistic as defining a monolingual person. In addition to individual
bilingualism, social and political bilingualism adds yet other dimensions to understanding
bilingualism. Naturally then, there is no universally agreed upon definition of a bilingual person.

Bilingual individuals are subjected to a wide variety of labels, scales, and dichotomies, which
constitute a basis of debates over what is bilingualism and who is a bilingual. Before shedding light
on the complexity of “individual” bilingualism, one should bear in mind that the notion of individual
bilingualism is not devoid of social bilingualism, or an absence of a shared social or group grammar.
The term “individual” bilingualism by no means refers to idiosyncratic aspects of bilinguals, which is
outside the scope of this work.

Relying on a Chomskyan research paradigm, bilingualism is approached from the theoretical

distinction of competence vs. performance (actual use). Equal competency and fluency in both
languages—an absolute clone of two monolinguals without a trace of accent from either language—
is one view of a bilingual person. This view can be characterized as the “maximal” view. Bloomfield’s
definition of a bilingual with “a native-like control of two languages” attempts to embody the
“maximal” viewpoint (Bloomfield, 1933). Other terms used to describe such individuals are
“ambilinguals” or “true bilinguals.” Such bilinguals are rare, or what Valdes terms, “mythical
bilingual” (Valdes, 2001). In contrast to maximal view, a “minimal” view contends that practically
every one is a bilingual. “That is no one in the world (no adult, anyway) which does not know at least
a few words in languages other than the maternal variety” (Edwards, 2004/2006). Diebold’s notion
of “Incipient bilingualism”—that is, exposure to two languages—belongs to the minimal view of
bilingualism (Diebold, 1964). While central to the minimalist viewpoint is the onset point of the
process of becoming a bilingual, the main focus of the maximalist view is the end result, or
termination point, of language acquisition. In other words, the issue of degree and the end state of
second language acquisition is at the heart of defining the concept of bilingualism.

Other researchers such as Mackey, Weinreich, and Haugen define bilingualism to capture language
use of bilinguals’ verbal behavior. For Haugen, bilingualism begins when the speakers of one
language produce complete meaningful utterances in the second language (Haugen, 1953; Mackey,
2000; Weinrich, 1953). Mackey, on the other hand, defines bilingualism as an “alternate use of two
or more languages” (Mackey, 2000). Observe that the main objective of the two definitions is to
focus on language use rather the degree of language proficiency or equal competency in two

The other notable types of bilingualism identified are as follows: Primary/Natural bilingualism in
which bilingualism is acquired in a natural setting without any formal training; Balanced bilingualism
that develops with minimal interference from both languages; Receptive or Passive bilingualism
wherein there is understanding of written and/or spoken proficiency in second language but an
inability to speak it; Productive bilingualism then entails an ability to understand and speak a second
language; Semilingualism, or an inability to express in in either language; and Bicultural bilingualism
vs. Monocultural bilingualism. The other types of bilingualism, such as Simultaneous vs. Successive
bilingualism (Wang, 2008), Additive vs. Subtractive bilingualism (Cummins, 2000), and Elite vs. Folk
bilingualism (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981), will be detailed later in this chapter. From this rich range of
scales and dichotomies, it becomes readily self-evident that the complexity of bilingualism and
severe limitation of the “fractional” view of bilingualism that bilinguals are two monolinguals in one
brain. Each case of bilingualism is a product of different sets of circumstances and, as a result, no
two bilinguals are the same. In other words, differences in the context of second language
acquisition (natural, as in the case of children) and proficiency in spoken, written, reading, and
listening skills in the second language, together with the consideration of culture, add further
complexity to defining individual bilingualism.

a.Individual Bilingualism: A Profile

The profile of this author further highlights the problems and challenges of defining and describing a
bilingual or multilingual person. The author, as an immigrant child growing up in India, acquired two
languages by birth: Saraiki—also called Multani and Lahanda, spoken primarily in Pakistan—and
Punjabi, which is spoken both in India and Pakistan. Growing up in the Hindi-speaking area, he
learned the third language Hindi-Urdu primarily in schools; and his fourth language, English,
primarily after puberty during his higher education in India and the United States. He cannot write or
read in Saraiki but can read Punjabi in Gurmukhi script, and he cannot write with the same
proficiency. He has native proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing. A close analysis of
his bilingualism reveals that no single label or category accounts for his multifaceted
bilingualism/multilingualism. Interestingly, his self-assessment finds him linguistically least secured
in his two languages, which he acquired at birth. Is he a semilingual without a mother tongue? No
matter how challenging it is to come to grips with bilingualism and, consequently, develop a
“holistic” view of bilingualism, it is clear that a bilingual person demonstrates many complex
attributes rarely seen in a monolingual person. See Edwards (2004/2006) and Wei (2013) for more
details. Most important, multiple languages serve as a vehicle to mark multiple identities (e.g.,
religious, regional, national, ethnic, etc.).

b. Social Bilingualism

While social bilingualism embodies linguistic dimensions of individual bilingualism, a host of social,
attitudinal, educational, and historical aspects of bilingualism primarily determine the nature of
social bilingualism. Social bilingualism refers to the interrelationship between linguistic and non-
linguistic factors such as social evaluation/value judgements of bilingualism, which determine the
nature of language contact, language maintenance and shift, and bilingual education among others.
For instance, in some societies, bilingualism is valued and receives positive evaluation and is, thus,
encouraged while in other societies bilingualism is seen as a negative and divisive force and is, thus,
suppressed or even banned in public and educational arenas. Compare the pattern of
intergenerational bilingualism in India and the United states, where it is well-known that second or
third-generation immigrants in the United States lose their ethnic languages and turn monolinguals
in English (Fishman, Nahirny, Hofman, & Hayden, 1966). Conversely, Bengali or Punjabi immigrants
living in Delhi, generation after generation, do not become monolinguals in Hindi, the dominant
language of Delhi. Similarly, elite bilingualism vs. folk bilingualism has historically prevailed in
Europe, Asia, and other continents and has gained a new dimension in the rapidly evolving
globalized society. As aristocratic society patronized bilingualism with French or Latin in Europe,
bilingualism served as a source of elitism in South Asia in different ages of Persian and English. Folk
bilingualism is often the byproduct of social dominance and imposition of a dominant group. While
elite bilingualism is viewed as an asset, folk bilingualism is seen as problematic both in social and
educational arenas (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981). One of the outcomes of a stable elite and folk
bilingualism is diglossia (e.g., Arabic, German, Greek, and Tamil) where both High (elite) and Low
(colloquial) varieties of a language—or two languages with High and Low social distinctions—coexist
(e.g., French and English diglossia after the Norman conquest (Ferguson, 1959). Diasporic language
varieties have been examined by Clyne and Kipp (1999) and Bhatia (2016). Works by Baker and Jones
(1998) show how bilinguals belong to communities of variable types due to accommodation
(Sachdev & Giles, 2004/2006), indexicality (Eckert & Rickford, 2001), social meaning of language
attitudes (Giles & Watson, 2013; Sachdev & Bhatia, 2013), community of practice, and even
imagined communities.

c.Political Bilingualism

Political bilingualism refers to the language policies of a country. Unlike individual bilingualism,
categories such as monolingual, bilingual, and multilingual nations do not reflect the actual linguistic
situation in a particular country (Edwards, 1995, 2004/2006; Romaine, 1989/1995). Canada, for
instance, is officially recognized as a bilingual country. This means that Canada promotes
bilingualism as a language policy of the country as well as in Canadian society as a whole. By no
means does it imply that most speakers in Canada are bilinguals. In fact, monolingual countries may
reflect a high degree of bilingualism. Multilingual countries such as South Africa, Switzerland, Finland
and Canada often use one of the two approaches—“Personality” and “Territorial”—to ensure
bilingualism. The Personality principle aims to preserve individual rights (Extra & Gorter, 2008;
Mackey, 1967) while the Territorial principle ensures bilingualism or multilingual within a particular
area to a variable degree, as in the case of Belgium. In India, where 23 languages are officially
recognized, the government’s language policies are very receptive to multilingualism. The “three-
language formula” is the official language policy of the country (Annamalai, 2001). In addition to
learning Hindi and English, the co-national languages, school children can learn a third language
spoken within or outside their state.

4. The Bilingual Mind: Language Organization, Language Choices, and Verbal Behavior

Unlike monolinguals, a decision to speak multiple languages requires a complex unconscious process
on the part of bilinguals. Since a monolingual’s choice is restricted to only one language, the decision
to choose a language is relatively simple involving, at most, the choice of an informal style over a
formal style or vice versa. However, the degree and the scale of language choice are much more
complicated for bilinguals since they need to choose not only between different styles but also
between different languages. It is a widely held belief, at least in some monolingual speech
communities, that the process of language choice for bilinguals is a random one that can lead to a
serious misunderstanding and a communication failure between monolinguals and bi- and
multilingual communities (see pitfalls of a sting operation by a monolingual FBI agent (Ritchie &
Bhatia, 2013)). Such a misconception of bilingual verbal behavior is also responsible for
communication misunderstandings about social motivations of bilinguals’ language choices by
monolinguals; for example, the deliberate exclusion or sinister motives on the part of bilinguals
when their language choice is different from a monolingual’s language. A number of my
international students have reported that on several occasions monolingual English speakers feel
compelled to remind them that they are in America and they should be using English, rather than say
Chinese or Arabic, with countrymen/women.

Now let us examine some determinants of language choice by bilinguals. Consider the case of this
author’s verbal behavior and linguistic choices that he normally makes while interacting with his
family during a dinner table conversation in India. He shares two languages with his sisters-in-law
(Punjabi and Hindi) and four languages with his brothers (Saraiki, Punjabi, Hindi, and English). While
talking about family matters or other informal topics, he uses Punjabi with his sisters-in-law but
Saraiki with his brothers. If the topic involves ethnicity, then the entire family switches to Punjabi.
Matters of educational and political importance are expressed in English and Hindi, respectively.
These are unmarked language choices, which the author makes unconsciously and effortlessly with
constant language switching depending on participants, speech events, situations, or other factors.
Such a behavior is largely in agreement with the sociolinguistic Model of Markedness, which
attempts to explain the sociolinguistic motivation of code-switching by considering language choice
as a means of communicating desired group membership, or perceived group memberships, and
interpersonal relationships (Pavlenko, 2005).

Speaking Sariki with brothers and Punjabi with sister-in-laws represent unconscious and unmarked
choices. Any shift to a marked choice is, of course, possible on theoretical grounds; however, it can
take a serious toll in terms of social relationships. The use of Hindi or English during a general family
dinner conversation (i.e., a “marked” choice) will necessarily signal social distancing and fractured

Languages choice is not as simple as it seems at first from the above example of family conversation.
In some cases, it involves a complex process of negotiation. Talking with a Punjabi-Hindi-English
trilingual waiter in an Indian restaurant, the choice of ethnic language, Punjabi, by a customer such
as this author may seem to be a natural choice at first. Often, it is not the case if the waiter refuses
to match the language choice of the customer and replies in English. The failure to negotiate a
language in such cases takes an interesting turn of language mismatching before a common
language of verbal exchange is finally agreed upon; often, it turns out to be a neutral and prestige
language: English. See Ritchie and Bhatia (2013) for further details. When the unmarked choice is
not clear, speakers tend to use code-switching in an exploratory way to determine language choice
and thus restore a social balance.

During a speech event, language choice is not always static either. If the topic of conversation shifts
from a casual topic to a formal topic such as education, a more suitable choice in this domain would
be English; subsequently, a naturally switch to English will take place. In other words,
“complementarity” language domains or language-specific domain allocation represent the salient
characteristics of bilingual language choice. The differential domain allocation manifests itself in the
use of “public” vs. “private” language by bilinguals, which is central to bilingual verbal repertoire
(Ritchie & Bhatia, 2013). Often the role of expressing emotions or one’s private world is best played
by the bilingual’s mother tongue rather than by the second or prestige/distant language. Research
on bilingualism, emotions, and autobiographical memory accounts of bilinguals shows that an
account of emotional events is qualitatively and quantitatively different when narrated in one’s
mother tongue than in a distant second language (Devaele, 2010; Pavlenko, 2005). While the
content of an event can be narrated equally well in either language, the emotional experience/pain
is best described in the first language of the speaker. Particularly, bilingual parents use their first
language for terms of endearment for their children. Their first language serves as the best vehicle
for denoting emotions toward their children than any other language in their verbal repertoire.
Taboo topics, on the other hand, favor the second or a distant language.

Any attempt to characterize the bilingual mind must account for the following three natural aspects
of bilingual verbal behavior: (1) Depending upon the communicative circumstances, bilinguals swing
between the monolingual and bilingual language modes; (2) Bilinguals have an ability to keep two or
more languages separate whenever needed; and (3) More interestingly, they can also carry out an
integration of two or more languages within a speech event.

5. Bilingual Language Modes

Bilinguals are like a sliding switch who can move between one or more language states/modes as
required for the production, comprehension, and processing of verbal messages in a most cost-
effective and efficient way. If bilinguals are placed in a predominantly monolingual setting, they are
likely to activate only one language; while in a bilingual environment, they can easily shift into a
bilingual mode to a differential degree. The activation or deactivation process is not time consuming.
In a bilingual environment, this process usually does not require bilinguals to take more than a
couple of milliseconds to swing into a bilingual language mode and revert back to a monolingual
mode with the same time efficiency. However, under unexpected circumstances (e.g., caught off-
guard by a white Canadian speaking an African language in Canada) or under emotional trauma or
cultural shock, the activation takes considerable time. In the longitudinal study of his daughter,
Hildegard, reported that Hildegard, while in Germany, came to tears at one point when she could
not activate her mother tongue, English (Leopard, 1939–1950). The failure to ensure natural
conditions responsible for the activation of bilingual language mode is a common methodological
shortcoming of bilingual language testing, see Grosjean (2004/2006, 2010). An in-depth review of
processing cost involved in the language activation-deactivation process can be found in Meuter
(2005). Do bilinguals turn on their bilingual mode, even if only one language is needed to perform a
task? Recent research employing an electrophysiological and experimental approach shows that
both languages compete for selection even if only one language is needed to perform a task (Martin,
Dering, Thomas, & Thierry, 2009; Hoshino & Thierry, 2010). For more recent works on parallel
language activation and language competition in speech planning and speech production, see
Blumenfeld and Marian (2013). In other words, the potential of activation and deactivation of
language modes—both monolingual and bilingual mode—hold an important key to bilingual’s
language use.

6. Bilingual Language Development: Nature vs. Nurture

Beyond innateness (e.g., nature, Biolinguistic and Neurological basis of language acquisition), social
factors play a critical play in the language development of bilinguals. As pointed out earlier,
describing and defining bilingualism is a formidable task. This is due to the fact that attaining
bilingualism is a lifelong process; a complex array of conditions gives rise to the development of
language among bilinguals. Based on the recommendation of educators, among others, bilingual
families usually adopt a “One-Parent/One-Language” strategy with different combinations, such as
language allocation based on time and space; for example, using one language in the morning and
other in the evening or one language in the kitchen and another in the living room. This is done to
maintain minority language. In spite of their obvious potential benefits for language maintenance,
such strategies fall short in raising bilingual and bicultural children for a number of reasons, including
imparting pragmatic and communicative competence and providing negative and positive evidence
to children undergoing heritage language development with sociolinguistically real verbal
interactional patterns (Bhatia & Ritchie, 1995). Therefore, De Houwer (2007) rightly points out that it
is important for children to be receiving language input in the minority language from both parents
at home. This also represents a common practice in non-Western societies in Asia (e.g., India) and
Africa (e.g., Nigeria) where both parents, including members of the joint family minority languages,
speak in their minority language.

While raising bilingual children does not pose any serious challenge for majority children (e.g.,
English-speaking children learning French in Canada), it is a different story for minority or heritage
children. Sadly, a complex mix of political and social bilingualism leads heritage/minority parents,
who themselves experience adverse discrimination in social and work settings, simply to prohibit the
use of minority languages in family and educational environments. This practice, no matter how well
intended, often results in negative school performance and emotional problems for minority

7. Effects of Bilingualism

Until the middle of the 20th century in the United States, researchers engaged in examining the
relationship between intelligence and bilingualism concluded that bilingualism has serious adverse
effects on early childhood development. Such findings led to the development of the “factional”
view of bilingualism, which was grounded in a flawed monolingual perspective on the limited
linguistic capacity of the brain on one hand and the Linguistic Deficit Hypothesis on the other.

Their line of argument was that crowding the brain with two languages leads to a variety of
impairments in both the linguistic and the cognitive abilities of the child. Naturally, then, they
suggested that bilingual children not only suffer from semilingualism (i.e., lacking proficiency both in
their mother tongue and the second language) and stuttering, etc., but also from low intelligence,
mental retardation, left handedness, and even schizophrenia.

It took more than half a century before a more accurate and positive view of bilingualism emerged.
The main credit for this goes to the pioneering work of Peal and Lambert (1962), which revealed the
actual benefits of bilingualism. The view of bilingualism that subsequently emerged can be
characterized as the Linguistic Augmentation Hypothesis (Peal & Lambert, 1962). Peal and Lambert
studied earlier balanced bilingual children and controlled for factors such as socioeconomic status.
Sound on methodological grounds, their result showed bilinguals to be intellectually superior to their
monolingual counterparts. Their study, which was conducted in Montreal, changed the face of
research on bilingualism. Many studies conducted around the globe have replicated the findings of
Peal and Lambert. In short, cognitive, cultural, economic, and cross-cultural communication
advantages of childhood and lifelong bilingualism are many, including reversing the effects of aging
(Bialystok, 2005; Hakuta, 1986). Nevertheless, the effects of bilingualism on children’s cognitive
development, particularly on executive function and attention, is far from conclusive; see Klein
(2015) and Bialystok (2015).
8. Bilingualism: Language Spread, Maintenance, Endangerment, and Death

Language contact and its consequences represent the core of theoretical and descriptive linguistic
studies devoted to bilingualism, and onto which globalization has added a new dimension. Ironically,
in the age of globalization, the spread of English and other Indo-European languages, namely,
Spanish and Portuguese, has led to the rise of bilingualism induced by these languages; they also
pose a threat to the linguistic diversity of the world. Researchers claim that about half the known
languages of the world have already vanished in the last 500 years, and that at least half, if not
more, of the 6,909 living languages will become extinct in the next century (Hale, 1992; Nettle &
Romaine, 2000). Research on language maintenance, language shift, and language death addresses
the questions of why and how some languages spread and others die. Phillipson and Mufwene
attempt to account for language endangerment within the framework of language imperialism
(2010) and language ecology (2001), respectively. Fishman (2013) examines the ways to reverse the
tide of language endangerment. Skutnabb-Kangas views minority language maintenance as a human
rights issue in public and educational arenas (1953).

*critical Analysis of Scholarship

Advances in our understanding of bilingualism have come a long way since the predominance of the
“factional” and linguistically deficient view of bilingualism. The complexity and diverse conditions
responsible for lifelong bilingualism has led to a better understanding of this phenomenon on
theoretical, methodological, and analytical grounds. A paradigm shift from monolingualism and the
emergence of a new, interdisciplinary approach promises new challenges and directions in the
future study of bilingualism. Bilingualism, unlike monolingualism, exhibits complex individual, social,
political, psychological, and educational dimensions in addition to involving a complex interaction of
two or more languages in terms of coexistence, competition, and cooperation of two linguistic
systems. Additionally, although bilingualism is a lifelong process, the language development among
bilinguals is not merely a linear process; there are turns and twists on the way to becoming bilingual,
trilingual, and multilingual. The path to trilingualism is even more complex than growing up with two
languages (Bhatia & Ritchie, 2016).

The role of sociolinguistic factors in language learning; language use (creativity); language
maintenance; and language shift, particularly in trilingual language acquisition and use, opens new
challenging areas of future research. The main challenge for theoreticians and practitioners is how to
come to grips with various facets of the bilingual brain ranging from language contact, bilingual
language interaction, to language modes of the bilingual mind/brain on one hand and
methodological issues on the other.

Despite a number of studies on the Critical Period Hypothesis, and other competing hypotheses of
bilingual language acquisition, future research in cognitive aptitude, age, and multiple language
effects with the lens of interdisciplinary debatable findings and methodologies continues to pose
new challenges and promises to the field of bilingualism (Long, 2016).