Definitions Relating to Bilingualism
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- There are many definitions of bilingualism, some of them
incorrect and based on myth. A person does not, for example, have to
speak both languages with equal fluency to be a bilingual. It is very
common for bilinguals, even those who have been bilingual since birth,
to be somewhat "dominant" in one language. I (Cindy) define
bilingualism simply as using two languages on a regular basis. There
are other valid definitions of bilingualism, of course; those who are
interested in learning more are invited to skip ahead to the Books and Newsletters page
and start reading some of the references mentioned there.
- bilingual family
- Quite simply, a family in which most of the members are
bilingual. There are many reasons why a family may choose to be
bilingual, and someday they may even be covered on this Web page.
- consecutive bilingualism
- Learning one language after already knowing another. This is the
situation for all those who become bilingual as adults, as well as for
many who became bilingual earlier in life. Sometimes also called
- simultaneous bilingualism
- Learning two languages as "first languages". That is, a person
who is a simultaneous bilingual goes from speaking no languages at
all directly to speaking two languages. Infants who are exposed to
two languages from birth will become simultaneous bilinguals.
- receptive bilingualism
- Being able to understand two languages but express oneself in
only one. This is generally not considered "true" bilingualism but is
a fairly common situation worth naming here.
- other definitions
- Other distinctions are drawn in the literature, for instance
between so-called elitist and folk bilingualism, or
between compound and coordinate bilingualism. These
terms will be further explained on the Politics of
Bilingualism page; the controversies connected with them make
short definitions inadequate.
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