Chapter 1

The description of bilingualism

WILLIAM F.MACKEY

BILINGUALISM IS NOT A phenomenon of language; it is a characteristic of its use. It is not a feature of the code but of the message. It does not belong to the domain of “langue” but of “parole”. 1

If language is the property of the group, bilingualism is the property of the individual. An individual's use of two languages supposes the existence of two different language communities; it does not suppose the existence of a bilingual community. The bilingual community can only be regarded as a dependent collection of individuals who have reasons for being bilingual. A self-sufficient bilingual community has no reason to remain bilingual, since a closed community in which everyone is fluent in two languages could get along just as well with one language. As long as there are different monolingual communities, however, there is likelihood of contact between them; this contact results in bilingualism.

The concept of bilingualism has become broader and broader since the beginning of the twentieth century. It was long regarded as the equal mastery of two languages; and this is the definition still found in certain glossaries of linguistics, e.g., “Qualité d'un sujet ou d'une population qui se sert couramment de deux langues, sans aptitude marquée pour l'une plutôt que pour l'autre” (Marouzeau, 1951). Bloomfield considered bilingualism as “the native-like control of two languages” (Bloomfield, 1933:56). This was broadened by Haugen to the ability to produce “complete meaningful utterances in the other language” (Haugen, 1953: vol. 1, p. 7). And it has now been suggested that the concept be further extended to include simply “passive-knowledge” of the written language or any “contact with possible models in a second language and the ability to use these in the environment of the native language” (Diebold, 1961:111). This broadening of the concept of bilingualism is due to realization that the point at which a speaker of a

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