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LINGUIST List 24.2872

Mon Jul 15 2013

Review: General Linguistics; Sociolinguistics; Spanish: Montrul (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 04-Jun-2013
From: Clara Burgo < cburgodepaul.edu">clarabpgmail.com, cburgodepaul.edu>
Subject: El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-5396.html

AUTHOR: Silvina A Montrul
TITLE: El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante
PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Clara Burgo, DePaul University


This book is a necessary introductory textbook, written in Spanish, about
bilingualism in the Spanish-speaking world It provides an extensive and
thorough review of the linguistic, social, political and educational aspects
of bilingualism with the purpose of maximizing the available resources for
educational contexts.

In Chapter 1, there is an introduction to different theoretical approaches to
the study of bilingualism and a description of the variables that define the
degree of bilingualism and the bilingual. It contains an explanation of what
being bilingual means, as well as some important related definitions such as
primary vs. secondary languages or minority languages. At the end, there is a
brief summary of general attitudes towards bilingualism.

The remainder of the book is divided into three main sections: Part I-
Bilingualism and Society, Part II- The Bilingualism of the Individual, and
Part III- Policies and Education.

Part I covers Chapters 2 to 5. Chapter 2 explains the social aspects of
bilingualism, the role of power and identity in language, situations of
languages in contact, and how related issues drive the maintenance or loss of
a language. Due to this contact, several structural changes, such as
code-switching or lexical, morphological, or phonological transfers, have
taken place throughout the history of languages.

In the next chapters, the historical, political, cultural and linguistic
relationships of minority languages co-existing with Spanish in the US, Latin
America and Spanish are examined, in addition to how these relationships
affect the communities in question. Chapter 3 describes bilingualism in Spain,
where three minority languages (i.e. Basque, Catalan and Galician) share an
official status with Spanish. The chapter discusses how Spanish has affected
the status of these minority languages and how recent political changes, such
as the maintenance and revival of the minority languages, have contributed to
the current situation of bilingualism in these areas.

Chapter 4 focuses on bilingualism in Latin American related to pre-Columbian
languages, bilingualism in the Colonial period, and modern-day bilingualism.
In the cases discussed, Spanish is the majority language that is seen as a
symbol of social advance. This chapter ends by addressing Spanish in the
United States, where it is a minority language. Montrul draws parallels
between processes concerning bilingualism in the United States (i.e.
Spanish-English) and that of Latin America and Spain (i.e. Spanish and other
minority languages.

Section II focuses on individual bilingualism. Chapter 6 exposes the
psycholinguistic aspects that take place in the bilingual’s mind. This is a
challenge for psycholinguistics, since it requires explaining how two
languages are organized, how they are processed and how the systems are
related. Age of acquisition and the degree of linguistic competence in each
language have an important role in the connections between the two languages.

Chapter 7 is centered on the acquisition and development of one or two
languages during childhood. Bilingual children develop two parallel linguistic
systems and go through the same developmental stages as monolingual children.
The degree of development and knowledge of a language in a bilingual child
depends on his/her bilingual environment, exposure to input in each language,
and opportunities to use the language in different domains.

In Chapter 8, the author makes a connection with Chapter 1 in order to explain
the importance of the role of age and context of acquisition in characterizing
bilinguals, as well as how a second language is acquired. The main difference
between the acquisition of the first language and that of the second language
are transfer errors from the mother tongue, which are typical of
interlanguage, and have nothing to do with the second language. One of the
possible reasons for non-native competence of a language is the critical
period hypothesis. According to this, if a person is not exposed to a language
from childhood, he/she cannot acquire native-like competence in that language.
Adults learn faster in initial acquisition stages, but younger speakers do in
later stages.

Chapter 9 focuses on Spanish in the US from a psycholinguistic perspective,
specifically, regarding attrition (i.e. the weakening of the mother tongue
during schooling). Many heritage speakers incompletely acquire Spanish and
many patterns of their use of the less dominant language are similar to adults
acquiring a second language. For many Spanish heritage speakers, there is a
change of competence and the dominant language becomes the second one.
However, they tend to have advantages compared to second language learners in
terms of pronunciation and fewer structural transfers.

Section III closes the book by addressing politics and education. Chapter 10
starts with a discussion of the foundations of bilingual education. The goal
is to examine its role in sociopolitical contexts. Governments decide what
language(s) will be diffused. Therefore, minority languages have to be
standardized in order to be transmitted in school. Bilingual schools are
subjected to linguistic and educational policies that need to be considered
for implementation. As such, these schools have different focuses regarding
the type of education, students or political status of languages.

In Chapters 11, 12 and 13, the current situation of linguistic policies in
Spain, Latin America and the United States is examined. In Chapter 11, it is
claimed that bilingual education and the use of minority languages for
instruction contribute to expanding their use as well as their political and
social status. A lack of education in the minority language contributes to its
loss. In Spain, there has been an important investment in the revitalization
of these languages through linguistic planning and education.

In Chapter 12, Montrul explains that there are two models of bilingual
education that are contradictory in Latin America: bilingual intercultural
education and elite bilingualism. The former explains subtractive bilingualism
in indigenous communities, while the latter promotes additive bilingualism
(Spanish-English) in middle and upper social classes. These modalities of
education respond to the actual breach between classes in Latin America. After
the 1970s, there were radical movements advocating for indigenous rights and
access to education in their languages. Therefore, bilingual intercultural
education has been adopted, since its objectives are maintaining and
developing indigenous languages and integrating them in school curriculum.
This model advocates for the defense of both cultures, but lacks resources. On
the other hand, elite bilingualism refers to private bilingual schools in
Spanish and English for students of the upper social class, and has many

Finally, Chapter 13 focuses on bilingual education in the United States, which
has a long history linked to immigration and social and educational policies.
The general norm in educational politics in the United States is promoting
English as the only language for economic and social success, which is
detrimental for the maintenance of minority languages. Foreign languages are
studied at the high school or college level, and therefore, Hispanics have
access to Spanish programs, particularly those for heritage speakers, so that
they can reconnect with their heritage language and culture.


The goals of the book and the intended audience are clearly and specifically
described by Montrul. The book fills an important gap in the fields of Spanish
bilingualism and Spanish in contact with other languages and is intended for
advanced Spanish undergraduates, graduate students, Spanish instructors,
sociolinguists, or students of related fields interested in Spanish in contact
with other languages. There was a need for a textbook written in Spanish that
includes a general overview of bilingualism and of Spanish spoken throughout
the world, including in the US. This is the first textbook in Spanish for
students of Hispanic Linguistics interested in bilingualism. Even though it is
an introductory book, it requires previous knowledge of basic syntactic and
linguistic terms.

As a pedagogical tool, the structure of the book is very user-friendly; there
is an introduction in every chapter and the author connects each chapter with
others, which gives a type of cohesion to the book that is very helpful for
students. At the end of each chapter, we also find a summary, a list of
keywords, comprehensive questions, follow-up exercises using data analysis and
practical applications, and a relevant bibliography, all of which are very
useful for undergraduate students. Some of the chapters even add discussion
questions and topics for further research.

Even though the book is divided into three main sections -- Bilingualism and
Society, Individual Bilingualism and Politics and Education -- the author does
an amazing job of relating chapters to each other in order to give coherence
across this structure. This strategy will particularly be appreciated by
students because it allows them to easily draw connections between concepts
that may superficially seem somewhat disparate.

Specific chapters within the book are particularly strong. For example, in
Chapter 2, a good variety of examples are presented to explain structural
changes in language contact situations, which include comments on several
indigenous languages such as Quechua, Guarani, or minority languages like
Basque. As far as I know, this is the first book to do this in such an
exhaustive way, and in a student-friendly format, so that the intended
audience can account for social aspects that involve bilingualism in these
areas. Furthermore, in Chapters 3 and 4, minority languages are presented
through representative examples of the situation of most bilinguals living in
the areas in question. This effectively introduces the historical context of
the contact situation with Spanish of these minority languages in Spain and
Latin America.

In Chapter 9, after comparing the situation of second language learners to
that of heritage speakers, there is a final section on possible advantages for
heritage speakers, despite their similarities in terms of acquisition, which
is extremely helpful for teachers or students interested in the
psycholinguistics of bilinguals. This seems to be an innovation in books of
this kind.

Finally, in the final chapters, readers get a critical review of bilingual
education, especially in the United States, as well as heritage programs,
which attempt to reconnect Spanish heritage speakers with the language they
learned in their childhood, which is typically gradually replaced with
English. After understanding what being bilingual means and how bilingualism
is understood in other countries, in addition to the role it plays, the
information presented here encourages reflection on our role as educators in
the US and how to improve how we address the needs of these students.

This book, written by one of the most renowned scholars in the field, raises a
critical awareness of the complexity of bilingualism in the Spanish-speaking
world in social, cultural and political contexts. It is written in an
accessible style for students and teachers, and thanks to its wide amount of
exercises and discussion topics, can be used for a Spanish bilingualism course
or as a self-study textbook. In sum, Montrul offers an updated overview of
Spanish in bilingual situations around the world, written in Spanish, which
usefully expands upon previous work by Zentella (1997) and Silva-Corvalán


Silva- Corvalán, C. (1995). Spanish in Four Continents: Studies in language
contact and bilingualism. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown U. Press.

Zentella, A.C. (1997). Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in New
York. Malden, MA: Blackwell.


Clara Burgo is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Spanish at DePaul University.
Her research interests are Sociolinguistics and Spanish for Heritage Speakers.
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