The monolingual myth

Bill Croft W.Croft at MANCHESTER.AC.UK
Fri Mar 8 10:50:22 UTC 1996

    I have read in a number of places that multilinguals far
outnumber monolinguals in the world, at least in traditional
societies before the European conquests in the Americas
and Oceania. I haven't seen any firm figures (or even estimates)

    But the concept that even monolinguals speak a "pure" variety
is one that functionalists should treat with suspicion at best.
Language variation within the speech community, and language
change, can arise "internally", that is, not attributable to
contact. In fact, it is functional factors (in the sense of "external"
function that I describe in the Sept '95 issue of Language) that
give rise to innovations---or so we functionalists should be trying
to demonstrate. Variation is an essential property of language,
even that of "monolinguals". And accepting the notion of a "pure",
invariant speech variety will make it difficult, if not impossible, for
functionalists to argue against the autonomy (that is, the self-
containedness) of grammar.

   Of course, there is the empirical "problem" that elicitation will lead to
"impure" results. But any linguistic situation involves interaction
and accommodation (and innovations) on the part of the interlocutors.
It's just that the accommodation between linguist and
native consultant is fairly predictable and theoretically less interesting
compared to that found in the texts which result from native speakers
interacting with each other in ordinary social situations. But the difference
is one of degree, not kind.

Bill Croft

Dept of Linguistics, U Manchester, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PL, UK
w.croft at   FAX: +44-161-275 3187  Phone: 275 3188

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