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INCIDENCE OF BI-/MULTILINGUALISM IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES

As discussed earlier, bilingualism is present to varying degrees in practically all countries of the world. This is the case whether the countries are officially bilingual or not. In discussing the incidence of bilingualism, Mackey (1967) makes a useful distinction between the official, de jure bilingualism of a country and the actual, de facto bilingualism of its people. He points out that there are actually fewer bilingual people in the officially bilingual countries than there are in the so-called monolingual countries because “bilingual countries were created not to promote bilingualism, but to guarantee the maintenance and use of two or more languages in the same nation” (1967: 11).

Officially Bi-/Multilingual Countries with Few Actual Bilinguals

A good example of an officially multilingual country that has few actual bilingual speakers is Switzerland. Switzerland has four official languages, which vary greatly in the number of speakers. (Swiss) German is spoken by 64% of the Swiss population in 19 of the country’s 26 cantons while French is spoken by 20% of the population in four cantons in the western part of the country. Italian and Romansh (a language similar to Latin) are spoken by 7% and 0.5% of the population respectively (Swiss Federal Statistical Office, 2011). However, only about 6% of Swiss citizens can be considered multilingual in the country’s four official languages, and English is much preferred over the other official languages as a second language (Romaine, 2006). Although all four languages are recognized by the Swiss government, they do not have the same prestige. For example, very few Swiss learn Romansh or Italian, but most speakers of Romansh and Italian learn either German or French. German and French are clearly the more dominant languages in Switzerland.

Canada has English and French as its two official languages, but the rate of individual bilingualism in the official languages varies widely among the provinces, and is typically asymmetrical. French-speaking Canadians are much more likely to be bilingual in the country’s two official languages than Englishspeaking Canadians. In Belgium, Dutch-speaking Flemings represent about 60% of the population mostly in the north and west of the country, and French-speaking Walloons represent about 40% in the south and east. A small German-speaking minority represents less than 1% of the population. But here too, the incidence of individual bilingualism in the country’s official languages is uneven—a higher percentage of Dutch-speaking Flemings speak French than French-speaking Walloons speak Dutch.

In all three countries, language differences are associated with distinguishable territories within the country. These countries are essentially collections of largely monolingual regions whose languages are protected by law. The reason these countries have chosen official bi-/multilingualism is that “they wish to recognize the linguistic identity of the groups that make up the country,

and they want to help certain linguistic minorities maintain and ‘defend’ their language against the larger groups” (Grosjean, 1982: 19).

 
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