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

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Multilingualism: New Perspectives on Syntactic Development

ÉVA BERKES AND SUZANNE FLYNN

Introduction

Linguistic diversity is a topic of increasing interest due not only to its manifold practical effects on politics and even on the economy, but also to its theoretical importance for the human sciences. According to the Ethnologue (www.ethnologue.com) there are 6,909 known living languages in the world. Just five states are listed as having only one indigenous living language and merely six countries appear with the lowest possible value, 0, for the Greenberg’s diversity index (Greenberg 1956), indicating that any two persons in the country selected at random would have the same mother tongue (Lewis 2009, Table 7). ‘Bilingualism – more generally, multilingualism – is a commonplace fact of life in the world today … two thirds of the world’s children grow up in a bilingual environment (Bhatia and Ritchie 2004: 1).’ (See also Grosjean 2004; Chomsky as cited in Mukherji, Patnaik, and Agnihotri 2000 among others.)

This state of affairs has far-reaching implications not only for society but for the individual as well. Therefore, it seems to be crucial to study multilingualism not only from the perspective of what its societal consequences are but research must also address the nature of the bi- or multilingual mind. The study of language as a unique human capacity helps to shed light on the way in which the human brain and cognition work; the study of the ability to use language deepens ...

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