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

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Language Contact, Maintenance, and Endangerment

18 

The Bilingual and Multilingual Community

SUZANNE ROMAINE

Introduction

Bilingualism and multilingualism are normal, unremarkable necessities of everyday life for the majority of the world’s population. In this chapter I use the terms ‘bilingualism’ and ‘multilingualism’ interchangeably to refer to the routine use of two or more languages in a community. Although there are no precise statistics on the number or distribution of speakers of two or more languages, at least, if not more than, half the world’s population is bilingual (Grosjean 2010). Multilinguals can be found in all walks of life, among ordinary people such as rural villagers in Kupwar, India (Gumperz and Wilson 1971), and Indagen, Papua New Guinea (Romaine 1992), as well as among famous historical persons like Jesus and Gandhi and contemporary individuals such as Pope Benedict XVI and Canadian singer Céline Dion. However, this chapter will be concerned primarily with multilingualism as a societal rather than individual phenomenon.

Types of Bilingual and Multilingual Speech Communities

Although linguists usually draw a distinction between individual and societal multilingualism, it is not always possible to maintain a strict boundary between the two. Part of the problem lies in the difficulty in defining bilingualism as a phenomenon (see e.g., Edwards, chapter 1, this volume, and Romaine 1995), as well as the varying ways in which one can define the notion of ‘community’ ...

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