Bilingualism

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Introduction

This paper is primarily intended to present some major considerations about bilingualism and bilingual education from a sociolinguistic perspective. In first instance, I will deal with some of the definitions of these terms placing them along the continuum since the high complexity of the issues. Also, some features of individual and social bilingualism will be pointed out, and some of the most common effects on individual and on communities will be presented. Finally, a reflection upon a kind of ‘unnatural’ bilingualism is put forward.

Definitions

Basically, a bilingual person is said of that one who knows and uses two languages. More specifically, one who speaks, reads, or understands two languages equally well (Richards et al., 1992). The term bilingualism has been defined from different perspectives. As a matter of fact, disciplines like linguistics, psycholinguistics, and sociolinguistics propose, according to their particular domain, a definition for bilingualism. In general terms, the bilingualism is characterized by the alternation of two languages. The problem arises when we want to define the extent of language competence a person must have to be called bilingual.

The most known definitions of bilingualism come from Bloomfield (1933) who states that bilingualism is the “native mastery of two languages”; similarly, Haugen (1969), argues that bilingualism is “the use of complete and meaningful sentences in other languages”; and for Weinreich (1953), bilingualism occurs when “two or more languages… are used alternately by the same persons” (1970 [1953]). Clearly, those definitions (and others) may be situated along a continuum moving from a ‘radical’ position to a more flexible one. For example, Macnama...

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... educational institution have the necessary elements of judgment and the required tools. For instance, if those tools are to measure linguistic competence, communicative competence and even pragmatic competence of the language involved.

Finally, what really matters is that within our current world, where distance is dramatically reduced if not eliminated, the introduction of bilingual and multilingual communities have to be an asset for most societies. Nevertheless, the design and implementation of such communities must be a question of informed decisions. It is true that education is also dependent of political determination, but it is not less true that linguistic, cultural, and social factor must be carefully incorporated. This means that language teachers and the scholar´s communities have a major role to play through serious and supported research projects.

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