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The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, 2nd Edition by William C. Ritchie, Tej K. Bhatia

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Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Some Central Concepts

JOHN EDWARDS

Introduction

Bilingualism and multilingualism have both de facto existences and important places in the psychological, political, and social debates that define social and ethnic groups, communities, and regions. Very widespread phenomena, they arise for a number of well-understood reasons; in the main, however, they are also quite unremarkable phenomena, fuelled by necessity up to, but rarely beyond, appropriately useful levels of competence. They imply both heightened and lessened opportunities for interpersonal and intercultural exchange: multilingual capacities at an individual level can obviously broaden possibilities, but a world of many languages is also one in which communicative problems exist. In such a world, lingua francas and translation are required.1

While almost everyone knows at least a few words in other languages, we generally require a little more competence than that before we are willing to acknowledge bilingual or multilingual ability. Where, however, to draw the line? Where does bilingualism ‘start’? And how are we to accommodate different levels of fluency? Still, there are those who we confidently put in the monolingual category. And, at the other end of this linguistic spectrum, there are those who have virtually maternal multilingual capabilities. After rigorous self-examination – of which language emerges spontaneously at times of emergency or elevated emotion, which variety is ...

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