Language is such a vital part of our existence. We are confronted daily with language through interaction with others and within ourselves through our own inner dialogue. On the whole scientific inquiry and analysis utilizes language in communicating ideas and conducting experimentation. Language itself has subsequently become a focus of study for psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists and certainly amongst linguists. However, language study for the most part focused on identifying areas of language processing within the brain and language acquisition in monolinguals. More recently theorists have undertaken the study of bilinguals in attempt to understand more deeply language processing within the brain in comparing them to monolinguals. Much research into bilingualism has been from a monolinguistic perspective and as a result many preconceived notions about bilinguals became heavily entwined in theories regarding bilingualism and intelligence, or lack-thereof. In this discussion, bilingualism is examined from both cognitive and social perspectives.
[...] The advantages outlined above have resulted in part from the controlling of external variables, namely socio-economic status. In many of the studies subjects were from middle and upper-middle class backgrounds which inevitably present privileges (e.g. familial support, extra-curricular activities, private schooling etc.) in developing high levels of bilingual competence (Romaine 1995). In which case, education plays a mediating role for bilinguals in regards to either heightening or deteriorating cognitive abilities. Bialystok (2001) points out those bilingual children in low income households generally fare worse cognitively due to disadvantages which inhibit the degree to which they gain proficiency in either language. [...]
[...] This has thus allowed theorists to gauge bilingualism on a multi-dimensional scale by addressing: the degree of proficiency, the different functions of language use, the extent to which languages are in alternation and lastly the command over the interference of languages one has (Romaine 1995). Romaine (1995) appropriately characterizes the interconnected nature between these dimensions such that degree of proficiency certainly may designate function and influence language interference. As noted earlier, language serves an instrumental purpose between individuals and groups; from carry out mundane social transactions to communicating inventive abstract ideas. [...]
[...] Much of the positive evidence surrounding bilingualism has result from enhanced experimentation designs (e.g. controlling for socio-economic status, proficiency and impartial testing etc.) and certainly paralleled with optimistic views towards bilingualism. A major cognitive advantage proposed by Bialystok (2001) is that of advanced inhibitory development. Bilingual children were found on many occasions to exhibit greater control over selective attention, which Bialystok (2001) attributed to the heightened ability to inhibit languages not in use. In a number of studies where children were directed to refer to objects by different names, bilinguals significantly outperformed monolinguals when later asked the names of such objects (Clark 1987; Markman 1989; Merriman & Bowman 1989 cited in Bialystok 2001). [...]
[...] This is an indicator of the cultural prestige associated with the Russian language which becomes a means of social mobility and advancement (Bilaniuk 2003; Edwards 1994; Tajfel 1981). Subsequent research in Canada, following francophone legislation and empowerment, found that attitudes towards French shifted more favorably by both French and English participants (Bourhis 1983 cited in Romaine 1995). Thus languages attitudes reflect not the languages itself but its esteemed privileges and authority within a society. This notion has been further developed by Giles, Bourhis and Taylor (1997 cited in Hogg & Vaughn 2004) in their three part model of ethnolinguistic vitality. [...]
[...] For those who are bilingual, generally in a lingua franca in addition to another less prevalent language the advantages and disadvantages become more complex. Issues of self-identity may arise where one does not feel fit to belong to either linguistic group. As mentioned in the first section, bilingualism is a deeply debate issue in itself and cannot be isolated as a phenomenon on its own. Circumstances which give birth to bilingualism range and thus so do the advantages and disadvantages. [...]
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