Bilingualism and Multilingualism

Authored by: Jasone Cenoz

The Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415531412
eBook ISBN: 9781315668925
Adobe ISBN:


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The increasing mobility of the population, Internet communication and the spread of English as the language of wider communication have contributed to the development of bilingualism and multilingualism all over the world. The term bilingualism, usually referring to ‘two languages’ (Greek prefix ‘bi’ = two), has been the term most widely used because most research has focused on two rather than three or more languages. However, the term multilingualism (Latin prefix ‘mult ’= much, many) has gained currency in recent years and usually refers to two or more languages, including bilingualism as a type of multilingualism. The terms bilingualism and multilingualism are used in different ways and can refer to individual competence, but also to language use in society. Indeed, the European Commission defines multilingualism as ‘the ability of societies, institutions, groups and individuals to engage, on a regular basis, with more than one language in their day-to-day lives’ (European Commission 2007: 6). This definition has two characteristics. It covers both the individual and social levels and is based on language use. We deal with each in turn in the following.

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