Which "bilingual" countries are actually bilingual?

asm

Senior Member
Mexico, Spanish
It really is; not everybody speaks more than one language, but many (many) are bilingual or more. Is there any threshold to say "one more bilingual person and the country will be?"
My brother-in-law (Swiss) does not recognize his mother language; for him two languages was the norm when he was a child. His case is not isolated or an exception.

I would really like to know if Switzerland is trully multilingual.
 
  • domangelo

    Senior Member
    United States English
    I recently saw a program on French television in which they put to the test the multilingualism of the Swiss. The French speaking reporter tried to get information at the town hall in a fairly large German speaking Swiss city, and was unable to make himself understood by anyone until he started speaking English and bits of German. He also went to a German language class in a French speaking high school in a French speaking canton, and found that after four or five years of German, the high schoolers could hardly put a sentence together in that language. I personally would like to see how many of the French or German speaking Swiss he encountered would be able to understand him if he started prattling away in Italian. They would probably be mystified that anyone would expect them to understand that language.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I do not at all aggree with the definition of a bilingual country that is going around here. Who says that a country, to be considered bilingual, has mainly to be populated by people who were raised bilingually by their parents?

    I think bilingualism in a country is a lot more about two languages being fully recognized as official languages. That means that you can go to any of the authorities and expect to find a civil servant there who speaks your language. It means that you can go to any larger store, restaurant or whatever and be served by someone who speaks your language. And it means that representatives elected into the parliaments, city councils etc. are granted interpreter's services if needed. And of course that both official languages are taught in basic schools.

    Especially in Europe you'll find several different approaches to grant more than one language full recognition.
    Here some examples of what this means in practical terms (chosen at random): Spain, Catalunya - tuition in schools have lessons taught in Catalan and lessons in Castellano over the day; Balearic Islands - stores with 5 employees and more must have at least one eployee who speaks Catalan; Spain (again) in the bilingual regions - applicants for state jobs have better chances if they speak the both languages. If equal qualifications on other points the bilingual person must be preferred; Canada - at least signs, patches on uniforms etc. are bilingual. Civil servants are required to learn both languages, not much but at least it is the right direction.
    ---------------
    What Mallorca is concerned - Catalan (Mallorqui) is definitely widely used also in urban areas. Just walk by a school during breaks and listen - or listen to the kids standing at the street corners with their mopeds. You'll hear a lot of Catalan spoken.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    I do not at all aggree with the definition of a bilingual country that is going around here. Who says that a country, to be considered bilingual, has mainly to be populated by people who were raised bilingually by their parents?

    I think bilingualism in a country is a lot more about two languages being fully recognized as official languages. That means that you can go to any of the authorities and expect to find a civil servant there who speaks your language. It means that you can go to any larger store, restaurant or whatever and be served by someone who speaks your language. And it means that representatives elected into the parliaments, city councils etc. are granted interpreter's services if needed. And of course that both official languages are taught in basic schools.

    Especially in Europe you'll find several different approaches to grant more than one language full recognition.
    Here some examples of what this means in practical terms (chosen at random): Spain, Catalunya - tuition in schools have lessons taught in Catalan and lessons in Castellano over the day; Balearic Islands - stores with 5 employees and more must have at least one eployee who speaks Catalan; Spain (again) in the bilingual regions - applicants for state jobs have better chances if they speak the both languages. If equal qualifications on other points the bilingual person must be preferred; Canada - at least signs, patches on uniforms etc. are bilingual. Civil servants are required to learn both languages, not much but at least it is the right direction.
    ---------------
    What Mallorca is concerned - Catalan (Mallorqui) is definitely widely used also in urban areas. Just walk by a school during breaks and listen - or listen to the kids standing at the street corners with their mopeds. You'll hear a lot of Catalan spoken.

    Let's run Toronto, a city in bilingual Canada, through these tests:

    That means that you can go to any of the authorities and expect to find a civil servant there who speaks your language: PASS for federal and provincial governments, at least in Ontario, legally all towns with over 5,000 french speakers must have services in French. But you might have to wait until they dig around for that French-speaking civil servant until you are helped. FAIL at the municipal (city) level: Good luck trying to buy bus tickets at the kiosk in French.

    It means that you can go to any larger store, restaurant or whatever and be served by someone who speaks your language: FAIL, in Toronto, if you speak to a store clerk or waiter in French, they will think you are crazy.

    And it means that representatives elected into the parliaments, city councils etc. are granted interpreter's services if needed: PASS

    And of course that both official languages are taught in basic schools.: Conditional pass, because the quality of French-as-a-second-language education in the Greater Toronto Area is horrible. Even taking French until high school graduation is not sufficient to hold a full conversation in the language.
    ---
    The situation in Toronto is that its government is legally bilingual at the federal and provincial level. But not at the municipal (city) level: It would be very difficult to find city services like transit, parking, water, recreation, and power in French.

    However, I believe that the test of bilingualism is most important in what the people actually use: if no one speaks French except the civil servants, how can you still say that the city is bilingual?
    ---
    I find that central Los Angeles is bilingual in the reverse sense of Toronto: the federal and state governments are mostly in English only, but almost all municipal services are offered in both English and Spanish, and many (if not most) civil servants at the municipal level speak Spanish. Going to most large stores and restaurants you CAN expect to be able to speak Spanish. This is obviously a result of Spanish actually being spoken in LA, while French is NOT spoken in Toronto. And unlike in Toronto, many immigrants from non-Hispanic countries often learn both English and Spanish in LA, whereas in Canada, immigrants often only learn English, even in Montreal!
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Let's run Toronto, a city in bilingual Canada, through these tests:

    That means that you can go to any of the authorities and expect to find a civil servant there who speaks your language: PASS for federal and provincial governments, at least in Ontario, legally all towns with over 5,000 french speakers must have services in French. But you might have to wait until they dig around for that French-speaking civil servant until you are helped. FAIL at the municipal (city) level: Good luck trying to buy bus tickets at the kiosk in French.

    It means that you can go to any larger store, restaurant or whatever and be served by someone who speaks your language: FAIL, in Toronto, if you speak to a store clerk or waiter in French, they will think you are crazy.

    And it means that representatives elected into the parliaments, city councils etc. are granted interpreter's services if needed: PASS

    And of course that both official languages are taught in basic schools.: Conditional pass, because the quality of French-as-a-second-language education in the Greater Toronto Area is horrible. Even taking French until high school graduation is not sufficient to hold a full conversation in the language.
    ---
    The situation in Toronto is that its government is legally bilingual at the federal and provincial level. But not at the municipal (city) level: It would be very difficult to find city services like transit, parking, water, recreation, and power in French.

    However, I believe that the test of bilingualism is most important in what the people actually use: if no one speaks French except the civil servants, how can you still say that the city is bilingual?
    ---
    I find that central Los Angeles is bilingual in the reverse sense of Toronto: the federal and state governments are mostly in English only, but almost all municipal services are offered in both English and Spanish, and many (if not most) civil servants at the municipal level speak Spanish. Going to most large stores and restaurants you CAN expect to be able to speak Spanish. This is obviously a result of Spanish actually being spoken in LA, while French is NOT spoken in Toronto. And unlike in Toronto, many immigrants from non-Hispanic countries often learn both English and Spanish in LA, whereas in Canada, immigrants often only learn English, even in Montreal!

    And the lousy thing about it is that you'd probably have no problem finding someone who speaks English in Montreal; and the English speaking Canadians take that for granted.

    And if someone asks for a French speaking person at the Coast Guard station in Vancouver where my brother works they are probably going to call for his colleague who originally came from Swizerland.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Here some examples of what this means in practical terms (chosen at random): Spain, Catalunya - tuition in schools have lessons taught in Catalan and lessons in Castellano over the day.

    Isn't this regional bilingualism, though, not national bilingualism? In other words, if you were in a different part of Spain outside Catalunya, would school be taught in Catalan and Castellano? If not, I don't think that's actually an example of a country being bilingual.

    In California, for example, we have classes that are taught all in Spanish, others that are a mixture of Spanish and English (for both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers) and all-English classes. I wouldn't expect to find the same set-up in all other states, though; some, yes, and others, no. So, regionally, following your example the U.S would qualify as a functionally bilingual country because of California, but we're not the whole country.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Isn't this regional bilingualism, though, not national bilingualism? In other words, if you were in a different part of Spain outside Catalunya, would school be taught in Catalan and Castellano? If not, I don't think that's actually an example of a country being bilingual.

    In California, for example, we have classes that are taught all in Spanish, others that are a mixture of Spanish and English (for both native Spanish speakers and native English speakers) and all-English classes. I wouldn't expect to find the same set-up in all other states, though; some, yes, and others, no. So, regionally, following your example the U.S would qualify as a functionally bilingual country because of California, but we're not the whole country.


    Where is the difference? They are autonomous entities, so this can be handled in exactly the same manner as you would if the complete national state were bi-lingual by law. I think they are good examples to learn from, when you are trying to design politics aimed at granting equal rights to different cultural groups within a country.

    Could you tell more about how the bilingual situation is handled in California?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Where is the difference? They are autonomous entities, so this can be handled in exactly the same manner as you would if the complete national state were bi-lingual by law.

    California is certainly not an autonomous entity, contrary to what some Californians may believe. :) We are citizens of the USA, not citizens of the state of California. We are subject to all national laws and no state law can be in direct conflict with federal law. (This gets tested on a fairly regular basis.)

    I don't think Catalunya is an autonomous entity, either, although I could be wrong. Isn't it subject to the laws of Spain?

    Could you tell more about how the bilingual situation is handled in California?

    The bilingual situation is a point of contention for many people, but for the most part it has arisen out of pragmatism, not political idealism. I would say that, functionally, we are a bilingual state. I'm not sure what information you're looking for when you say "handled." Is there something specific you'd like to know?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    So, out of interest, if I went to California and spoke only Spanish, could I get by?

    A few million already do, at least in the Los Angeles area. :)

    You would have Spanish interpreters provided, free of charge, for any court-related work or school conferences. All government documents are in both languages. School notices in our school district are all sent out in both languages. Ballots are in both languages. Many stores are staffed by people who are much more fluent in Spanish than in English. My cable television offers, as part of its basic service, more than a dozen channels in Spanish, from news to talk shows to novelas to movies to 30-minute infomercials to MTV3 and another music video channel. Our mayor speaks both in English and in Spanish at press conferences.

    You might find that only English is spoken in some settings. For example, a commencement address or graduation day address at school would most likely be only in English. Some high-end stores might have fewer bilingual workers on staff, but I don't imagine it would be difficult to find one. High school classes would most likely be completely in English in most school districts. Many jobs would require basic English proficiency in order to work there, particularly office jobs.

    It is not a totally equal handling of the two languages, but as for "getting by", absolutely!
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    A few million already do, at least in the Los Angeles area. :)

    You would have Spanish interpreters provided, free of charge, for any court-related work or school conferences. All government documents are in both languages. School notices in our school district are all sent out in both languages. Ballots are in both languages. Many stores are staffed by people who are much more fluent in Spanish than in English. My cable television offers, as part of its basic service, more than a dozen channels in Spanish, from news to talk shows to novelas to movies to 30-minute infomercials to MTV3 and another music video channel. Our mayor speaks both in English and in Spanish at press conferences.

    You might find that only English is spoken in some settings. For example, a commencement address or graduation day address at school would most likely be only in English. Some high-end stores might have fewer bilingual workers on staff, but I don't imagine it would be difficult to find one. High school classes would most likely be completely in English in most school districts. Many jobs would require basic English proficiency in order to work there, particularly office jobs.

    It is not a totally equal handling of the two languages, but as for "getting by", absolutely!

    These are the kind of things I was hinting at with my question.
     

    Ilana

    New Member
    I haven't really read the whole of the tread, but as far as I can see, this point hasn't been made:

    In Norway we actually have three official languages: Sami, "Book language" and "New Norwegian". It is only a small part of the population speaking Sami, but I think that after the new school laws of last year, everyone have to learn some Sami words and about the culture. Then, "Book language" and "New Norwegian". Officially these languages are seperate, but essentially they're the same. They differ some in grammar and in prefered words, but someone having "Book language" as their "mother tongue" will still understand "New Norwegian". (I write "mother tongue", since they both are written languages, and the spoken languages differs as dialects)
    Still, everyone in Norway learn both languages, even though its big discusions about making it optional. Norway is recond as the only bilingual country, where the languages are essentially the same.

    And, about "the Scandinavian language".. I can't see that Scandinavians are bilingual just because the languages are similar. I can UNDERSTAND Swedish and Danish (If both I and the one I talk to concentrate), but I can't speak any of them. Speaking about one Scandinavian language isn't really correct, since it is three quite distinct languages. It is possible to understand some Italian if you know Spanish, isn't it..?
     

    LenyZaZa

    New Member
    United States of America, English/Spanish
    Hello,
    There are a few countries that don't have an official language at all, some are the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Japan. Others have an official language, but recognize other languages and they are thus called co-offcial. These co-official tounge states are Russia, China, Iraq, Italy, Serbia and Spain. These are countries that have more than one official language, Afghanistan, Belarus, Ireland, South Africa, India, Israel, Canada, Pakistan, Switzerland, Paraguay, Belgium, Finland, Bolivia, Malta, Peru, Singapore, and New Zealand. I can't tell you if citizens of the multi-lingual countries I listed actually speak more than their main tounge since I live in the U.S. but I do have a friend from Israel who not only speaks Hebrew and Arabic but also English. I hope this helped.

    ~~LenyZaZa~~
     

    jonquiliser

    Senior Member
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    And, about "the Scandinavian language".. I can't see that Scandinavians are bilingual just because the languages are similar. I can UNDERSTAND Swedish and Danish (If both I and the one I talk to concentrate), but I can't speak any of them. Speaking about one Scandinavian language isn't really correct, since it is three quite distinct languages. It is possible to understand some Italian if you know Spanish, isn't it..?

    Hehe, or perhaps the other way around; if they were one language (it's not that absurd to claim :p) we'd be monolingual in this pan-Scandinavian language :rolleyes: :p
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Hehe, or perhaps the other way around; if they were one language (it's not that absurd to claim :p) we'd be monolingual in this pan-Scandinavian language :rolleyes: :p


    That is a really good argument.

    And it is true, it is not really relevant to speak about "Scandinavia" here because Denmark should be counted in as well. Denmark is not officially bi-lingual. The only areas where other languages than Danish had an official status have been autonomous for decades - and is only granted a certain degree of protection by Denmark and minor influence on legislative procedures in Denmark but not vice versa.

    What the interaction between the languages are concerned it is probably very much a regional thing: Most people I know in Copenhagen - at least those who grew up there - understand Swedish pretty well. My parents who are native Danish speakers hardly understand Swedish at all. And I con only repeat: They ARE separate languages - with different pronounciation rules, different versions of the alphabet, different grammar and a vast number of false friends. I don't see what we need more to define that they are separate languages.

    The fact that some of us undersand each other is no argument.

    The fact that Germans can understand Letzeburgisch if they concentrate a bit, does not make them one language either.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Sepia, I was not being very serious ;) Sorry if I wasn't clear enough. Just add a row of blinkers in there...!

    I understood it as a joke - but it hit the point right on. After all, arguments has been made by others that they should be considered one language - just based on the assumption that people understand each other.
     

    Pinyot

    Member
    Philippines
    There was a time when the Philippines was a bilingual or even multilingual country, if you consider the influences of the English language. Up until the American occupation, Filipinos spoke Tagalog(or other native dialects) and Spanish.

    In 1973, the Spanish language formally lost its status as the official language of the Philippines.

    Today a Spanish based creole is still spoken in some areas of the Philippines. It is called Chavacano.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    That is a really good argument.
    They ARE separate languages - with different pronounciation rules, different versions of the alphabet, different grammar and a vast number of false friends. I don't see what we need more to define that they are separate languages.

    The fact that some of us undersand each other is no argument.

    Then I guess Austria is a fully bilingual country, since many people speak both Austro-Bavarian and (Austrian-accented) Standard German. Same goes for most parts of the Arab world (the local Arabic plus MSA), and (southern) Taiwan (Taiwanese Minnan plus Taiwanese-accented Mandarin)
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    In France the main language is the french ^^
    But there is a region (west) where people speak an old language.

    There are several several regional languages in France, but none except French have been granted any official status.

    ----

    And what Austria is concerned - there is only one official language, just like in Germany. Once again - the Scandinavian languages are separate languages with different grammar and even differnt versions of the alphabet.

    Even if somebody writes Bavarian dialect or something, he still uses the same alphabet - am I right?
     

    etabetapi

    Member
    English of one of the ex-colonies of the British Empire
    If you find a truly bilingual country, please tell us. The biggest obstacle is that inevitably one of the official languages will have more prestige than the other(s), and thus, many native speakers of the lower prestige languages will be bilingual, but the native speakers of the high prestige language will not even consider it. This is the case in Canada (with high prestige English) Belgium (with high prestige French) and Switzerland (with high prestige French and German in their cantons and low prestige Italian). The list can go on and on.

    Can any country be really bilingual? I think you've just hit the nail on the head. Truly it is about the prestige of the native languages.

    I guess Singapore is as close to a truly bilingual country as anyone can get. That's because English is the official language that's more prestigious than the other official languages (Malay, Mandarin, Tamil).

    As you have pointed out "many native speakers of the lower prestige languages will be bilingual". Since English was the colonial language, and hence a foreign language to most Singaporeans, (almost) every Singaporean is a "native speaker of one of the lower prestige languages". And so most Singaporeans are bilingual.

    However, it is difficult to maintain the state of being bilingual and we are seeing Singapore sliding into becoming a monolingual English country (as can be seen from the fact that the number of English wikipedia articles pertaining to Singapore is a lot more than the total sum of all articles in the other official languages).

    It is my view that no country can be actually bilingual. Though the Singapore government is trying mighty hard to keep Singapore bilingual. We had campaigns to encourage people to speak English; then a decade ago we start having campaigns to encourage people to speak their native language. And in recent years we have campaigns to encourage people to speak grammatical English. It is hard work to keep a country bilingual.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    Can any country be really bilingual? I think you've just hit the nail on the head. Truly it is about the prestige of the native languages.

    ...


    Trying to downgrade this to a prestige thing is absolutely ridiculous. Obviously you know very few - if any - people who belong to native ethnic minorities and grew up different language than the majority in their countries. How can it be only a prestige thing, that a person can adress authorities or other functions of their native country in the language they speak the best?
     

    Grosvenor1

    Member
    Scottish, resident in England, language English
    I don't believe anyone has mentioned Luxembourg, whose citizens are supposed to be trilingual - French, German and Letzebuergsch (the official language, essentially a German dialect). I think the degree of linguistic attainment varies, though quite a few people also have a command of English.
     

    Chaska Ñawi

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    A note since my last post in this thread, over a year ago:

    I actually heard more Quechua and Aymara in Bolivia this last July than during my last visit, perhaps because the country now has an Aymara president and there isn't the same stigma attached to indigenous ancestry. Bilingual people switched back and forth between Spanish and Quechua according to the topic of conversation; the schools in my old village were teaching in both languages; and the signs in the La Paz bus terminal were in all three languages. While I didn't see any interest among Spanish speakers in learning anything other than English or French as a second language, many Quechua and Aymara speakers who spoke fluent Spanish expressed interest in learning each other's languages.
     

    fabiog_1981

    Senior Member
    Milano/Italia - Italiano
    I lived 6 months in Puerto Rico and i can tell you that it's not bilingual at all.
    I mean, everybody speak Spanish and many people know at least some English but only a few can be considered bilingual.
     

    zpoludnia swiata

    Senior Member
    chile english, spanish, german
    Large parts of Africa are effectively bi- or trilingual. There are often village/tribal languages, then regional languages, and national languages. In addition there is probably English, French, or Portuguese depending on the country. People often switch from one to the other depending on topic and who they speak to, they call it "code switching".
    What happens is that people are more proficient in one or the other depending on the topic. This also happens in immigrant communities. You talk about food with your grandmother in one language, but about banking and finance with your boss at work. Therefore, you may know the name for some vegetable in one language, finance terms in another, but don't know both terms in both languages.
     

    siddusom

    Member
    India, Tamil
    India is very multilingual.
    Trying talking Punjabi in Trivandrum, Kerala.

    Spain and India are not totally bilingual.

    If you are in Sevilla, I don't think you can talk Catalan and be understood.
    Try talking Punjabi in Kolkata

    I think many areas in New Mexico and Texas are truly multilingual in that many people born and raised there for generations and who consider themselves American still speak both. But in many areas, I think only Mexican immigrants and their families speak Spanish. Hope someone will clarify this.

    I would really like to know if Switzerland is trully multilingual.
     

    Mzpean55

    Senior Member
    Haiti, French
    Hello all,

    I'm wondering which multilingual countries and regions are actually multilingual?

    There are many countries that have several official languages and officially declare themselves multilingual. Or, like in the case of the United States, there is no official language but there are regions where many languages are spoken, especially Spanish.

    I'm wondering which countries and regions are truly bilingual in that
    if you talk to the average citizen there, they will be able to fluently speak and write in both?

    An example of a bilingual place in Canada would be the sparsely populated area in northern Ontario, a lot of people there speak both French and English fluently. Whereas if you go to Toronto, you can see gov't-sponsored bilingual road signs everywhere but you can swear profusely in French in a crowded mall and the biggest complaint you'd get from parents with children would be to keep your voice down.

    I am wondering if you can do the same thing in places like, say, Zürich and Antwerpen.

    Haiti likes to call itself bilingual.... French and Haitian Creole.... but the high society "claims" it cannot read it... between us that is baloney. I Left Haiti many moons ago... and I can read and speak Haitian Creole.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    Wikipedia states the following on Latvian and Russian:
    Languages

    The official language of Latvia is Latvian, which belongs to the Baltic language group of the Indo-European language family. Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of Baltic-Finnic subbranch of Uralic language family, which enjoys protection by law; Latgalian language — a dialect of Latvian — is also protected by Latvian law as historical variation of Latvian language. Russian is by far the most widespread minority language, also spoken, or at least understood, by large sections of the non-Russian population.[citations needed]

    [edit]
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I would say, this thread has managed to make it totally unclear what anybody means with "bilingual country".
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    Trying to downgrade this to a prestige thing is absolutely ridiculous. Obviously you know very few - if any - people who belong to native ethnic minorities and grew up different language than the majority in their countries. How can it be only a prestige thing, that a person can adress authorities or other functions of their native country in the language they speak the best?

    In many cases, it IS a prestige thing, whether the minority language is viewed as a language in its own right, or "just some uneducated patois"

    For example,
    "Monolingual" Singaporeans are in fact bilingual: In English and Singaporean Creole. (I detest the colloquial, unscientific term "Singlish", as it conjures the image of mangled English).

    Most of the "Arab world" is bilingual, in Modern Standard Arabic and the local Arabic.

    Many parts of southern China are bilingual in the local Chinese language and Mandarin. Hong Kong is bilingual in another sense: The people there speak Cantonese, but write in Mandarin-based Standard Chinese

    Austria and Bavaria are bilingual (Austro-Bavarian and Standard German), and so is central and eastern Switzerland (Allemanisch and German)

    But the general public do not consider these places to be bilingual because the other language lacks prestige.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    In many cases, it IS a prestige thing, whether the minority language is viewed as a language in its own right, or "just some uneducated patois"

    For example,
    "Monolingual" Singaporeans are in fact bilingual: In English and Singaporean Creole. (I detest the colloquial, unscientific term "Singlish", as it conjures the image of mangled English).

    Most of the "Arab world" is bilingual, in Modern Standard Arabic and the local Arabic.

    Many parts of southern China are bilingual in the local Chinese language and Mandarin. Hong Kong is bilingual in another sense: The people there speak Cantonese, but write in Mandarin-based Standard Chinese

    Austria and Bavaria are bilingual (Austro-Bavarian and Standard German), and so is central and eastern Switzerland (Allemanisch and German)

    But the general public do not consider these places to be bilingual because the other language lacks prestige.

    Still it is absolutely un-transparent what you call bi-lingual. You mix up regions where most people speak two languages, where in some way or other two different languages have some official status, and where people may still speak some kind of dialect and where most people definitely do not speak the original regional language that actually belonged there.

    And I doubt very much that you have any older relatives that were ever prevented from speaking their mother tongue - the language they knew best - in public because this could result in severe repercussions from the authorities.

    And when authors and song writers express ther deepest feelings in words - words of their mother tongue it is just a natural thing to do when it happens to be English or High German or some other major language - and when the mother tongue happens to be that of a minority in that country? Just a prestige thing. Sure why don't the idiots not just learn the language of the majority just as well as that in which their parents spoke when they played with them when they were little? It is just a prestige thing, right?

    I might to some extent accept such an argument from someone so talented that he can speak a second language just as well as his first one. Of course, some people can, but surely not all. Can you?
     

    etabetapi

    Member
    English of one of the ex-colonies of the British Empire
    I might to some extent accept such an argument from someone so talented that he can speak a second language just as well as his first one. Of course, some people can, but surely not all. Can you?

    Ahem. I can speak English just as well as Mandarin, and all my friends can do the same; but it has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with environment. Of course, if you compare our Mandarin with a Chinese's, we are not as good. And if our English is compared with a British's, we are not as good as well.

    We are ethnic Chinese who were willing to abandon Mandarin in favour of English in the 70's and 80's. Weaker students who were not able to cope with learning 2 languages would choose to give up Mandarin and learn only English. Even among students who were learning both languages, we saw a deterioration of Mandarin in the face of the prestige of English.

    In the recent decade, China's boom has risen the prestige of Mandarin and deterioration of Mandarin has slowed somewhat. But still, Mandarin is not the language of science and technology; the prestige of Mandarin may have risen, but English is still more prestigious. Those who can't speak English are viewed as uneducated while those who can't speak Mandarin are not discriminated.

    And I doubt very much that you have any older relatives that were ever prevented from speaking their mother tongue - the language they knew best - in public because this could result in severe repercussions from the authorities.

    We haven't seen such a severe ban on mother tongues. But still our mother tongues are discouraged. Mandarin is not our mother tongue; our mother tongues are the various dialects of southern China. It is okay for TV and radio stations to broadcast shows in Korean and Japanese [though they are not our official languages], but they are banned from broadcasting in our mother tongues [Hokkien (Taiwanese), Cantonese, Hakka, Teochew].

    Most young people can no longer speak their mother tongue. Those who still can, are only able to hold simple conversation at a "survival level" proficiency (that's a lot lower than elementary level). Older people who can only speak their mother tongue and nothing else are marginalized. Many grandparents have learnt Mandarin just so that they can communicate with their grandchildren. Some grandparents have even learnt English to attempt to converse with grandchildren who can't speak Mandarin.
    The language situation in my country is sad indeed, but such is life and English still holds its position as a language of prestige here.

    And we were able to become a bilingual country only because English is prestigious and no one wants to be marginalized.
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    ...
    The language situation in my country is sad indeed, but such is life and English still holds its position as a language of prestige here.
    ...

    I can understand there is a certain prestige in being able to speak certain languages - like everywhere else - but that was not really the issue. I suppose you also find that maintaining Hong Kong as bi-lingual Mandarin/Cantonese on all levels of society is not a matter of prestige rather than a matter of survival of a culture.

    Obviously the PRC government don't see any prestige in that, on the contrary.
     

    etabetapi

    Member
    English of one of the ex-colonies of the British Empire
    Obviously the PRC government don't see any prestige in that, on the contrary.

    If you are counting Mandarin, then I'll say Hong Kong is trilingual.

    First Hong Kong was bilingual with Cantonese and English; with English being the language of the colonists. The locals who learnt English could get prestigious jobs (as clerks or book-keepers, for example). English was the prestigious language in Hong Kong. That's how Hong Kong became bilingual.

    If we consider written Mandarin-based Standard Chinese as another language in its own rights, then Hong Kong is trilingual.

    All through history, written Chinese was never a verbatim written language. We spoke our own local Chinese languages (with different grammar and vocabulary) and wrote in Classical Chinese (which was the Standard Chinese before 1919). Being able to write in Standard Chinese has always been a sign of an educated person, and hence a prestige.

    Cantonese is Hong Kong's mother tongue; the "foreign" language here is Mandarin. Why don't they just speak Cantonese and write Cantonese? Being able to write in Mandarin is prestigious (writing Standard Chinese= an educated person). Writing in Cantonese is not prestigious and is restricted to tabloids and pop culture.

    The PRC government probably doesn't see any prestige for Hong Kong to keep Cantonese. Reportedly many young Chinese in China can't speak their own local languages (which the government label as dialects). The way to get a population become bilingual is to have the population recognize that "the foreign language is more prestigious than their own", so that they are willing to learn this foreign language. To keep a population bilingual is to stop a population turn monolingual in favour of the foreign language and losing its own language altogether. Obviously the PRC government was not interested in keeping bilingual populations.

    I still maintain that it's a prestige thing. A "bilingual" country needs to create the illusion that the foreign language is prestigious before it can become bilingual.
     

    Taraborn

    Member
    Spanish and Catalan
    I'd say the Spanish region of Catalonia is probably the closest we can think of in terms of bilingualism. Almost everyone (certainly anyone younger than 30) speaks both languages fluently, and both languages are taught at school, so if you don't know one they will teach you there from a very young age. We have media (newspapers, TV channels, radio...) in both languages. Additionally, to some of your friends you'll speak in Catalan and to others in Spanish (and some of those to whom you speak in Catalan may speak in Spanish with other people :) ).
     

    Sepia

    Senior Member
    High German/Danish
    I'd say the Spanish region of Catalonia is probably the closest we can think of in terms of bilingualism. Almost everyone (certainly anyone younger than 30) speaks both languages fluently, and both languages are taught at school, so if you don't know one they will teach you there from a very young age. We have media (newspapers, TV channels, radio...) in both languages. Additionally, to some of your friends you'll speak in Catalan and to others in Spanish (and some of those to whom you speak in Catalan may speak in Spanish with other people :) ).

    It is my impression too that Catalunya is a good example.

    Nevertheless, you are running the risk of reversing the problem. I find it totally OK that a good deal of the lessons in your schools are given in Catalan, but we already see signs that it is going a bit too far; a rising number of kids coming from Castellano speaking families are dropping out and we are talking about proportionally more than those coming from bilingual or Catalan speaking families.

    Leading politicians on the Islas Baleares are heading in the same direction.
    That is sooner or later going to be a problem too, I think. Some of the "nationalist" politicians would even like to force the local television stations only to allow Mallorqui spoken on the air - not just any kind of Catalan. This goes for dubbed films too. This, of course is ridiculous because if a film is dubbed in Catalan, then it will probably be the mainland dialect, and furthermore, before the film is out in Catalan lots of people will have seen the version dubbed in Castellano, I suppose. And why should talented people from the mainland be prevented from working for Mallorcan television, just because their pronounciation is slightly different and their grammar or vocabulary may be slightly differen on some minor points?

    Another good example is Switzerland, I'd say.
     

    papillon

    Senior Member
    Russian (Ukraine)
    It is my impression too that Catalunya is a good example.
    Nevertheless, you are running the risk of reversing the problem. (...) a rising number of kids coming from Castellano speaking families are dropping out...
    I would suggest threading lightly here, lest this turn into an umpteenth thread on status of Catalan and Spanish in Catalonia and all things related.:) Should you feel inclined to weigh in on that, there are already plenty of threads, for example here, here, here, here and even here; the fate of the last one is what prompted me to write this.;)

    As for the title question, if we are wiling to modified it and ask: to what extent is this or that country/region bilingual? then I would agree with Taraborn that Catalonia is very very bilingual. On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being absolutely bilingual, I give Catalonia a solid 7. Large parts of Ukraine would probably score pretty high as well, with lots of people being proficient in Russian and Ukrainian. I would give Ukraine a 6.
     

    xenon

    Member
    UK English
    As for the title question, if we are wiling to modified it and ask: to what extent is this or that country/region bilingual? then I would agree with Taraborn that Catalonia is very very bilingual. On the scale of 1-10, with 10 being absolutely bilingual, I give Catalonia a solid 7. Large parts of Ukraine would probably score pretty high as well, with lots of people being proficient in Russian and Ukrainian. I would give Ukraine a 6.
    Maybe Scotland would get a 3 because apparently about 30% of Scottish people speak Scots... ah, but is Scots a different language or just a dialect of English? Well, seeing as there are no universally accepted criteria for distinguishing languages from dialects, I wouldn't like to say... But the sure thing is that there they have a hell of a lot more in common than, say, Swahili and Icelandic. I think anyone who can speak those two languages fluently has a much, much higher level of bilingualism than someone who can speak Catalan and Spanish, which, let's face it, are relatively speaking verrry similar (I can understand most of the messages in the Catalan section of this forum just from being able to read/write Spanish).
    I guess my point is that if we are going to put a scale on how bilingual a country/region is, I think something else should be factored into the equation, and that is how similar or unsimilar the languages spoken there are.
     
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