Competence in more than one language can, as we have seen, be approached at either an individual or a social level. Furthermore, these two levels need not be as neatly connected as might first be thought. While it is true that a country full of multilingual people is itself multilingual in an obvious sense, it may nevertheless recognize only one or two varieties and thus, in another sense, be something less than multilingual. Conversely, a country may be officially bilingual or multilingual and yet most of its citizens may have only a single-language competence. Many states in Africa, for example, have two official languages—usually a strong indigenous variety and an important European one—for a highly heterogeneous and multilingual population. On the other hand, a country like Switzerland, with recognition granted to four languages or, better, Canada, which officially sanctions two, hardly resembles the linguistically rich and varied countries of Africa. It will be necessary in this chapter, then, to consider both individual and social manifestations of bilingualism, but it is also necessary to point out from the beginning that the emphases are quite different; a thoroughgoing discussion of individual bilingualism involves, for example, linguistic and psycholinguistic dimensions which figure much less prominently, if at all, at the social level where other dimensions—historical, educational, political and so on—arise for consideration.
Everyone is bilingual. In saying this, I make the assumption that there is no one in the world (no adult, anyway) who does not know at least a few words in languages other than the maternal variety. If, as an English speaker, you can say c’est la vie or gracias or guten Tag or tovarisch—or even if you only understand them—you clearly have some ‘command’ of a foreign tongue. Such competence, however, does not lead many to think of bilingualism. If, on the other hand, you are like George Steiner, who claims equal fluency in English, French and German, and who further claims that, after rigorous self-examination—of which language emerges spontaneously in times of