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Subject Sociolinguistics » Bilingualism

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631227359.2005.00002.x


Bilingualism – more generally, multilingualism – is a major fact of life in the world today. To begin with, the world's estimated 5,000 languages are spoken in the world's 200 sovereign states (or 25 languages per state), so that communication among the citizens of many of the world's countries clearly requires extensive bi- (if not multi-)lingualism. In fact, David Crystal (1997) estimates that two-thirds of the world's children grow up in a bilingual environment. Considering only bilingualism involving English, the statistics that Crystal has gathered indicate that, of the approximately 570 million people world-wide who speak English, over 41 percent or 235 million are bilingual in English and some other language. The processes of globalization now in progress can only increase the extent and character of bi-/multilingualism, as people the world over continue to recognize the advantage of adding a world language to their verbal repertoires. One must conclude that, far from being exceptional, as many lay people believe, bilingualism/multilingualism – which, of course, goes hand-in-hand with multiculturalism in many cases – is currently the rule throughout the world and will become increasingly so in the future. Perhaps not surprisingly, research on bilingualism, whether theory-driven or practically oriented, has grown dramatically in quantity, quality, and breadth in recent years. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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