Book review: Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Dec 11 17:37:09 UTC 2005

Forwarded from Linguist-List, Message 1: Multiple Voices: An Introduction
to Bilingualism
Date: 07-Dec-2005

AUTHOR: Myers-Scotton, Carol
TITLE: Multiple Voices
SUBTITLE: An Introduction to Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2005

Reviewed by Shiv R. Upadhyay, Department of Languages, Literatures, and
Linguistics, York University, Toronto

''Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism'' is written by veteran
linguist and author Carol Myers-Scotton. The stated goal of the book is to
serve ''as a textbook for courses that are particularly concerned with
bilingualism as a socio-political phenomenon in the world'' (p. x).  It is
intended for ''upper-level undergraduates ... or beginning-level Master's
degree students'' (p. x). Its treatment of bilingualism as a
multidisciplinary phenomenon and the detailed but easy-to-understand
discussions of various aspects of bilingualism make this book a solid and
welcome contribution to the field.

In Chapter One, Myers-Scotton introduces a number terms and concepts that
are relevant to the study of bilingualism. The author also addresses
questions that are likely to interest the reader. She argues that the
study of bilingualism is warranted because it investigates the competence
of humans, that is their ''genetic potential'' (p. 12), to become
bilingual and the human experience of living with two or more languages.
The chapter ends with an outline of various aspects of bilingualism to be
discussed in the chapters to follow.

In Chapter Two, the author begins by answering some basic questions about
what language is and how it is perceived. In the course of answering these
questions, the author discusses mutual intelligibility and socio-political
basis as criteria generally used to identify two languages as the same or
different and cites a lot of actual examples from all over the world to
illustrate her discussion. The rest of the chapter examines various
questions about dialects, including how standard dialects are identified,
how the term dialect is understood and used, how dialects differ from one
another, and how regional and social dialects are identified.

Chapter Three addresses several sociolinguistic aspects of bilingualism.
They include social factors that motivate bilingualism and various
considerations that go into assessing a speaker's proficiency in
bilingualism. The author defines bilingualism as ''the ability to use two
or more languages sufficiently to carry on a limited casual conversation''
(p. 44) and identifies and explains two sets of conditions under which
bilingualism is promoted, namely close proximity and displacement

Chapter Four discusses three models of community organization which the
author uses to explain various contexts of multiculturalism in which
speakers either maintain their L1 or shift to L2. In the context of
horizontal multiculturalism, in which speakers are generally monolingual
and ''live in their own geographic spaces'' (p. 71), they are likely to
keep their L1 and even ''resist bilingualism'' (p. 72). On the other hand,
in communities with vertical multiculturalism, in which people come in
contact with speakers of other languages, they are likely to shift to L2
or become ''very proficient'' in it if it is the ''urban lingua franca''
(p. 72). In communities that are organized in terms of social networks,
horizontal multilingualism is a possible outcome if people have ''strong
ties within their home network'' (p. 73). In networks with weak ties,
people tend to learn L2 in order to connect with L2 speakers. Similarly,
in communities where ethnolinguistic vitality (measured in terms of
sociological variables) is high, speakers are likely to maintain their L1.
In the rest of Chapter Four, the author discusses in detail the notion of
diglossia, the domains in which the languages of a bilingual community are
distributed, actual cases of language maintenance and shift from all
around the world, language shift by young speakers to a dominant language,
and the separation of cultural maintenance and language maintenance.

Chapter Five discusses how ideologies and attitudes are relevant to the
decisions that individuals and nation states make about whether they want
to be bilingual or monolingual. While both attitudes and language
ideologies are viewed as ''assessments'' that are held unconsciously, the
latter are generally constructed and are more likely to be brought to
consciousness because of their reference to group interests. In her
discussion of the link that language attitudes and language ideologies
have with nationalities, the author views language as ''an important part
of the collective awareness of a group'' (p. 111). Because of its status
as a visible language and its instrumental basis, language users as well
as nation states can ''mobilize to protect or advance their language'' (p.
112). The author explains that the existence of a separate language does
not necessarily mean that it will be used to claim a separate nation
state.  The author also briefly talks about the concept of linguistic
marketplace and goes on to discuss in detail how group identities are
formed in bilingual contexts. The rest of this chapter is devoted to the
discussion of various aspects of language attitudes and ideologies.  The
author discusses how speakers express their attitudes in terms of such
theoretical constructs and frameworks as ethnolinguistic vitality, matched
guise test, and accommodation theory, citing findings from studies carried
out using these frameworks. In the last section of this chapter, the
author defines language ideologies as ''patterns of belief and practice,
which make some existing arrangements appear natural and others not'' (p.
135) and discusses such questions as how they play a role in the
globalized world, when local languages are ignored, and when a language
group symbolically dominates another language.

Chapter Six is on the social motivations for language use in interpersonal
interactions. The fundamental claim supported in this chapter is that by
using a certain linguistic variety, speakers indicate ''both their view of
themselves and their relationships with other participants in the
conversation'' (p. 143). The author talks about the indexical nature of
linguistic choices that speakers make and explains that such choices are
pragmatically significant since they are based on ''the social and
psychological features or attributes'' (p.  149) that are associated with
the language speakers choose to speak.  The author also points out that
the social meaning of linguistic choices that speakers make generally
comes from the situation of language use. In the next three sections of
this chapter, the author discusses various findings from studies
associated with the Matched Guise Test, the Accommodation Theory, and the
Markedness Model to show that speakers communicate social meanings when
they switch from one dialect or language to another. The author concludes
by contrasting the Accommodation Theory and Markedness Model with
Conversation Analysis. While the first two use a deductive method of
analysis, the third uses an inductive one. Analysts who work within the
first two frameworks bring to their analysis speaker motives and
intensions whereas those who work within the third framework reject them.
The author raises the question of how Conversation Analysts ''view
cognitive resources'' (p. 174).

Chapter Seven deals with the issue of how cultural differences affect
intercultural communication in bilingual and multilingual contexts. The
author discusses with real examples from studies of Asian and African
cultures that classify societies on the basis of whether they are
predominantly individualistic or collectivistic, whether they are high- or
low-context cultures, and whether people form relationships of equality or
hierarchy. Collectivistic and high-context cultures both favor
indirectness in speech as a way to maintain harmony whereas
individualistic and low-context cultures favor directness in speech as it
allows individuals to express their opinions. Cultures are also classified
in terms of how much equality or hierarchy individuals emphasize in their
relationships. Culturally induced language behavior also involves
politeness, which is conceptualized differently in different cultures. To
show how culturally defined politeness affects one's language behavior,
the author explains how requests are made differently in Western and
non-Western cultures. The author also discusses how the power differential
is differently viewed and used in language and how cross-cultural
conflicts are managed in different cultural groups.

Chapter Eight focuses on lexical borrowing in bilingual contexts. The
author defines lexical borrowing as ''incorporating words from one
language (the donor language) in another (the recipient language)'' (p.
211) and talks about two categories of borrowings, namely cultural and
core. When a language borrows words for objects and concepts that do not
exist in it, such words are viewed as cultural borrowings.  Core
borrowings take place when a language borrows words whose equivalents
already exist in the language. The author identifies and explains three
types of indirect borrowings: calques (loan translation), loanshifts
(borrowed words that are given a different meaning in the recipient
language), and loanblends (words that are created by blending words from
the donor and recipient languages). The author then discusses the
phonological and morphological integration of borrowed words into the
recipient language and various hypotheses of why nouns are the most
frequently borrowed category. Finally, the author makes the point that
borrowed words are ''evidence of earlier cultural contacts'' (p. 230).

Chapter Nine addresses the question of what happens to grammars in
bilingual contacts. After defining and illustrating several technical
terms, the author discusses codeswitching. She defines codeswitching as
''the use of two languages in the same conversation'' (p. 239). The author
then introduces the Matrix Language Frame (MLF) as a model for classic
codeswitching, a bilingual phenomenon which involves ''elements from two
(or more) languages varieties in the same clause, but only one of the
varieties is the source of the morphosyntactic frame for the clause'' (p.
241). Classic codeswitching is contrasted with composite codeswitching, a
bilingual phenomenon ''in which even though most of the morphosyntactic
structure comes from one of the participating languages, the other
language contributes some of the abstract structure underlying surface
forms of the clause'' (p. 242). Crucial to the MLF model is the
distinction between content morphemes and system morphemes.  Content
morphemes are words that assign thematic roles; verbs and nouns are
identified as ''prototypical content morphemes'' (p. 245).  System
morphemes are words that do not assign thematic roles;  prototypical
system morphemes are ''all affixes and function words that stand alone
(e.g. determiners and clitics)'' (p. 245).

Chapter Nine also talks about two main groups of researchers who are
interested in studying codeswitching. The main concern of one group of
researchers is to uncover ''constraints on points in a sentence where
codeswitching can occur on the basis of surface-level linear differences
between the languages involved'' (p. 250). The other group of researchers
focuses on ''looking for explanations at a more abstract level than linear
structure'' (p. 252). The author also mentions a model based on Chomsky's
Minimalist Program that some researchers in the second group employ to
account for codeswitching, but she comments that codeswitching cannot be
adequately explained using this model. In addition, she argues that, while
the status of singly occurring words from the Embedded Language remains
controversial, such words ''resemble Embedded Language phrases in
codeswitching more than they resemble established borrowings'' (p. 254).
Another section of Chapter Nine talks about the T-4 model that the author
along with her associate Janice Jake developed in order to explain ''some
of the codeswitching data that the MLF model covers'' (p. 267) more
precisely. Toward the end of the chapter, the author discusses pidgins and
creoles but elaborates on the latter since ''their structures are more
complex'' (p. 278) and are ''related to the 4-M model'' (p. 278). The
author argues that the substrate language plays a ''major role in
providing a morphosyntactic frame for the developing creole'' (p. 285).

Chapter Ten surveys bilingualism from the psycholinguistic perspective.
The author points out that, while the question of ''how the bilingual's
languages are organized in the mind'' (p. 197) remains unsettled, the more
current position holds that ''bilinguals have two distinct memories and
semantic systems'' (p. 297). On the theme of bilingual activation, the
author states that, while in the past it was viewed that a bilingual's
languages were not activated simultaneously, a generally agreed-upon view
now is that both languages are always activated to varying degrees. The
author also points out that findings from lexical decision tasks suggest
that bilinguals have simultaneous, rather than selective, access to their
languages. The author discusses how various models of language production
vary in their answer to the question, ''At what level is the phonological
form of a word... in place?'' In discussing memory, the author reports
that researchers agree that some structures in the brain are modified as a
result of learning and experience and that there are ''two general memory
systems, a short- term memory system and a long-term memory system'' (p.
311). The author finally discusses the effects of aphasia on bilinguals
and the patterns of language recovery.

Chapter Eleven begins by addressing two questions about ''the relation
between childhood language acquisition and later L2 acquisition'' (p.
324). The author views as normal those bilinguals who learn to speak two
or more languages when they are young because children are genetically
predisposed to ''acquire human languages'' (p.  325). She supports the
argument that humans are equipped with an innate ability to acquire
language by alluding to the evidence that shows that ''children all over
the world go through similar stages when they acquire the grammatical
systems of their specific languages'' and that both monolinguals and young
bilinguals ''go through similar stages of acquisition'' (p. 326). The
author states that ''actual exposure to a language in use'' (p. 326) is
necessary for children to acquire the language and that bilinguals may
face a different socio- cultural context of language acquisition from that
faced by monolinguals. She discusses practical and theoretical reasons for
studying child bilingualism and the problems facing such studies. In
another section, the author explains the positive answers researchers have
offered to the questions of whether child bilinguals form two separate
language systems and whether ''switching between languages'' is
''constraint-governed in a grammatical sense'' (p. 331).  The author also
discusses the questions of whether being an early bilingual is an
advantage or a disadvantage and whether early acquisition affects some
systems the most.

The rest of Chapter Eleven is devoted to various aspects of late second
language acquisition. Although the author cites several studies to point
out that researchers do not agree with the idea of the Critical Age
Hypothesis, she concludes that researchers agree that ''late learners are
much less successful in language learning than young children'' (p. 350).
The final section of this chapter explains various answers that have been
offered to questions about second language acquisition (SLA). SLA
researchers are shown as broadly divided into two groups, namely Universal
Grammar (UG) proponents and those who are instruction-centered. According
to UG proponents, first language acquisition shares ''distinct
similarities'' (p. 356) with second language acquisition. They argue that
learners of a second language ''have some access to the same innate
language faculty (UG)'' (p. 356) that enables children to acquire their L1
naturally. On the other hand, those who are instruction-centered argue
that first language acquisition and second language acquisition are quite
different and that UG is not actively accessible to second language
learners. Instruction-centered researchers are however divided on the
issue of whether explicit learning or implicit learning is the best way
for learners to learn a second language. The author also gives a critical
assessment of these two approaches to second language acquisition and,
citing from a 2005 study by a researcher, concludes by pointing out three
main themes that have dominated the current research on second language
learning: the age factor, second language processing, and language

Chapter Twelve is on language policy and globalization. In the
introductory section, the author discusses the rise of the nation state
and the problems resulting from fixing national borders. She also
addresses the question of who plans language policies and discusses the
problems faced by language planners. The author identifies four main
socio-political developments today that relate to language policy:
immigration, education for immigrants and indigenous minorities, the rise
of English as an international lingua franca, and the formation of the
European Union. She points out that the issues of language rights and
endangered languages come up within the context of these four
socio-political developments.

In the succeeding sections of Chapter Twelve, the author discusses status
planning, corpus planning, and acquisition planning. The discussion of
status planning includes problematic language situations in Canada,
Australia, Cameroon, India, and South Africa. Similarly, the discussion of
corpus planning includes examples of language reform carried out in Asia
and Turkey. In discussing acquisition planning, the author points out two
potentially contradictory situations that acquisition planners can face.
First, they are aware of the link between national economic development
and literacy rate and of a commonly held belief among educators that it is
easier to make children literate through their L1. Second, language
planners are also aware that education in the official language promotes
in minority children a sense of belonging in the nation. The author
identifies four main types of bilingual programs and discusses bilingual
or multilingual situations in Latvia, Bolivia, and Canada to illustrate
the difficulty involved in acquisition planning. Her discussion also
includes a brief history of bilingual education in the United States. She
concludes by saying that ''most Anglo-Americans are likely to support''
(p. 405) a bilingual education program that aims at moving non-Anglo
speakers to the use of English. Chapter Twelve also discusses the status
of English as an international lingua franca and the case of Cambodia to
illustrate how English is replacing French. In the last section of this
chapter, the author places English, French, and German in a diglossic
relationship with other European languages within the context of the
European Union.

Chapter Thirteen is very brief, and it reminds the reader of the main
themes covered in the book. The author concludes by listing ''five
most important points'' (p. 414) that the reader is expected to take
away from the book.


''Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism'' is written by an
author who has contributed to the study of bilingualism over a long period
of time. While the book is written with a socio-political focus, it also
provides detailed discussions of the grammatical and cognitive aspects of
bilingualism. Because of its coverage of multiple perspectives on
bilingualism, the book is expected to serve students and scholars in a
variety of disciplines.

There are several features that add to the value of the book. One of them
is that each chapter begins with a real story of a person from a different
part of the world whose life is linked to bilingualism or multilingualism.
These stories not only serve as an interesting beginning of a chapter but
also help to show that bilingualism is a real human phenomenon with
socio-cultural and socio-political consequences. Another feature, which is
valuable to students in particular, is that important concepts and terms
are put in bold so that the reader would pay attention to them. Another
feature that I view as helpful is that each chapter ends with a summery
and a list of terms and concepts that readers, particularly students,
would do well to remember. Another feature that I found interesting is the
use of rather informal tone of voice as illustrated by these examples:
''Just for your information, there are two sets of signs that are relevant
to your life.'' (p. 145);'' ''That is, for each of you, unmarked choices
would be considered not only expected, but also appropriate, for certain
interaction types in your community and marked choices would be
unexpected, given the interaction type'' (p. 179); ''Your author
(Meyers-Scotton, 2001; 2000) offers another explanation for creole
formation ...'' (p. 285). The use of pronoun 'you' and pronominal
adjective 'your' in these sentences can create a friendly image of the
author, which may foster learning particularly in beginning-level readers.
In addition, the writer provides in easy-to-understand language detailed
discussions of various topics and issues in bilingualism with abundant
citations from past and latest studies.

While these features add to the value of the book, a few more would have
enhanced its usefulness as a textbook. A set of study questions at the end
of each chapter would be good particularly for beginning- level students.
Also, a list of further studies would benefit particularly those who wish
to acquire a further and more detailed knowledge of certain aspects of
bilingualism. In addition, it would be useful to have a glossary of
important terms and concepts covered in the book.  Perhaps, the author
would consider these suggestions for the second edition of the book, which
I hope will come out soon given its high value both as a text and resource

To conclude, I view ''Multiple Voices: An Introduction to Bilingualism''
as a very valuable addition to the pool of books on the study of
bilingualism. Given its multidisciplinary approach, the sufficiently
elaborated discussions of bilingual topics and issues, and the inclusion
in these discussions of many relevant and up-to-date studies, this book is
an excellent choice as a textbook for a bilingualism course. This book
will also serve well students, instructors and scholars in a variety of
disciplines who are interested in any of the many aspects of bilingualism.


Crystal, David, ed. (1998) The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Romaine, Suzanne (1999) Bilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.


Shiv R. Upadhyay is a faculty member in the Department of
Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at York University, Toronto.
His research interests are in sociolinguistics, pragmatics, discourse
analysis, language variation and change, language gender, and
language acquisition. He has recently investigated linguistic politeness
in Nepali print media and revisited the link between linguistic
indirectness and politeness. He is currently working on the
sociolinguistic variation of gender agreement in Nepali and the
grammatical competence of university-level ESL students.

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