Francis (2019) – International research on bilingualism: Cross-language and cross-cultural perspectives

International research on bilingualism: Cross-language and cross-cultural perspectives
Norbert Francis
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January 2019
Linguistics and the science of Anthropology have much in common. In fact, to a large extent the two fields overlap. Field workers utilize research models of the ethnographic type as well as approaches that are experimental, methods that are qualitative as well as quantitative, for example. The study of language contact and bilingualism, topic of this paper, presents a good opportunity for drawing on contributions from the two overlapping fields. The focus of the following review of current research will be mainly from the cognitive science point of view, divided into four areas of recent work: (1) bilingual development, first and second language learning and language loss, (2) creolization and convergence, (3) codeswitching and borrowing, and (4) problems related to the distinction between language and dialect. A guiding concept in better understanding the findings of research in these four areas is the special status of the mother-tongue (child first language). In bilingual communities, children often develop mother-tongue, or native-language level, competence in two languages – the acquisition of two first languages. How is second language learning different, and in what ways will research show that it is similar, or the same? Linguistics in East Asia and in other multilingual regions around the world present us with common research problems in the study of language contact and bilingualism because of notable historical parallels. Some of these parallels can be traced to the movement and settlement of founding populations. The more recent immigration and settlement of newer arriving populations is also comparable in some ways from the point of view of cross-language and cross-cultural interaction. In this regard an especially interesting parallel is that between Taiwan and North and South America. The four sub-topics to be briefly reviewed are closely related. The creation of new languages in creolization and convergence is basically about first and second language learning (#1 and #2 above). Related to the questions in this field, we study codeswitching and borrowing (#3) as an aspect of language contact on different levels: internally between the two mental grammars of the bilingual, and externally in communication with other bilingual individuals. How does this kind of linguistic interaction affect learning, language loss, and possible convergence involving two languages or two dialects? Then, what do we mean when we ask: how is variation from one language to another different from variation within a language? This question (#4) is actually difficult to answer. But it is related to processes of learning and communication between speakers of one language, or dialect, and another. Finally, the comparisons centered on East Asia allow us to study the design features of the most divergent writing systems in use in the world today and how these contrasts might be related to the cross-language interaction issues.

Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004452
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Published in: Ethnologia
keywords: bilingualism, latin america, china, taiwan, language acquisition, literacy, morphology, syntax, phonology
Posted in Research (e.g. papers, books)