Bilingual grammars

Susanna Cumming cumming at HUMANITAS.UCSB.EDU
Thu Mar 7 22:49:45 UTC 1996


Perhaps as an Indonesianist and English speaker I have a distorted view,
but it seems to me that since there are no languages that aren't in
contact with other languages, it is misguided to take monolingualism as
the "real" or "natural" case: even a monolingual individual in a speech
community that contains multilinguals is "under the influence" of other
languages. In fact the idea that multilingualism at either the individual
or the societal level is normal rather than deviant is one of the
arguments that linguists have to make against English-only proponents.

I would be interested to know if anyone has an estimate of the porportion
of monolingual to multilingual individuals worldwide: is it even true that
most people in the world are monolingual?

It is true that as functional and historical linguists we have to try to
figure out the role of language contact in the development of the
varieties we study, in order to determine its role relative to other
sources of explanation for linguistic form. And to do that properly, we
have to know an awful lot about all the other languages the one we are
interested in is in contact with. Which places a heavy burden on our
expertise! I wonder if this isn't the real reason we prefer monolinguals.

Susanna Cumming

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