Dimensions of bilingualism
LI WEI
Languages in contact
Estimates vary as to how many languages are spoken in the world today. Most reference books give a figure of around 6,000 (e.g. Crystal, 1987; Baker and Prys Jones, 1998). This is in fact a conservative estimate, as many parts of the world have been insufficiently studied from a linguistic point of view. We simply do not know exactly what languages are spoken in some places. What we do know, however, is that there are fewer than 200 countries-that politico-geographic unit to which most of us belong-in the world. It is inevitable perhaps that an enormous amount of 'language contact' takes place. There is a popular metaphor in linguistics that language is a living organism, which is born, grows and dies. However, language is a human faculty: it co-evolves with us, homo sapiens; and it is we who give language its life, change it and, if so desired, abandon it. When we speak of 'language contact', we are therefore talking about people speaking different languages coming into contact with one another. There are many reasons for speakers of different languages to come into contact. Some do so out of their own choosing, while others are forced by circumstances. Key external factors contributing to language contact include (for further discussion, see Crystal, 1987; Baker and Prys Jones, 1998):
Politics: Political or military acts such as colonisation, annexation, resettlement and federation can have immediate linguistic effects. People

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