Recently, a school superintendent in Arkansas refused a request to have foreign languages taught at secondary level; he said, ‘If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for you.’ 1 This is a rather unusual way to deny the value of other languages and—who knows?—the story may be apocryphal or, at least, heavily embroidered. The idea, however, that expansion of the linguistic repertoire is unnecessary remains common among speakers of ‘large’ languages. Equally common is ignorance of the scope of multilingualism, past and present, and of the powerful relationships between languages and all aspects of social and psychological life. One of my most basic aims in this book has been, simply, to provide information which might counteract such ignorance. From the initial presentation, in Chapter 2, there is a logical progression to the ramifications and implications of multilingualism: what problems and challenges for communication it creates, how and why languages compete, why the defence of languages is such a vital and enduring part of the story and so on.
There are some key concepts which, directly or implicitly, have recurred in the discussion. One of the most central is surely necessity, given the existence, from earliest times, of different language communities, there has always been a need for multilingual facility. Sometimes this is seen at a personal level, sometimes translators act as agents of communication and sometimes official policies exist which recognize these communities and—theoretically, at least—unite them under some acceptable state umbrella. We have also seen that the bridging of language barriers can be accomplished through shared second languages, through agreement on a lingua franca. I was concerned to point out early in the book, however, that communicative necessity often sits uneasily with the powerful sentiments attached to maternal varieties: there is a strong tension, then, between the pull of parochialism—and the special perspective on the world which is often seen to be uniquely associated with a first language—and the very obvious attractions and rewards of moving out of the shadow of le clocher. It seems to me that this tension is an extremely important one, and that to ignore or dismiss it is to severely hamper our understanding of the social