Sociolinguistic Studies, Vol 2, No 3 (2008)

Defining and investigating monolingualism

Elizabeth M Ellis
Issued Date: 11 Dec 2008


Some may find it strange to see a special journal issue on monolingualism. After all, is it not bilinguals and multilinguals who present the more interesting questions? It certainly seems so, for research has concentrated on their linguistic, psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic make-up. The implication of this is that monolingualism is the norm, and that bilingualism and multilingualism constitute abnormal states which merit investigation; even though this idea sits oddly with the belief of most linguists that the majority of the world’s population is bi- or multilingual, and that therefore monolingualism may be the exception rather than the norm. There is little systematic investigation of monolingualism: Romaine pointed out in 1995 that she would find it strange to see a book with the title ‘Monolingualism’. This special issue of Sociolinguistic Studies carries just such a title, and the papers it includes represent an attempt to explore the phenomenon of monolingualism from a number of different perspectives. In this introduction I will outline why a simple definition of monolingualism is neither easy to establish nor useful, and also why it is important to come to an understanding of it as a particular kind of ‘lingualism’ (Cruz Ferreira p.c.). I then review ways in which monolingualism has been represented thus far in the literature, outline some possible research questions and end by introducing the contributions to this volume.

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DOI: 10.1558/sols.v2i3.311


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