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Multilingualism and Identity Essay


The introduction: multilingualism and its meaning

While describing such phenomena as multilingualism and identity, I would like to highlight the importance of both issues. So, first of all, it is necessary to point out that language is considered to be one of the most important signs, which determine and express identity. Thus, it is obvious that there is a strong interdependence between the two issues.

Mark Warschauer and Inez De Florio-Hansen say that, “The role of language and dialect in identity construction is becoming even more central in the post-modern era, as other traditional markers of identity are being destabilized” (1).

However, the most interesting point is that in our days every European citizen has to know more than two languages. In other words, a person should know his or her native language, English and one more language he or she wants to learn.

Generally, it depends upon a person what third language he or she will choose. This phenomenon is called trilingualism. In the USA, English is recognized to be a common language for all ethic groups.

Moreover, one is to keep in mind that multilingualism in the United States and “plurilingualism of individuals is one of the cornerstones of Europe” (Warschauer & Florio-Hansen 1).

Multilingualism is of great social importance. In our days, this phenomenon can be investigated from different perspectives. I would like to point out that it is not so easy to count exact number of languages, as the border between the language and the dialect is rather ambiguous. However, they say that the inhabitants of Africa and Asia speak larger number of dialects, than the representatives of other regions.

The thesis statement

“The relationship of language to race and ethnicity as essential to the multiple identities individuals are engaged in constructing in the age of information” (Warschauer & Florio-Hansen 1).

It is necessary to determine the interdependence between language and identity and to highlight the impact of language on people’s communication skills and opportunities.

On the other hand, the interdependence between economic, political and social aspects of contemporary society and multilingualism is considered to be a crucial question.

The body: the fundamentals of multilingualism

So, the diversity of languages is really great. They say that there are approximately from 5,000 to 7,000 languages in the world; so, this fact allows one to make a conclusion that multilingualism is rather widespread phenomenon.

On the other hand, the fact that some governmental structures of many countries decided that no more than two languages can be used as spoken languages seems to contradict the previous conclusion.

In other words, it seems that multilingualism is not a widespread phenomenon. So, what statement is to be true? In my opinion, multilingualism is really popular, as it is difficult to find totally monolingual country.

I would like to point out that multilingualism is recognized to be a rule, but not an exception to the rule, as most of people may think. Of course, while speaking about multilingualism at the individual level, one can state that the phenomenon is not so widespread, when comparing with the sociolinguistic level; anyway, one is to keep in mind that the representatives of most of the countries speak more than one language.

Generally, there is a need to specify that when speaking about western cultures, the phenomenon of multilingualism always takes place.

I have to say that I am really fond of Amy Tan’s perception of language. I’ve read her article and was really impressed by her attitude towards language.

Thus, I still remember her phrase, “I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language – the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth” (1). I would like you to read her article to understand the power of language.

There are many definitions of the phenomenon; however, I suppose that the term of multilingualism means a person’s ability to speak three or more languages.

Of course, one can ask why three languages, but not two determine the phenomenon; so, to my mind, it is evident that an ability to speak two languages is mostly associated with bilingualism.

However, I would like to point out that I am speaking about multilingualism and its relation to societal level; so, this fact gives me an opportunity to state that there is certain difference between bilingualism and multilingualism.

On the other hand, if one wants to consider multilingualism at individual level, than the number of languages (two or three) is not important at all.

Another interesting question I would like to highlight is the cause of the phenomenon appearance. They say that multilingualism appeared due to various factors; however, I would like to represent the most common opinion.

So, the members of Sustainable Development in a Diverse World state that the factors which caused multilingualism are “Historical or political movements such as imperialism or colonialism.

In this case the spread of some languages, such as Spanish to Latin America, it results in the coexistence of different languages” (6). Other opinions include economic movements, increasing communications, social and cultural identity, education, and religion movements. Of course, nobody will deny the fact that English is recognized to be the main and the most important language in the world.

“The contact between English and other languages in the three circles and the spread of English in the outer and expanding circles has important sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic implications” (“Sustainable Development in a Diverse World” 8). The three circles of Kachru include expanding circle, outer circle and inner circle.

While speaking about multilingualism, it is necessary to highlight some basic functions of the languages. Thus, the principal functions include “a communicative

function, i.e. the transmission of information in a broad sense, and a symbolic function, associated with cultural and political traits, for example with people’s sense of national identity” (Gazzola 394).

So, taking into account the above-mentioned functions, one can state that it is the influence of a symbolic function, which determines the relation of the language to social, economic and political issues/aspects.

While speaking about language vitality, one is to keep in mind that it is the demographic factor, which determines how many languages will be “at risk”. Thus, one can make a conclusion that limited number of speakers is a crucial aspect, which can’t be neglected.

Patricia Ryan states that, “Languages are dying at an unprecedented rate. A language dies every 14 days” (Patricia Ryan: Don’t insist on English). However, some other factors also play an important role and should be considered in detail.

For instance, status, demography and institutional support are other significant aspects a person is to keep in mind. The status variables include the economic status, the social status, the sociohistorical variable and the status of the group’s language.

The last status can be considered within the community as well as outside the community. The constituents of other factors are below:

Vitality scheme.

(“Sustainable Development in a Diverse World” 15).

They say that the importance of language diversity is determined by the following aspects. These include ecological diversity; identity, which is expressed by languages; language and its relation to human knowledge; languages as repositories of national identity; and language as the most interesting phenomenon.

While speaking about multilingualism in education context, there is a need to point out that “Harvard became part of a trend that also dominated about thirty years of American higher education, during which fewer and fewer students learned foreign languages in high schools and colleges” (Sollors 64).

However, in 1999, a special program was established and non-majoring students were honored with a special award for their achievements in a foreign language. In our days, more than a third of the students of Harvard University take part in the program.

Generally, I have to admit that special programs to study foreign languages appeared long ago; however, at that time American students studied Latin and French. These languages determined the status of well-educated students.

The newer forms of bilingualism are directly related to migratory flows of people and cultural products, have stimulated the study of heritage and minority languages, have made Spanish also by far the most popular foreign language taken by students in the United States, and have led to the establishment of courses like “Beginning Chinese for Native Speakers,” while enrollment in Arabic has increased very noticeably (Sollors 66).

Another interesting aspect I would like to point out is that “For languages such as English and Spanish that have many cognate connections, a focus on cognates can enhance students’ knowledge of TL vocabulary” (Cummins 319).

The conclusion: the importance of the phenomenon

“Though the United States traditionally has no national language policy, US language ideologies are evident in both national educational policy and state level language policies” (Hornberger 46).

In the USA, multilingualism is extremely important issue, as there are many immigrants from other countries. In other words, with the growing population of linguistically and culturally diverse students in the United States, the debate over whether or not multilingualism should be accepted and encouraged in school and in the society quickly becoming one of the most controversial issues.

As a supporter of multilingualism, I agree that the role played by multilingualism in United States is vital. Both school and the society should encourage the spread of multilingualism, rather than requiring English-only education in school or destroying any dialects and non-standard English.

Works Cited:

Cummins, Jim. Multilingualism in the English-language Classroom: Redagogical Considerations, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc., 2009. Print.

Gazzola, Michele. Managing Multilingualism in the European Union: Language Policy Evaluation for the European Parliament, 2006. Web.

Hornberger, Nancy. Multilingual Language Policies and the Continua of Biliteracy: An Ecological Approach, 2002. Web.

Patricia Ryan: Don’t insist on English. Ted. com. 2011. Web.

Sollors, Werner. Multilingualism in the United States: A Less Well-Known Source of Vitality in American Culture as an Issue of Social Justice and of Historical Memory, 2009. Web.

“Sustainable Development in a Diverse World”. Benefits of Linguistic Diversity and Multilingualism. Web.

Tan, Amy. Mother Tongue. Web.

Warschauer, Mark & Inez, De Florio-Hansen. Multilingualism, Identity and the Internet, 2003. Web.

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