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Reviewed by:
  • Multiple voices: An introduction to bilingualism
  • Elizabeth Lanza
Multiple voices: An introduction to bilingualism. By Carol Myers-Scotton. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. xiii, 457. ISBN 0631219374. $37.

At first glance the reader may wonder why there is a review in Language of an introductory text. Carol Myers-Scotton's Multiple voices: An introduction to bilingualism (MV) is not only an introduction to bilingualism, but also indeed an introduction to the study of language in the world we live in today. Monolingualism is slowly becoming a vestige of the past as globalization and transnationalism impose upon individuals the need and desire to command more than one language. The ideal speaker-hearer is no longer in contact with just one language, and this fact needs to be incorporated into our theories of language. Early on, MS pits two camps of linguists against each other in regard to their views on bilingualism. The first perceives bilingualism as obscuring one's view of language, while the other extols the opportunity bilingualism affords to linguists to understand the structures of a particular language, and ultimately language 'with a big L' (11). It is this latter position that is taken in MV. Hence such an introductory text has the potential of influencing a whole new generation of linguists.

Despite the appearance over the years of several worthy works on bilingualism, there has not been such an accessible introductory textbook on the subject since Grosjean 1982. MV maintains many of the positive features of Grosjean's text, including a personal and engaging style as well as real-life voices and experiences of bilinguals/multilinguals portrayed in vignettes at the beginning of each chapter. MV, however, is decidedly more linguistic in orientation, notably in discussions of language-contact issues. It aims at introductory classes in bilingualism at the upper undergraduate or beginning graduate level, requiring minimal competence in linguistics. Given this aim, MV can be evaluated for its presentation of the current field of bilingualism to new-comers.

The book includes twelve chapters covering various linguistic, psycholinguistic, and sociolinguistic aspects of the field, as well as a short concluding chapter that highlights the main themes of the text and provides guidelines for understanding speakers in relation to their languages. [End Page 892] Also included are a preface, acknowledgments, an extensive list of references, and separate indices of authors cited, of languages, and of subjects treated. Distinctive for each of the informative chapters is the boldfacing of important terms and statements, definitions given along the way, a final summing up at the end, and a list of words and phrases to remember. Throughout MV, concepts are introduced when necessary and ample examples are presented, from linguistics to psycholinguistics to sociolinguistics. As such, MV clearly shows the relevance of the study of bilingual speech for the study of linguistics.

In Ch. 1, MS introduces important basic notions about language and bilingualism, stressing that we are 'innately programmed to acquire language' (3). Furthermore, she dispels misconceptions such as that 'being bilingual' means complete mastery of two languages, and that all linguists are polyglots. A bilingual is presented as 'a person speaking at least two languages' (2), including those who 'have acquired or learned to speak or understand—as a minimum—some phrases that show internal structural relations in a second language' (3). In a discussion of the rationale for many languages today, MS emphasizes that 'each language does "social work" for its speakers' (9), a theme that is interwoven in the subsequent chapters. The chapter concludes with an overview of the book.

Ch. 2 in many ways puts bilingualism on hold as the discussion yields to issues concerning what language is and what the differences are between languages and dialects. Highlighted is what 'social work' they do, sociolinguistic issues fundamental in understanding the social work of bilingualism. A byproduct of this discussion is an introduction to the main systems of language. The discussion returns to bilingualism at the end of the chapter in the discussion of dialectal and stylistic repertoire.

In Ch. 3, MS demystifies the concept of bilingualism in her discussion of who a bilingual is and what factors promote bilingualism. A bilingual is not the sum of...


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