Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Bilingualism is a phenomenon in which a person can speak more than one languages. Sometimes Bilingualism is contrasted with Multilingualism. The former one is used to refer to 2 languages as 'bi-' means two, while the latter is used to refer to more than two languages. Another distinction which is granted to these two terms is that Bilingualism refers to individual phenomenon of speaking more than one languages, while Multilingualism is used for societal Bilingualism i.e. the situation in which whole societies are Bilingual examples are Pakistan, India and Canada etc. More recently, however, the term Multilingualism is being used less frequently as compared to Bilingualism which is now used to cover all situations in which more than one languages are being spoken whether that situation is at individual level or at society level.

The person who can speak more than one languages is referred to as a Bilingual or Multilingual. Bilinguals have different kinds. The most traditional kinds were given by Weinreich (1963). A brief introduction of each kind is provided below:

  • Co-ordinate Bilinguals are those people who have learnt both languages in different environments. The languages would most probably be used for different functions. If a person learns Urdu in Pakistan and English from the Britain, then he will be called a Co-ordinate Bilingual. Such people have separate systems for each language in their minds. So the words and concepts of each language will be kept in the mind separately.
  • Compound Bilinguals are those people who have learnt both languages from the same environment. The languages would not have separate system in the mind, but the they will have one system. The concepts would be kept in one box in their minds, while the words will be different for both languages. We can see Urdu and Punjabi as an example. Both are learnt in the same environment, and thus it can be said that we, the Punjabi speakers of Urdu, are Compound Bilinguals i.e. we have same system of concepts in our minds but the only thing which changes is the words or vocabulary items of two separate languages.
  • Subordinate Bilinguals are those people who have learnt a second language and cannot understand it without the help of their first language. Such people will translate the words of second language in their mother tongue, then they would be able to understand them. Thus we can say that the concepts in mind will remain in one system i.e. the system of mother tongue, but an additional language is attached to that system through mother tongue.

A visual representation of Weinreich's kinds of bilinguals. 

Now a days only first two kinds i.e. Coordinate and Compound are endorsed by the researchers and experts in the field, while the third one is dropped.

Bilingualism is a social, psychological as well as linguistic phenomenon. Whenever there are more than one languages in a society, the issues of language identity, promotion or selection of a language and educating children in a particular language arise. All these issues are related to social aspect of Bilingualism. On the other hand, the researchers try to find out "how the two or more languages are stored in mind", "whether knowing more than one language is beneficial", "Bilinguals are different from monolinguals or not". All these issues are related to the psychological aspect of Bilingualism. And lastly, there are questions regarding code switching and code mixing (how the bilinguals are able to mix two different languages) which come under the heading of linguistic aspect of Bilingualism.