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Multilingual sign outside the mayor's office in Novi Sad, written in the four official languages of the city: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Pannonian Rusyn

Multilingualism is the use of two or more languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population.[1][broken citation] Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness.[2] Owing to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is becoming increasingly frequent, thereby promoting a need to acquire additional languages.

People who speak several languages are also called polyglots.[3]


The definition of multilingualism is a subject of debate in the very same way as the definition of language fluency. On one end of a sort of linguistic continuum, one may define multilingualism as complete competence and mastery in another language. The speaker would presumably have complete knowledge and control over the language so as to sound native. On the opposite end of the spectrum would be people who know enough phrases to get around as a tourist using the alternate language. Since 1992, Vivian Cook has argued that most multilingual speakers fall somewhere between minimal and maximal definitions. Cook calls these people multi-competent.

In addition, there is no consistent definition of what constitutes a distinct language. For instance, scholars often disagree whether Scots is a language in its own right or a dialect of English.[4] Furthermore, what is considered a language can change, often for purely political purposes, such as when Serbo-Croatian was created as a standard language on the basis of the Eastern Herzegovinian dialect to function as umbrella for numerous South Slavic dialects, and after the breakup of Yugoslavia was split into Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, or when Ukrainian was dismissed as a Russian dialect by the Russian tsars to discourage national feelings.[5]

Many small independent nations' schoolchildren are today compelled to learn multiple languages because of international interactions.[6] 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 German or Russian. In some large nations with multiple languages, such as India, 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, and the official languages of India, Hindi and English.) Thus a child of Gujarati parents living in Bangalore will end up speaking his or her mother tongue (Gujarati) at home and the state language (Kannada), Hindi and English in school and his or her surroundings.

Multilingual individuals[edit]

A multilingual person is someone who can communicate in more than one language, either 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.

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.

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 cannot easily accomplish. Consequently, descriptive empirical studies of languages are usually carried out using only native speakers. 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, media personalities 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 a lingua franca or a shared common language of professional and commercial communities. In lingua franca situations, most speakers of the common language are functionally multilingual.

Cognitive ability[edit]

Bilinguals who are highly proficient in two or more languages are reported to have enhanced executive function[7][8] and are better at some aspects of language learning compared to monolinguals.[9] Research indicates that a multilingual brain is nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts, and resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.[10]

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.[citation needed] For example the East Bengal rooted bangali muslim community of Assam province in India. As mentioned, their mother tongue is Bangla. But they have no opportunity to study in the MT in the school. Their medium language of study is Assamese, i. e., the provincial language. So they communicate in a mean language standard mixing both the mother tongue and the medium language. Because they have no chance to study both the languages separately, they can't differentiate between the two and maintain it in expression. Literacy plays an important role in the development of language in these immigrant children.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

There are differences between those who learn a language in a class environment and those who learn through total immersion, usually living in a country where the target language is widely spoken.

Without the possibility to actively translate, due to a complete lack of any first language communication opportunity, the comparison between languages is reduced. The new language is almost independently learned, like the mother tongue for a child, with direct concept-to-language translation that can become more natural than word structures learned as a subject. Added to this, the uninterrupted, immediate and exclusive practice of the new language reinforces and deepens the attained knowledge.

Economic benefits[edit]

Bilinguals might have important labor market advantages over monolingual individuals as bilingual people are able to carry out duties that monolinguals cannot, such as interacting with customers who only speak a minority language. A study in Switzerland has found that multilingualism is positively correlated with an individual's salary, the productivity of firms, and the gross domestic production (GDP); the authors state that Switzerland’s GDP is augmented by 10% by multilingualism.[11] A study in the United States by Agirdag found that bilingualism has substantial economic benefits as bilingual persons were found to have around $3,000 per year more salary than monolinguals.[12]

Receptive bilingualism[edit]

Receptive bilinguals are those who have the ability to understand a second language but who cannot speak it or whose abilities to speak it are inhibited by psychological barriers. Receptive bilingualism is frequently encountered among adult immigrants to the U.S. who do not speak English as a native language but who have children who do speak English natively, usually in part because those children's education has been conducted in English; while the immigrant parents can understand both their native language and English, they speak only their native language to their children. If their children are likewise receptively bilingual but productively English-monolingual, throughout the conversation the parents will speak their native language and the children will speak English. If their children are productively bilingual, however, those children may answer in the parents' native language, in English, or in a combination of both languages, varying their choice of language depending on factors such as the communication's content, context, and/or emotional intensity and the presence or absence of third-party speakers of one language or the other. The third alternative represents the phenomenon of "code-switching" in which the productively bilingual party to a communication switches languages in the course of that communication. Receptively bilingual persons, especially children, may rapidly achieve oral fluency by spending extended time in situations where they are required to speak the language that they theretofore understood only passively. Until both generations achieve oral fluency, not all definitions of bilingualism accurately characterize the family as a whole, but the linguistic differences between the family's generations often constitute little or no impairment to the family's functionality.[citation needed]

Receptive bilingualism in one language as exhibited by a speaker of another language, or even as exhibited by most speakers of that language, is not the same as mutual intelligibility of languages; the latter is a property of a pair of languages, namely a consequence of objectively high lexical and grammatical similarities between the languages themselves (e.g., Iberian Spanish and Iberian Portuguese), whereas the former is a property of one or more persons and is determined by subjective or intersubjective factors such as the respective languages' prevalence in the life history (including family upbringing, educational setting, and ambient culture) of the person or persons.[13]


Because it is difficult or impossible to master many of the high-level semantic aspects of a language (including but not limited to its idioms and eponyms) without first understanding the culture and history of the region in which that language evolved, as a practical matter an in-depth familiarity with multiple cultures is a prerequisite for high-level multilingualism. This knowledge of cultures individually and comparatively, or indeed the mere fact of one's having that knowledge, often forms an important part of both what one considers one's own personal identity to be and what others consider that identity to be.[14] Some studies have found that groups of multilingual individuals get higher average scores on tests for certain personality traits such as cultural empathy, openmindedness and social initiative.[15][16]

The idea of linguistic relativity, which claims that the language people speak influences the way they see the world, can be interpreted to mean that individuals who speak multiple languages have a broader, more diverse view of the world, even when speaking only one language at a time.[17]

Some bilinguals feel that their personality changes depending on which language they are speaking;[18][19] thus multilingualism is said to create multiple personalities. Xiao-lei Wang states in her book Growing up with Three Languages: Birth to Eleven: "Languages used by speakers with one or more than one language are used not just to represent a unitary self, but to enact different kinds of selves, and different linguistic contexts create different kinds of self-expression and experiences for the same person." However, there has been little rigorous research done on this topic and it is difficult to define “personality” in this context. François Grosjean wrote: "What is seen as a change in personality is most probably simply a shift in attitudes and behaviors that correspond to a shift in situation or context, independent of language."[20]

However, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that a language shapes our vision of the world, may suggest that a language learned by a grown-up may have much less emotional connotations and therefore allow a more serene discussion that a language learned by a child and to that respect more or less bound to a child's perception of the world.

Learning language[edit]

Main article: Language education

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 () and certain other characteristics of language used by speakers around the learner.[21] 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. European schools generally offer secondary language classes for their students early on, due to the interconnectedness with neighbour countries with different languages. Most European students now study at least two foreign languages, a process strongly encouraged by the European Union.[22]

Based on the research in Ann Fathman’s The Relationship between age and second language productive ability,[23][24] 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.

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.[25] 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.[25] 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.[26]


Various aspects of multilingualism have been studied in the field of neurology. These include the representation of different language systems in the brain, the effects of multilingualism on the brain's structural plasticity, aphasia in multilingual individuals, and bimodal bilinguals (people who can speak one sign language and one oral language). Neurological studies of multilingualism are carried out with functional neuroimaging,[27] and through observation of people who have suffered brain damage.

The brain contains areas that are specialized to deal with language, located in the perisylvian cortex of the left hemisphere. These areas are crucial for performing language tasks, but they are not the only areas that are used; disparate parts of both right and left brain hemispheres are active during language production. In multilingual individuals, there is a great deal of similarity in the brain areas used for each of their languages. The little variation that there is depends on two main factors, age and language proficiency, with language proficiency being the most important. Multilingualism also affects the structural plasticity of the brain. Bilinguals, particularly those who learned their second language early in life, show increased density of grey matter in the inferior parietal cortex. Although there is some debate over whether this is due to genetic predisposition to increased density or to experience, overall the research suggests that the process of second-language acquisition restructures the brain itself.

Insights into the neurology of multilingualism have been gained by the study of multilingual individuals with aphasia, or the loss of one or more languages as a result of brain damage. Bilingual aphasics can show several different patterns of recovery; they may recover one language but not another, they may recover both languages simultaneously, or they may involuntarily mix different languages during language production during the recovery period. These patterns are explained by the dynamic view of bilingual aphasia, which holds that the language system of representation and control is compromised as a result of brain damage.

Research has also been carried out into the neurology of bimodal bilinguals, or people who can speak one oral language and one sign language. Work with PET scans shows that there is a separate area in the brain for working memory related to sign language, and that bimodal bilinguals use different areas in the right hemisphere depending on whether they are signing or speaking. Studies with bimodal bilinguals have also provided insight into the tip of the tongue phenomenon and into patterns of neural activity when recognizing facial expressions.

Neural representation in the bilingual brain[edit]

Functional neuroimaging and language organization in the human brain[edit]

Work in the field of cognitive neuroscience has located classical language areas within the perislyvian cortex of the left hemisphere. This area is crucial for the representation of language, but other areas in the brain are shown to be active in this function as well. Language-related activation occurs in the middle and inferior temporal gyri, the temporal pole, the fusiform gyri, the lingula, in the middle prefrontal areas (i.e. dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), and in the insula. There also appears to be activation in the right hemisphere during most language tasks [28]

Language-related areas are dedicated to certain components of language processing (e.g. lexical semantics). These areas are functionally characterized by linguistically pertinent systems, such as phonology, syntax, and lexical semantics — and not in speaking, reading, and listening.[28] In the normal human brain, areas associated with linguistic processing are less rigid than previously thought. For example, increased familiarity with a language has been found to lead to decreases in brain activation in left dorsolateral frontal cortex (Brodmann areas, 9, 10, 46).[29][30]

Language production in bilinguals[edit]

Bilingualism involves the use of two languages by an individual or community. Neuroimaging studies of bilingualism generally focus on a comparison of activated areas when using the first language (L1) and second language (L2). Studies of language production which employ functional neuroimaging methods, investigate the cerebral representation of language activity in bilinguals. These methods (i.e. PET and fMRI) separate subjects mainly on basis of age of L2 acquisition and not on proficiency level in L2.

With the use of PET in the study of late learners, regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) distribution has been found to be comparable between L1 and L2. Repetition of words engages overlapping neural structures across both languages; whereas, differences in neural activation are only observed in the left putamen when individuals repeat words in their second language. The putamen, therefore, plays a critical role because the articulation process places greater demand on brain resources, when one is producing a second language learned late in life.[31]

Word generation tasks including rhyme generation (phonological bases), synonym generation (semantic search bases), and translation (lexical access to other language) are used to observe lexical-semantics. Word generation has been shown to cause significant activation in the left dorsolateral frontal cortex (Brodmann areas 9, 45, 46, 47). Considerable overlie has been found in the frontal areas, regardless of task requirements (rhymes or synonyms) and language used (L1 or L2). Selective activation is observed in the left putamen when words are generated in the second language (i.e. increased rCBF in left putamen resulting from L2-L1 subtractions). Even when the second language is acquired later in life (up to age five), L2 production in highly proficient bilinguals reveals activation of similar brain regions as that in L1.[31]

Word generation (phonemic verbal fluency) has also led to larger foci of brain activation for the least fluent language(s) within multilinguals (observed using fMRI). Regardless of language, however, activation is principally found in the left prefrontal cortex (inferior frontal, middle frontal, and precentral gyri). Additionally, activation can be observed in the supplementary motor area and parietal lobe. This activation is larger for L3 than L2 and L1, and less for L1 than for L2. Familiarity with a language reduces the brain activation required for its use.[32]

Age of second language acquisition[edit]

Language acquisition appears to play a large role in the cortical organization involved in second language processing. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), representations of L1 and L2 have been found in spatially isolated parts of the left inferior frontal cortex of late learners (Broca's area). For early learners, similar parts of Broca's area are activated for both languages — whereas late learners have shown to use different parts of Broca's area. In contrast, there is overlap in active regions of L1 and L2 within Wernicke's area, regardless of age of L2 acquisition.[33]

Effects of language proficiency on L2 cortical representation[edit]

Conversely, it has also been reported that there is at times, no difference within the left prefrontal cortex when comparing word generation in early bilinguals and late bilinguals [34] It has been reported that these findings may conflict with those stated above because of different levels of proficiency in each language. That is, an individual who resides in a bilingual society is more likely to be highly proficient in both languages, as opposed to a bilingual individual who lives in a dominantly monolingual community. Thus, language proficiency is another factor affecting the neuronal organization of language processing in bilinguals.[28]

With the use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET), research has shown that brain regions active during translation are outside classical language areas.[35] Translating from L1 to L2 and vice versa activates the anterior cingulate and bilateral subcortical structures (i.e. putamen and head of caudate nucleus). This pattern is explained in terms of the need for greater coordination of mental operations. More specifically, automated circuits are favoured over cerebral pathways for naming words. Language switching is another task in which brain activation is high in Broca's area and the supramarginal gyrus. This was originally observed by Poetzl, (1925, 1930) and Leischner, (1943) — all of whom reported that patients with supramarginal lesions were defective in switching languages.[28]

Linguistic fluency[edit]

Most studies involving neuroimaging investigations of language production in bilinguals employ tasks that require single word processing — predominantly in the form of word generation (fluency) tasks.[28] Fluency tasks show substantial activation of the left dorsolateral frontal cortex.[36] Phonemic verbal fluency (initial letter fluency) activates the left inferior frontal gyrus, and the posterior frontal operculum (Ba 44). Semantic fluency, however, engages discrete activation of anterior frontal regions (Brodmann areas 45 and 46).[28]

Functional neuroimaging research has shown that very early bilinguals display no difference in brain activation for L1 and L2 — which is assumed to be due to high proficiency in both languages. Additionally, in highly proficient late bilinguals, there is a common neural network that plays an important role in language production tasks;[34][37] whereas, in late bilinguals, spatially separated regions are activated in Broca's area for L1 and L2.[33] Finally, it has been found that larger cerebral activation is measured when a language is spoken less fluently than when languages are spoken fluently. Overall, in bilinguals/polyglots, achieved proficiency, and possibly language exposure, are more crucial than age of acquisition in the cerebral representation of languages.[28] However, since age of acquisition has a strong effect on the likelihood of achieving high fluency, these variables are strongly intertwined.

Language comprehension in bilinguals[edit]

Research generally supports the belief that language comprehension in the bilingual brain is malleable.[38][39][40] Listening to stories in L1 and L2 results in largely dissimilar patterns of neural activity in low proficiency bilinguals — regardless of age of acquisition. Some researchers propose that the amount to which one masters L2 is accountable for the measured differences between groups of early and late learners.[28] Specifically, in terms of auditory language comprehension for proficient bilinguals who have acquired L2 after ten years of age (late learners), the activated neural areas are similar for both languages. However, as already noted, there are fewer individuals becoming highly proficient at later ages of acquisition.

Language comprehension research on bilinguals used fMRI techniques. Groups of two orthographically and phonologically outlying languages (English and Mandarin) were the basis of analysis.[41] Sentence comprehension was measured through visually presented stimuli, showing significant activation in several key areas: the left inferior and middle frontal gyri, the left superior and middle temporal gyri, the left temporal pole, the anterior supplementary motor area, and bilateral representation of the superior parietal regions and occipital regions. Also, brain activation of these two orthographically and phonologically outlying languages showed striking overlap (i.e. the direct contrast did not indicate significant differences). Single word comprehension using L1 generated greater activation in the temporal pole than comprehension of words in L2. Language comprehension studies of bilinguals using neuroimaging give more conclusive results than production studies.

General findings[edit]

Functional neuroimaging methods such as PET and fMRI are used to study the complex neural mechanisms of the human language systems. Functional neuroimaging is used to determine the most important principles of cerebral language organization in bilingual persons. Based on the evidence we can conclude that the bilingual brain is not the addition of two monolingual language systems, but operates as a complex neural network that can differ across individuals.[28]

The bilingual language system is affected by specific factors of which proficiency appears to be the most important. Evidence, mentioned previously, has shown that differential cerebral activation in anterior brain structures (e.g. Ba and the basal ganglia) is related to poor performance on word generation and production. With regards to language comprehension, differences in levels of language proficiency engage the temporal lobes (particularly the temporal pole). Interestingly, where in the least proficient language, more cerebral activation is related to speech production, less activation is related to comprehending the least proficient language.

Age of acquisition is not as important in comprehension activities as it is in production activities.[28] However, that is not to say that age of acquisition is not a major factor in the proficiency of L2. In fact studies have determined late learners to be less proficient in L2 than early learners.[42][43][44] Functional imaging methods have revealed that holding proficiency constant leads to age of acquisition not having a large influence on representation of L2 in the brain, but there are fewer individuals achieving high proficiency at later ages of acquisition.

Structural plasticity[edit]

Second language proficiency and age at acquisition affect grey matter density in the brain. The human ability to learn multiple languages is a skill thought to be mediated by functional (rather than structural) plastic changes in the brain. Learning a second language is said to increase grey matter density in the left inferior parietal cortex, and the amount of structural reorganization in this region is modulated by the proficiency attained and the age at acquisition. It has been suggested that this relation between grey matter density and performance denotes a general principle of brain organization.[45]

There is an increase in grey matter density in the left inferior parietal cortex of bilinguals compared to that in monolinguals. Interestingly, grey matter density is more prominent in early bilinguals than it is in late bilinguals. Evidence has also shown that density in this region increases with second language proficiency and is negatively correlated with age of acquisition.[45]

It is debated whether the above-mentioned effects are the result of a genetic predisposition to increased density, rather than experience-related structural reorganization.[46] A second language is likely acquired through social experience, in early bilinguals, rather than through genetic predisposition. Thus, the research suggests that the structure of the human brain is reworked by the experience of acquiring a second language.[47][48]

This theory is also consistent with growing evidence that the human brain changes structurally due to environmental demands. For instance, it has been established that structure is altered as a consequence of learning in domains independent of language.[49][50]

As to structural plasticity induced by bilingualism, it has recently been shown that bilinguals, as compared to monolinguals, have increased grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The ACC is a brain structure that helps subjects to monitor their actions and it is part of the attentional and executive control system. Bilinguals have increased grey matter in this brain area because they continuously monitor their languages in order to avoid unwanted language interferences from the language not in use. The continuous use of the ACC in turn induces plastic neural effects. This may be the same reason why bilinguals are faster than monolinguals on many attentional control tasks [51]

Bilingual aphasia[edit]

Bilingual aphasia is a specific form of aphasia which affects one or more languages of a bilingual (or multilingual) individual. As of 2001, 45,000 new cases of bilingual aphasia are predicted annually in the United States.[52] The main factors influencing the outcomes of bilingual aphasia are the number of languages spoken and the order in which they are learned — both influenced by the pattern of daily use and expertise in each language before the onset of aphasia. The type and severity of the aphasia, as well as the patient's levels of education and literacy also influence the functional outcomes of bilingual aphasia.[53]

There are two proposed theoretical views generally taken to approach bilingual aphasia. The more traditional Localizationist view, states that the loss of one language occurs because the patient's languages are represented in different brain areas or in different hemispheres. Thus, if one area is damaged, only the language represented there would suffer, and the others would not.[54] The second view is the Dynamic view of selective language recovery, which proposes that the language system of representation and control is compromised as a result of damage.[55][56][57] This theory is supported by the functional imaging data of normal bilinguals and holds that fluency in a language is lost because of an increase in the activation threshold. The Dynamic view offers an explanation for selective recovery of language and many reported recovery patterns in bilingual aphasia (See Recovery[57]) There is much debate over which hemisphere supports the languages and which intrahemispheric neural regions represent each language within a bilingual individual. Most neuroimaging studies show no laterality differences between monolingual and bilingual speakers, supporting the hypothesis that languages share some areas of the brain, but also have some separate neural areas.[33][58][59] Right hemisphere damage has been shown to result in the same patterns of cognitive-communication deficits in monolinguals and bilinguals; however, bilingual speakers who have left hemisphere damage are shown to be at risk for aphasia while monolingual individuals are not.[60]


The concept of different recovery patterns was first noted by Albert Pitres in 1895. Since then, seven patterns have been outlined:[57]

  1. Differential recovery — occurs when there is greater inhibition of one language than of another
  2. Selective recovery — one language remains impaired and the other recovers; the activation threshold for the impaired language is permanently increased
  3. Parallel recovery of both languages (i.e., when both impaired languages improve to a similar extent and concurrently;
  4. Successive recovery (i.e., when complete recovery of one language precedes the recovery of the other);
  5. Alternating recovery (i.e., the language that was first recovered will be lost again due to the recovery of the language that was not first recovered);
  6. Alternating antagonistic recovery — in which the language that was not used for a time becomes the currently used language (i.e., on one day the patient is able to speak in one language while the next day only in the other); and
  7. Blended recovery — Pathological mixing of two languages (i.e., the elements of the two languages are involuntarily mixed during language production)

Research that compares the prevalence of the different recovery patterns generally shows that the most common pattern of recovery is parallel recovery, followed by differential, blended, selective, and successive.[52] In regards to differential recovery, better recovery of L1 is shown to be slightly more common than better recover of L2.[61]

In 1977, it was proposed that when the effects of age, proficiency, context of acquisition, and type of bilingualism are combined, the recovery pattern of a bilingual aphasic can be properly predicted.[62] It has recently been reported that language status (how frequently the language is used in comparison to other languages), lesion type or site, the context in which the languages were used, the type of aphasia, and the manner in which the language could not reliably predict recovery patterns.[63]

The bimodal bilingual brain[edit]

Bimodal bilinguals are individuals who are fluent in both sign language and oral language. The effect of this language experience on the brain compared to brain regions in monolinguals or bilinguals of oral languages has only recently become a research interest, but is now used to provide insight on syntactic integration and language control of bilinguals.[64] PET scans of a 37-year-old, right handed, bilingual (English and American Sign Language) male with left frontal lobe damage revealed evidence of increased right hemisphere activity compared to normal controls during spontaneous generation of narrative in both English and American Sign Language (ASL).[65] Research with fMRI has found that showing sign language to deaf and hearing signers and showing written English to hearing non-signers activates the classical language areas of the left hemisphere in both cases.[66] Studies in this area generally compare the behaviour or brain activity in normally hearing monolingual speakers of an oral language, genetically deaf, native signers, and normally hearing bimodal bilinguals. With the use of functional Near-Infrared Imaging (fNIR), Kovelman (2009) compared the performance and brain activity of these three groups in picture-naming tasks. These researchers found that, although performance in all groups was similar, neuroimaging revealed that bilinguals showed greater signal intensity within the posterior temporal regions (Wernicke's area) while using both languages in rapid alternation than when they were only using one language.[67]

Working memory[edit]

PET studies have revealed a language modality-specific working memory neural region for sign language (which relies on a network of bilateral temporal, bilateral parietal, and left premotor activation), as well as a difference in activation of the right cerebellum in bimodal bilinguals between when they are signing or speaking. Similarities of activation have been found in Broca's area and semantic retrieval causes similar patterns of activation in the anterior left inferior frontal lobe. The bilateral parietal activation pattern for sign language is similar to neural activity during nonverbal visuospatial tasks.[68]

Face recognition[edit]

Sign language and oral language experience in bimodal bilinguals are shown to have separate effects on activation patterns within the superior temporal sulcus when recognizing facial expressions. Additionally, hearing signers (individuals who can hear and also speak sign language) do not show the strong left-lateralizated activation for facial expression recognition that has been found within deaf signers. This indicates that both sign language experience and deafness can affect the neural organization for recognizing facial expressions.[69]

See also[edit]


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  5. ^ Ems Ukaz
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A study in 2012 has shown that using a foreign language reduces decision-making biases. It was surmised that the framing effect disappeared when choices are presented in a foreign tongue. As human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought: one that is systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that is fast, unconscious and emotionally charged, it was believed that a second language provides a useful cognitive distance from automatic processes, promoting analytical thought and reducing unthinking, emotional reaction. Therefore, those who speak two languages have better critical thinking and decision making skills.[1]

In 2014, another study has shown that people using a foreign language are more likely to make utilitarian decisions when faced with a moral dilemma, as in the trolley problem. The utilitarian option was chosen more often in the fat man case when presented in a foreign language. However, there was no difference in the switch track case. It was surmised that a foreign language lacks the emotional impact of one’s native language.[2]

Multilingualism within communities[edit]

A bilingual sign in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. In Brussels, both Dutch and French are official languages.
A multilingual sign at the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Pier in the Macau SAR, China. At the top are Portuguese and Chinese, which are the official languages of the region, while at the bottom are Japanese and English, which are common languages used by tourists (English is also one of Hong Kong's two official languages).
A caution message in English, Kannada and Hindi found in Bangalore, India
The three-language (Tamil, English and Hindi) name board at the Tirusulam suburban railway station in Chennai (Madras). Almost all railway stations in India have signs like these in three or more languages (English, Hindi and the local language).
Multilingual sign at Vancouver International Airport, international arrivals area. Text in English, French, and Chinese is a permanent feature of this sign, while the right panel of the sign is a video screen that rotates through additional languages.
Multilingual sign at an exit of SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, Philippines. Three or four languages are shown: Japanese/Mandarin Chinese ("deguchi" or "chūkǒu", respectively), English ("exit") and Korean ("chulgu"). While Filipinos themselves are anglophone, such signs cater to the growing number of Koreans and other foreigners in the country.
A Train name found in South India written in four languages: Kannada, Hindi, Tamil and English. Boards like this are common on trains which pass through two or more states where the languages spoken are different.
A trilingual (Arabic, English and Urdu) sign in the UAE in the three widely spoken languages in the UAE

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.[3]

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 (e.g., Malaysia and 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. A similar phenomenon is also observed in Arabic-speaking regions. The effects of diglossia could be seen if you look at the difference between Written Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic) and Colloquial Arabic. However, as time goes, the Arabic language somewhere between the two have been created which we would like to call Middle Arabic or Common Arabic. Because of this diversification of the language, the concept of spectroglossia[4] has been suggested.
  • 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.

N.B. the terms given above all refer to situations describing only two languages. In cases of an unspecified number of languages, the terms polyglossia, omnilingualism, and multipart-lingualism are more appropriate.

Multilingualism between different language speakers[edit]

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,[citation needed] 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 languages 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.[5] 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 through calquing. 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 a fusion of two languages that is mutually understandable for both speakers. Some pidgin languages develop into real languages (such as papiamento in Curaçao or Singlish in Singapore) while others remain as slangs or jargons (such as Helsinki slang, which is more or less mutually intelligible both in Finnish and Swedish).[clarification needed] 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. Yiddish is a complex blend of Middle High 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, 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. To a certain extent, this situation also exists between Dutch and Afrikaans, although everyday contact is fairly rare because of the distance between the two respective communities. 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 closely related and mutually intelligible 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.[citation needed]

Japanese, English, and Russian sign in Northern Japan

Multilingualism at the linguistic level[edit]

Models for native language literacy programs[edit]

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).

Sequential model[edit]

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 their first language (Kessler, 1984).[6] 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.

Bilingual model[edit]

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.

Coordinate model[edit]

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[edit]

Dual language Hebrew and English keyboard

Multilingualisation (or "m17n", where "17" stands for 17 omitted letters) of computer systems can be considered part of a continuum between internationalization and localization:

  • 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.


Multilingualism in the workplace[edit]

Globalization has led the world to be strongly interconnected. Consequences of this more and more companies are trading with foreign countries, and with countries that doesn't necessarily speak the same language. English became an important working knowledge for multinational companies, but also in the small companies.

Multilingualism in English speaking countries[edit]

According to Hewitt (2008) entrepreneurs in London from Poland, China or Kurdistan use English mainly for communication with customers, suppliers and banks, but others language are still use for the work task and social purpose. Even in English speaking countries immigrants are still able to use their own mother tongue on the working place thanks to other immigrants from the same place. Kovacs (2004)[7] describe this phenomenon in Australia with Finnish immigrants in the construction industry who are speaking Finnish during the working hours. But even though foreign languages are used on the work place English is still a must-know working skill. Mainstream society justifies the divided job market, arguing that getting a low-paying job is the best newcomers can achieve considering their limited language skills. (britt louise guarnison)

Multilingualism in Asia, South America, and Africa[edit]

With companies going international they are now focusing more and more on the English level of their employee. Especially in South Korea since the 1990s, companies are using different English language testing to evaluate job applicant, and the criteria in those test are constantly upgrading the level for good English. In India it is even possible to receive training to acquire an English accent, as the number of outsourced call centres has soared in India in the past decades. Not only in multinational companies English is an important skill, but also in the engineering industry such has chemical, electrical, aeronautical fields. A study directed by Hill and van Zyl (2002) shows that in South Africa young black engineers were using English most often for communication and documentation. However, Afrikaans and other local languages were used to explain concepts to workers in order to ensure understanding and cooperation.[8]

Multilingualism in Europe[edit]

In Europe, as domestic market is generally quite restricted, international trade is a norm. But there is no predominant language in Europe ( Countries with English as an official language: United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, second comes French with France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and then German with Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium). Most of the time English is used as a communication language, but in Multilingual countries such as Belgium (French, Dutch and German) or Switzerland (German, French, Italian and Romanche) it is common to see employees mastering two or even three of those languages. Some languages such as Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are so close to each other that it is generally more common for meeting to use their mother tongue rather than English.
Continued global diversity has led to an increasingly bilingual workforce. Europe has become an excellent model to observe this newly diversified labor culture. The expanding of the European Union with its open labor market has provided opportunities both for well-trained professionals and unskilled workers to move to new countries to seek employment. Political changes and turmoil have also led to migration and to the creation of new and more complex multilingual workplaces. In most wealthy and secure countries, immigrants are found mostly in low paid jobs but also, increasingly, in high status positions. [9]

Multilingualism in music[edit]

It is extremely common for music to be written in whatever the contemporary lingua franca is. If a song is not written in a common tongue, then it is usually written in whatever is the predominant language in the musician's country of origin, or in another widely recognized language, such as English, German, Spanish, or French.[citation needed]

The bilingual song cycles "there..." and "Sing, Poetry" on the 2011 contemporary classical album Troika consist of musical settings of Russian poems with their English self-translations by Joseph Brodsky and Vladimir Nabokov, respectively.[10]

Songs with lyrics in multiple languages are known as macaronic verse.

See also[edit]

Policies and proposals[edit]




  1. ^ Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, Sun Gyu An (April 18, 2012). "The Foreign-Language Effect : Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases". Psychological Science 23 (6): pp.661-668. doi:10.1177/0956797611432178. 
  2. ^ Albert Costa1, Alice Foucart, Sayuri Hayakawa, Melina Aparici, Jose Apesteguia, Joy Heafner, Boaz Keysar (April 23, 2014). "Your Morals Depend on Language". PloS ONE 9 (4). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094842. 
  3. ^ Wolff, Ekkehard (2000). Language and Society. In: Bernd Heine and Derek Nurse (Eds.) African Languages - An Introduction, 317. Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ M.HBakalla(1984), Arabic Culture through its Language and Literature, Kegan Paul International,London
  5. ^ Poplack Shana (1980). "Sometimes I'll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en español": toward a typology of code-switching". Linguistics 18 (7/8): 581–618. doi:10.1515/ling.1980.18.7-8.581. 
  6. ^ One Language or Two: Answers to Questions about Bilingualism in Language-Delayed Children
  7. ^ Kovacs, M. (2004). Australian Finns on the verge of language shift. p. 108, 200-223. 
  8. ^ Gunnarson, Britt-Louise (2013). "Multilingualism in the Workplace". annual Review of applied linguistics 33: 162-189. 
  9. ^ Gunnarsson, Britt-Louise (2014). "Multilingualism in European Workplaces." 33. pp. 11–33. 
  10. ^ "Troika: Russia’s westerly poetry in three orchestral song cycles", Rideau Rouge Records, ASIN: B005USB24A, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

International Journal of Bilingualism International Journal of Bilingualism International Symposium on Bilingualism International S