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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 the Heritage Language Speaker

SILVINA MONTRUL

Some Variables that Characterize Bilinguals

When asked to describe a bilingual person, most laypersons consider a bilingual to be someone who has learned two languages since birth and has a balanced knowledge and use of those two languages. Yet the study of bilingualism from multidisciplinary perspectives has shown that these two conditions are not always met because there are many factors that come into play in the resulting degree of command of the two languages by an individual at a given time, and in the relationship between the two languages, both at the neuropsycholinguistic and sociopolitical levels. Heritage speakers, that is, individuals who have been exposed to an immigrant or a minority language since childhood and are also very proficient in the majority language spoken in the wider speech community, are bilinguals characterized by the complex interaction of all these factors.

An important and defining variable in the outcome of stable bilingualism is age of acquisition, or when in life the languages are acquired. Early bilingualism refers to the acquisition of two languages before puberty. Late bilingualism, also known as adult second-language acquisition, typically occurs after puberty. Whether the two languages develop at the same time or one after the other is also important in early (child) bilingualism: Simultaneous bilingual acquisition refers to the acquisition of two languages starting at birth, ...

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