Review of El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablanteposted February 27th, 2013
Reviewed by Louisa Buckingham, University of Nizwa
Silvina Montrul’s textbook on bilingualism in the Spanish-speaking world will be welcomed by instructors in Spanish programs. This is likely to be particularly true in the English-speaking world, where numerous texts on particular aspects of bilingualism can be found in English, but where it may be difficult to find a text suitable at the undergraduate level that is written in the target language and deals with bilingualism from the perspective of target-language communities in the Americas and Spain.
This text encompasses a wide variety of issues related to bilingualism at an individual, community, and regional or national level, and can be used in courses on language acquisition, sociolinguistics, or language planning. The approach encourages a critical appreciation of the complexities of the concept of individual and societal bilingualism. The author succeeds in making accessible a wealth of research that may otherwise be inaccessible to students at the undergraduate level due to its, at times, highly specialized nature.
The text comprises thirteen chapters divided into three main sections: bilingualism and society, individual bilingualism, and educational policies. The introductory chapter provides an overview of the theoretical conceptualization of bilingualism, providing an appreciation of the multifarious ways in which the phenomenon may be defined.
In the first section, the author discusses bilingualism in Spain and Latin America, focusing on both marginalized Amerindian languages and the English-Spanish bilingualism of some elite social sectors in the Southern Cone. This overview underscores how socio-political factors governing the status of each language affects the relative levels of proficiency attained in the speaker population. The second section considers three aspects of bilingual language development: psycholinguistic adult bilingualism, the development of child bilingualism, and second-language learning at or after puberty. The most interesting chapter in this section is perhaps that on first-language attrition, a topic less commonly dealt with in the literature. The author draws on her own considerable research on language use by Spanish heritage language speakers in the United States. As one of the most renowned scholars in this particular field, the author provides an immensely valuable overview of research on a topic that has far-reaching social repercussions in many parts of the United States.
The final section discusses second-language educational policies, thus providing the socio-educational context for the societal and individual bilingualism described in the previous sections. The author begins by outlining approaches to and theories behind bilingual education and then discusses bilingual educational policies in Spain, the United States, and Latin America.
Each chapter is replete with graphs, diagrams, and excerpts from personal testimonies concerning bilingualism in the lives of individuals, which facilitate the comprehension of issues presented in the text and provide additional material for discussion. Each chapter ends with a list of key terms, comprehension questions, and follow-up questions to encourage the application and analysis of themes. Some general knowledge of linguistic concepts is required, particularly for the chapters on code-switching; however, such fairly basic grammatical concepts are usually introduced in undergraduate language courses. The book is written in an accessible style and is equally suited both for self-study and for use as a course textbook.