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Re: How common is bi-lingualism?

>But before leaping to speculation about causes: Can we agree on some
>factual base. Do most of the earth's 6 billion today live in bi- or
>multi-lingual situations? I'm not sure they do.

A refinement to this question is required.  We need to ask whether we're
talking about
*communities*, or about individual *speakers*.  We could say Malaysia is a
community, because its national policy gives status to many languages as
means of
communication in the country.  However, not all individuals are
multilingual or even
bilingual.  People living in Kuala Lumpur tend to be multilingual (Malay,
English, and
a third language which reflects ethnic heritage), while people in Sarawak
(a geographically
remote district) tend to be monolingual.  Can we say that Malaysia is a
community?  It is, officially; that doesn't entail that all its citizens
are.  Should we say that
KL is a "bilingual situation" but Sarawak isn't?  Then what about bilingual
inhabitants of
Sarawak, or monolingual inhabitants of KL?  It's not at all clear how to
apply the boundaries
to evaluate what's a "x-lingual situation".

I am essentially monolingual but I live in a "bilingual situation ":  I
live in a country
whose official language is not the language of everyday life for most
I listen to broadcasting in  Maori on the radio and TV, and I understand a
few words
and can even use a few in my English-language conversation.  When I'm home in
California, I do the same with Spanish.  I'm certainly not "bilingual", but
my "situation" is.

It may not be important to establish whether "most" of the world "is"
since any determination is going to be according to criteria which some
other group won't
accept as relevant to this determination.

Dr Claudia Brugman
Linguistics Section, School of Languages
University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

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