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Bilingualism, Multilingualism and Plurilingualism: Living in two or more languages

Última actualización: 3 Oct 2019

Source: Healthy Linguistic Diet, 27 mars 2019

The terms bilingualism, multilingualism, and more recently plurilingualism, are used more and more frequently in public discourse, whether we speak about schools and education, immigration and multicultural societies, language policy, exclusion or inclusion. But what is the difference between them? Are they referring to different concepts? The three terms are often used interchangeably, and the main difference might lye not so much in their precise definition as in the associations they invoke.

Literally, bilingualism refers to the knowledge of two languages, but it is often used to encompass also three, four or more, as opposed to the knowledge of only one language, referred to as monolingualism. As such, the term bilingualism has been used in much of the recent research examining linguistic, cultural and cognitive aspects of using more than one language, as in “bilingualism delays the onset of dementia by 4 years”, “is there a bilingual advantage in executive functions?” etc. Setting aside the correctness of such claims (you can find more on it in the blog “Sima effect” below), many studies have not distinguished between people speaking two, three or more languages; the basic distinction was between “monolinguals” (speaking only one language) and “bilinguals” (speaking more than one). Read more... >>>>>>>