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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 in North America

WILLIAM F. MACKEY

Introduction

This chapter begins by establishing its terms of reference, followed by an overview of the nature of language contact and plurilingualism in North America. It will then describe its borderlands, its people and the languages spoken, their bilingual communities, trends and prospects for the future, and finally a brief guide to research on bilingualism in North America.

Terms of Reference

In the vast literature on bilingualism there is really no consensus on what the term means. The reasons are threefold. First, each study has been more or less discipline-oriented. Second, over a dozen different definitions have already been attested (van Overbeke 1972: 113ff). Third, definitions have been borrowed from other disciplines, where they had unwittingly become outmoded. Hence the confusion (Sartori, Riggs, and Teune 1975). In fact, the meaning of the term bilingual has been expanding ever since the early days of scientific archaeology when it was used to denote inscriptions in two different ancient languages (e.g., Greek and Assyrian). Having long displaced the earlier term polyglot, it has been used to denote almost anything associated with two languages – which should not be surprising, since language permeates every pore of society and the workings of the human mind.

Bilingualism can be seen as a double continuum of mutually modifying practices including degrees of use and competence in each of the ...

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