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Bilingualism as a societal phenomenon

Types of multilingualism

While there is “no generally accepted typology of bilingual communities” (Romaine 2004: 389) several criteria can be used in the differentiation of language contact situations, such as (a) the functional criterion (regarding domains of language use) or (b) the territorial one (concerning the status of the languages used in a given geographic space). In a situation of diglossia as is the case in Switzerland, for example, the use of two languages (i.e. (Standard) High German vs. Swiss German) is determined by a functional differentiation (cf. Romaine 1996: 577). Territorial monolingualism, in contrast, characterises officially bilingual countries like Belgium in which two languages are spoken in geographically distinct areas (cf. Ann 2001, Grosjean 1982). This situation contrasts with the case of a scattered or dispersed bilingualism resulting from the urban segregation of linguistic minority groups. Another important variable concerns the status attributed to the languages in a situation of contact, as is explained next.

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