Posted by: Yuline Monako | May 27, 2008

What is bilingualism?

What is bilingualism? Can we classify someone bilingual although he or she can only use a formulaic expression such as greetings? Or we have to follow the definition in the Collins Cobuild Dictionary which states the definition of bilingualism as the ability to speak two languages equally well. Bilingualism has generated a great deal of interest in recent years as the understanding of bilingualism is of great importance in education policy and political policy relating to language issues especially in bilingual or multilingual societies. Two general schools of thought are presently dominant: one is maximalist who views bilingualism as “native like control of two languages’ (Bloomfield 1933:55) and another is the minimalist who considers bilingualism as “the ability to use more than one language”(Mackey (1962:52). However, in reality, the degree of bilingualism is much more complicated and more difficult to define as this differs greatly from individual to individual and it is determined by many factors including age, socioeconomic and language background, and domain of language use and the level of exposure to both languages. In addition, not everyone becomes bilingual in the same way.

According to Chin and Wingglesworth (1991), there are five descriptors in relation to bilingualism:
1. Descriptors which refer to degree of bilingualism,
a. Balanced bilingual
For individuals who are fully competent in both languages.
b. Dominant bilingual
For individuals whose one language is more dominant than other.
c. Passive or Resesive Bilingual
For individuals who is gradually losing competence in one language, usually because of disuse.
d. Semilingual
For individulas whose level of proficiency in both languages are limited.
2. Descriptors which refer to the context of bilingual language acquisition,
3. Descriptors which refer to age of acquisition,
4. Descriptors which refer to the domain of use,
5. Descriptors which refer to and social orientation.

To discover people’s opinion on degree of bilingualism, some researchers have administered the 15 scenarios created by Hoffmann who deliberately included variables such as age, socioeconomic, language background, various domains of language use, length and type of exposure to the second language, frequency of language use. Let’s try to determine the degree of bilingual in each scenario the compare your answers with your friend’s:

( 1 ) the two-year-old who is beginning to talk, speaking English to one parent and Welsh to the other;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 2 ) the four-year-old whose home language is Bengali and who has been attending an English playgroup for some time;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 3 ) the schoolchild from an Italian immigrant family living in the United States who increasingly uses English both at home and outside but whose older relatives address him in Italian only;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 4 ) the Canadian child from Montréal who comes from an English-speaking background and attends an immersion programme which consists of virtually all school subjects being taught through the medium of French;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 5 ) the young graduate who has studied French for eleven years;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 6 ) the sixty-year-old scholar who has spent a considerable part of her life working with manuscripts and documents written in Latin;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 7 ) the technical translator;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 8 ) the personal interpreter of an important public figure;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 9 ) the Portuguese chemist who can read specialist literature in his subject written in English;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 10 ) the Japanese airline pilot who uses English for most of his professional communication;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 11 ) the Turkish immigrant worker in Austria who speaks Turkish at home and with his friends and work colleagues, but who can communicate in German, in both the written and the oral forms, with his superiors and the authorities;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 12 ) the wife of the latter, who is able to get by in spoken German but cannot read or write it;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 13 ) the Danish immigrant in New Zealand who has had no contact with Danish for the last forty years;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 14 ) the Belgian government employee who lives in bilingual Brussels, whose friends and relatives are mainly Flemish speakers but who works in an entirely French speaking environment and whose colleagues in the office (whether they are
Flemish or not) use French as well;
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

( 15 ) the fervent Catalanist who at home and at work uses Catalan only, but who is exposed to Castilian Spanish from the media and in the street and has no linguistic difficulty in the latter language.
Definitely not bilingual Definitely bilingual
1——————2——————3——————4——————-5

(Hoffmann 1991: 17)


Responses

  1. Hi everybody, long time no news.

    I want to share something here. People who have English as their L2 always want to improve or at least keep their language’s ability but on the other side sometimes they get bored with the formal ritual of studying. when they feel that way, people need to do it in some different ways. One of them is study with fun.
    There are some website which provide it as follows :

    1. http://www.elfs.com
    2. http://funeasyenglish.com

    Have fun.

  2. can you tell me the Hoffman’s first name (researcher who created the scenarios regarding the degree of bilingualism )
    Thanks

    • Charlotte Hoffman

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