Monday, January 7, 2013

¿Hablas español y otra lengua? ¡Lee esto! (Do you speak Spanish and another language? Read this!)

A review of El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante (Bilingualism in the Spanish-speaking world) by Silvina Montrul.

by Itxaso Rodríguez-Ordóñez

Itxaso Rodríguez-Ordóñez is a Ph.D student in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at the University of Illinois where she is conducting her research in Basque-Spanish bilingualism.
The author of this book, Professor Silvina Andrea Montrul, is a Professor in the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Illinois. She is the director of the Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism Lab (SLAB) and the founder and director of the University Language Academy for Children.

Editor: Jessica Nicholas (PhD Candidate in French)

Source: United World College Maastricht Geography wiki
What is common between a Catalan, a Basque, and a Galician from Spain? Try this: all three speak a local language at home and so-called Spanish (Castilian) in school and at work. True? Not that simple. There is a push for languages like Catalan and Basque to be heard in EU institutions (click here to find out more), one can go to school in Basque, and Galician is a literary language celebrated by a special public holiday, called “Días das letras Galegas” every 17th of May!

What is true, though, is that Catalans, Basques and Galicians tend to be bilinguals; that is, they are people who speak two languages in their daily life.
If you want to know more about all this, here is one accessible reading I can recommend: El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante (Bilingualism in the Spanish-speaking world) by Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Click here for the publisher’s information about the book. This is the first book written on bilingualism in Spanish around the world that combines insights from three different fields of study of bilingualism: psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics and education. The author, Professor Silvina Montrul from the University of Illinois, demonstrates that these three subfields are pretty intertwined. For instance, she talks about the prestige that Spanish enjoys in contact with other local languages in Latin American and Spain and the minority status it holds in the United States despite the rapid increase of the number of Spanish speakers in North America. Why is it that Spanish occupies the third position among the most spoken languages in the world and yet it is still subject to a stigma, or social shame, in some contexts? What are the factors that contribute to the successful acquisition of Spanish as a minority language under various sociopolitical pressures? What are the diverse roles that education occupies in the three territories?

I like that every chapter is written in direct and elegant style and accessible language. Even the most difficult technical terms are clearly explained, which make them understandable not only to the academic reader but to anybody interested in the study of multiple languages in the brain and in society. There is a synthesis after each chapter followed by comprehension questions. Through these exercises, the reader is invited to reflect on a lot of different bilingual situations and to take a step further in individual analysis. The many sources it draws on to present a global transatlantic perspective on Spanish bilingualism make the book an informative and enjoyable reading.

Give it a read, think of the stories and generalizations, and you might never look at a Spanish bilingual in Europe and elsewhere in the same way again.


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