BILINGUALISM (lat. bi- “two” + lat. lingua “language”) is a fundamental condition for a successful communication in modern world. However, in linguistics there is no universal approach to the problem of B. Traditionally, B. is described as the ability to speak and to understand at least one more language (apart from the speaker’s mother-tongue) as well as the use of two or more languages. U. Weinreich defines B. as the practice of alternative use of two languages [Вайнрайх 1979: 263]. V.U. Rozentsveig specifies B. as the command of two languages and regular change between them depending on the situation [Розенцвейг 1972: 80]. L.V. Scherba identified B. as the ability of certain groups of population to speak two languages [Щерба 1974: 313]. Recent linguistic data have shown that there are approximately 25 times as many languages as there are countries and about 70 per cent of the Earth’s population are thought to be bilingual or multilingual (able to speak three or more languages) [Grosjean 1982]. Thus, the situation B. as well as multilingualism is present in practically every country of the world.
The term B. should not be confused with the phenomenon of diglossia. D is a situation when a person uses two subsystems of one language (e.g. the high and low variety of one language). Contrary to diglossia, B. presupposes the command of two and more different languages. The phenomenon of B. emerges in multi-ethnic, multicultural societies or when two or more neighbouring languages come into contact.
There exist different classifications of B. In terms of language fluency, B. can be classified into coordinate, sub-coordinate and compound or additive (where the semantic system of one language prevails, or the systems of the two languages complement each other). As far as the level of language use is considered, B. can be categorized into balanced and unbalanced (where the knowledge and the frequency of language use is assessed). Depending on the way of the second language acquisition, B. can be classified into acquired and learnt. B. can fall into individual B. and societal or group B. Thus, among the world famous bilingual writers one can name V. Nabokov, O. Wilde, W.S. Maugham; societal B. is wide spread in Canada, India, Singapore, Papua New Guinea.
Not only linguistics is investigating the phenomenon of B. but it also poses a certain interest to other fields of science. For instance, sociology views B. as a part of the society’s culture. Psychology studies B. in terms of its influence on psychological processes and on human individual development. Nevertheless, the problem of B. needs in-depth comprehensive research not only from the theoretical viewpoint but also from the practical one.
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Розенцвейг В.Ю. Языковые контакты: Лингвистическая проблематика. – Л.: Наука, 1972.
Щерба Л.В. К вопросу о двуязычии / Языковая система и речевая деятельность. – Л., 1974.
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Romaine S. Bilingualism. 2nd ed. – Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.