LINGUIST List 12.1342

Wed May 16 2001

Review: Hamers & Blanc, Bilinguality, 2nd review

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  1. lmh5, Review of Hamers & Blanc, Bilinguality and Bilingualism

Message 1: Review of Hamers & Blanc, Bilinguality and Bilingualism

Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 13:19:10 -0400
From: lmh5 <>
Subject: Review of Hamers & Blanc, Bilinguality and Bilingualism

Hamers, Josiane F. and Michel H. A. Blanc (2000) Bilinguality and
Bilingualism, 2nd edition, xiv, 468 pp., Cambridge University Press

Leslie Hamilton, University at Buffalo, State University of New York,
Buffalo, New York

This book is an updated, revised and restructured version of an earlier
edition (Hamers and Blanc, 1989), which in turn was an updated and revised
version of a book originally published by the authors in French (Hamers and
Blanc, 1983). The second edition is, according to the authors, completely
rewritten from the 1989 edition. In their introduction they outline the
structure of the book and address some concepts that were apparently
problematic in the previous edition, such as the conceptual definition of
"mother tongue" and the ambiguity of the English word "language" in
comparison with the French terms "langue" and "langage."

Hamers and Blanc have undertaken the ambitious project of presenting a
current state of the art survey of research on bilingualism (the use of two
linguistic codes at the societal level) and bilinguality (or individual
bilingualism) which covers approaches from many disciplines, among them
psychology, sociology, ethnography and linguistics. Taking into
consideration a growing interest in language contact issues evident in many
fields, the authors explain that their goal is to present an integrated
view of the principal issues of bilingualism and languages in contact,
while at the same time proposing a multidisciplinary theoretical model of
language behavior which then informs their evaluation of the research
throughout the book.

Hamers and Blanc emphasize that they have selected to discuss only
theoretical constructs which have been empirically confirmed or for which
empirical verification is possible and have rejected models that were
unsound or unverifiable (p.1). In addition to summarizing what they
consider to be the important trends in bilingual research, the authors
critique the various approaches and present their own views based on their
concern for the identification of universals of behavior in language
contact situations (p. 2). According to their theoretical model of
language behavior, language processing proceeds as a sequence of
processing levels embedded in one another (p.13). Language processing at
the personal level is embedded in language processing at the interpersonal
level, and processing at this level is in turn embedded in language
processing at the societal level. These levels are not independent of one
another but are in dynamic interaction (p. 355). Between the levels are
complex mappings of form onto the functions they are intended to serve.

In addition to a Foreword by Wallace Lambert, a Preface, Introduction and
Conclusion, the book contains a Glossary, Subject Index, Author Index and
an extensive Bibliography. The 11 chapters may be divided into three
sections according to the levels of language processing proposed by the
authors' theoretical model. Chapters 1 through 7 focus on various aspects
of the language development and behavior of the individual bilingual
(bilinguality). In the second major division (chapters 8 and 9) the
authors discuss language contact in interpersonal relations. The final
section (chapters 10 and 11) examines language contact at the societal
level and its effect on inter-group relations.

The authors intend the book for all those who are interested in language
behavior or who work with bilinguals, including psychologists,
psycholinguists, sociologists, sociolinguists, linguists, educators,
language teachers, speech therapists, and administrators in bilingual
education (p. 5).

Chapter 1 is dedicated to definitions and an outline of the authors'
theoretical model of language behavior. Language is viewed by the authors
as a tool developed to serve communicative and cognitive functions (p. 8).
The linguistic system is seen as one form of the more general semiotic
system which constitutes culture. Language acquisition is rooted in social
interactions with significant others (p.17). One criticism made by the
authors is that the bilingual is often defined in terms of competence while
ignoring other dimensions. These multiple dimensions and the measurement of
bilinguality and bilingualism are the focus of chapter 2, which explores
the issues of relative competence. In this chapter, measures which reduce
the bilingual competence to the sum of two monolinguals are contrasted with
measures that attempt to measure the characteristics unique to bilingual
behavior. The relative social cultural status of the languages in the
community is taken into account and a variety of measures which can be used
to describe a collective situation of languages in contact are evaluated.
Chapter 3 is a discussion of the ontogenesis of bilinguality which the
authors organize around a set of questions regarding whether the stages of
bilingual acquisition mirror those observed in monolingual acquisition and
the extent to which the bilingual child's languages are differentiated.
This chapter also deals with gestural versus articulated bilinguality and
issues relating to the Sensitive Age Hypothesis and language attrition.
In chapter 4 the authors present a hypothesis of interdependence between
cognitive development and the sociocultural context of bilinguality.
Additive and subtractive bilinguality are defined and studies of the
cognitive advantages and disadvantages of bilinguality are surveyed in
addition to its relationship to intelligence. The authors also discuss the
importance of literacy, social networks and valorization to language
Chapter 5 further elaborates the authors' sociocognitive interactional
model of language development. This model is a connectionist approach
whereby an organized assembly of connections are established through
experience (p.133). Several of the concepts discussed in previous chapters
are brought to bear on this model of language development, which is then
applied to the bilingual situation.
In chapter 6 the authors review evidence from studies of aphasic and
healthy polyglot bilinguals and conclude that age, context and mode of
acquisition, and to a lesser extent the structure of the languages
involved, all play a role in the cerebral organization of the bilingual.
Chapter 7 reviews studies and theoretical proposals on bilingual language
processing. The authors further discuss the compound-coordinate
distinction introduced in earlier chapters. With this chapter the authors
conclude their focus on the individual bilingual.
Chapter 8 examines the interaction of language behavior and interpersonal
relations. Hamers and Blanc suggest that the bilingual develops a unique
sociocultural identity different from that of the monlingual. They suggest
that there is a dynamic relationship between ethnolinguistic identity,
which is shaped by the bilingual experience, and bilinguality which is in
turn shaped by cultural identity.
In chapter 9 the authors review how meaning is negotiated when the
interlocutors are members of different ethnolinguistic groups, how language
interacts with processes of social-cognition mediation and how language may
become a salient dimension of this interaction. Accommodation theory is
discussed, as are communication strategies in intercultural communication.
Different kinds of code-switching behavior are identified and the
principles governing them are outlined.
Chapter 10 examines intergroup relations in language contact situations.
The first section reviews the role of language in establishing and
maintaining group identity. The second part of the chapter investigates
issues relating to linguistic vitality. Diglossia, language shift and
pidginization, creolization and decreolization are also investigated and
the final section examines issues of language planning.
The last chapter (chapter 11) treats issues of bilingual education and the
various consequences for the child. The success of bilingual education is
deemed to be determined by social, historical, ideological and power
relation factors which all interact. Programs designed for majority
children are contrasted with the factors affecting those programs designed
for ethnolinguistic minority children. The authors point out that the
goals of such programs differ, a covert goal of programs designed for
minority children often being cultural assimilation. The level of the
children's literacy-oriented skills is seen to play a crucial role in how
such programs should be designed.

Hamers and Blanc have concentrated an enormous amount of well-documented
information on bilingualism in a single volume. Their Bibliography, which
includes over 1000 entries, attests to the scope and thoroughness of their
endeavor. The authors give a particularly well-rounded presentation of the
research, presenting contradictory evidence as well as that which supports
accepted ideas on bilingualism. In addition, their perspective attempts to
link micro-level psychological factors to macro-level societal factors and
the authors take into account the multiple dimensions that affect behavior
in language contact situations. There does seem to be one significant
omission despite the completeness of the Bibliography, and that is the
research on bilingual behavior by Li Wei. Following the tradition of
social network analysis developed by Lesley Milroy (whose work the authors
cite), Li Wei was among the first to apply this methodology to a bilingual
context--and to code-switching behavior in particular-- in the Tynside
Chinese bilingual community in Britain (for his discussions of the role of
social networks in code choice, see Li Wei, 1994 and Li Wei, 1995).

The comprehensive scope of the book leads to some unfortunate results, in
that some sections are particularly dry, such as the initial section in
chapter 1 which begins with definitions from Webster's dictionary. The
definitions themselves are also at times problematic. These definitions are
most often presented as opposing dyads, leading to the impression that they
represent mutually exclusive oppositions instead of the extremes of
continua, even though the authors try to correct this perception in their
introduction (p. 3). In addition, the introduction to the Glossary carries
the caveat that the definitions contained therein correspond only "to those
used in the book and to not necessarily accord with commonly accepted ones
(p. 367)." This means that the authors' detailed definitions may not
clarify matters at all, but may actually create more confusion. A case in
point is the bilingualism/bilinguality opposition reflected in the title.
The authors' definition of "bilingualism" as "the state of a linguistic
community in which two languages are in contact with the result that two
codes can be used in the same interaction and that a number of individuals
are bilingual (p. 6)" in fact subsumes their concept of "bilinguality."
Hence in their Glossary "bilingualism" is defined as "the state of an
individual or a community characterised by the simultaneous presence of two
languages (p. 368)." It would seem that there is no need for new labels
with overlapping meanings since the important distinction of the societal
and individual levels of bilingualism is well recognized and the new terms
are practically synonymous with the traditional ones. Similar problems
arise with other definitions which suggest a recurrent tendency to make
theoretical distinctions which in practice overlap. "Code-mixing," for
example, is defined in the Glossary as a bilingual strategy whereby
elements or rules of a different language are transferred into the base
language, but that "unlike BORROWING... these elements are not integrated
into the linguistic system of LX [the base language] (p. 369)." However, in
the text code-mixing is said to be related to loan-blending, whereby a loan
word is syntactically adapted to the host language, and the section on
mixed languages seems to indicate that these languages have indeed
integrated the borrowed elements into the linguistic system of the base
language (p. 309). In further discussion, the authors seem to conflate
code-mixing and switching (pp. 309-10) and comment on the existence of
mixed compound verbs in the Punjabi-English contact variety and a
converging structure in that of Cypriot Greek-English. Do the authors
consider these examples of code-mixing or code-switching, or neither?
Again, although examples of the phenomena are mentioned, no specific
examples are given, which makes it more difficult to see the point of some
of the authors' classificatory definitions.

Explanations that are intended to simplify complex issues have sometimes
become more difficult to follow and the summarization of some studies makes
it difficult to see how the conclusions were arrived at. In part this
problem is compensated by including a conclusion to each chapter in which
the main arguments of the chapter are recapitulated and by including a
summary of each chapter as part of the Introduction and Conclusion sections
of the book. While the material covered is interesting, the abundance of
definitions and the lack of examples and would make the book confusing for
most beginning students, although it might be appropriate as a corollary
text for a graduate level course. However, since it is a comprehensive
view of the subject, the book should prove an excellent resource for anyone
working on bilingual issues, especially for those who are just starting out
in a field in which issues of bilingual communication are of importance.


Wei, L. (1994) Three generations, two languages, one family: Language
choice and language shift in a Chinese community in Britain, Clevedon,
England: Multilingual Matters, Ltd.

Wei, L. (1995) Variations in patterns of language choice and code-switching
by three groups of Chinese/English speakers in Newcastle upon Tyne,
Multilingua, 14, 3, 297-323.

As a graduate student in Hispanic Sociolinguistics in the Modern Languages
Department of SUNY at Buffalo, I am working on Spanish-English contact in
the Buffalo Puerto Rican community based on a social networks methodology.
I am particularly interested in the role of social networks in language
maintenance and shift, but also have an interest in aspects of second
language acquisition and bilingual first language acquisition. My Master's
degree, also from SUNY at Buffalo, dealt with issues relating to the
Critical Period Hypothesis.
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