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Review of  Receptive Multilingualism

Reviewer: Cigdem Sagin Simsek
Book Title: Receptive Multilingualism
Book Author: Jan D. ten Thije Ludger Zeevaert
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 19.627

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EDITORS: ten Thije, Jan D.; Zeevaert, Ludger
TITLE: Receptive Multilingualism
SUBTITLE: Linguistic analyses, language policies and didactic concepts
SERIES: Hamburg Studies on Multilingualism (HSM)
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2007

Çiğdem Sağın-Şimşek. Department of Foreign Language Education. METU. Ankara. Turkey

This book presents a comprehensive analysis of receptive multilingualism in
Europe. It not only scrutinizes a relatively neglected topic within the field of
multilingualism but does so with the purpose of revealing new perspectives from
different theoretical frameworks on the linguistic analyses of receptive
multilingualism in Europe, it stimulates the readers, and sets the agenda for
future research. Another significant contribution of the book is that, while
principally focusing on receptive multilingualism, it helps the reader
reconstruct the historical developments of various multilingual constellations
in Europe.

The book is an edited collection of chapters consisting of four main parts: Part
I: Historical development of receptive multilingualism; Part II: Receptive
multilingualism in discourse; Part III: Testing mutual understanding in
receptive multilingual communication; and Part IV: Determining the possibilities
of reading comprehension in related languages. Each chapter of these parts is a
separate paper examining receptive multilingualism in a special context and from
a different perspective. Notes and the list of references cited are given after
each paper as is the case in such collections, while the name and subject
indices are placed at the end of the book. This review will start with a
chapter-by-chapter concise description and will then offer a critical evaluation
of the book as a whole.

Studies on receptive multilingualism have a long tradition going back to the
early fifties. With Einar Haugen's seminal work entitled (in the revised English
version) ''Semi-communication: the language gap in Scandinavia'' (Haugen, 1966),
the phenomenon of receptive multilingualism was first introduced into the field
with the term 'semi-communication'. Following that and using the term 'receptive
multilingualism', multilingual communication between neighboring languages was
of interest to many other researchers. To list some of them, communication among
Scandinavians (Maurud, 1976; Zeevaert, 2004), Spanish and Portuguese (Jensen,
1989) and Slovakian and Czech (Budovicova, 1987) attracted attention. This book
can be considered as a refreshing addition to the existing work on receptive

The introductory chapter by the editors clarifies the focus of the book by
defining the concept of receptive multilingualism as ''the language constellation
in which interlocutors use their respective mother tongues while speaking to
each other'' (p.1). Specifying the three tacit assumptions that the volume aims
to challenge in the field of multilingual communication research, the editors
present the main line of arguments pursued by each chapter (p. 2):

1. Multilingualism is a social phenomenon deeply embedded in European language
2. Multilingual understanding does not necessarily require near-native language
3. English as lingua franca is not the one and only solution for interlingual
communication in Europe.

The editors, then, referring to the contributions in this volume briefly explain
their position vis-à-vis these assumptions. To start with the first assumption,
the fact that linguistic and cultural diversity is profoundly settled in the
history of Europe has its reflections on the present linguistic situation and
the related principles of European Union, which are declared by the European
motto ''unity in diversity''. Considering the second assumption, the editors state
that near-native language competency is no longer a precondition for successful
multilingual communication to occur in various settings. Instead, the editors
emphasize the necessity for the description of new oral and written competencies
involving notions like meta-linguistic and intercultural understanding, action
and institutional knowledge. As for the third assumption, lingua franca English,
the editors highlight the fact that English is an important international
language which, however, should not be regarded as the one and only solution for
interlingual communication in Europe. On the contrary, they propose the method
of receptive multilingualism as an efficient way for mutual comprehension
depending on the typological distance of the languages involved, the language
competencies of the participants, and the preconditions of the communication
context. The editorial introduction ends with an outline of each chapter written
by researchers from a wide spread of affiliations.

Part I, entitled ''Historical development of receptive multilingualism'', consists
of two chapters. The first chapter in this part presents a comprehensible survey
of the linguistic situation in northern Europe in the late Middle Ages and early
Modern Times (Chapter 1: Receptive multilingualism in Northern Europe in the
Middle ages: A description of a scenario, by Kurt Braunmüller. pp. 25-47).
Braunmüller starts his article with the reproach that receptive multilingualism
has not received sufficient attention as opposed to the other forms of
active/productive bilingualism and it has still not been considered as a
manifestation of bilingualism in its own right. Referring to the early
manifestations of receptive multilingualism when giving the features that
distinguish receptive multilingualism and productive bi/multilingualism, he
states that especially between genetically closely related languages (e.g. the
relationship between Low German and the Scandinavian languages/dialects
explained in this article) receptive multilingualism was then a kind of
asymmetric communication restricted to face-to-face interaction. The linguistic
forms played only a marginal role. Linguistic fluency or a comprehensive
understanding of the addressee's language was neither necessary nor expected. It
was more purpose-oriented and context or addressee-dependent. Perhaps most
important of all, Braunmüller reminds us that at that time perfect command of a
language was not something expected. However, more recently, due to the rise of
nationalism, language and identity have become closely intertwined and receptive
multilingualism has lost its status. Based on the evidence of the morphological
form of the definite articles and periphrastic genitive constructions in Low
German and the Scandinavian languages, Braunmüller concludes his article with
two important remarks: 1) Nationalism put an end to receptive multilingualism
which was an unmediated communication between genetically closely related
languages and 2) Receptive multilingualism represents a starting point for SLA,
especially for adults.

The second chapter in Part I is another historical example of receptive
multilingualism (Chapter 2: Linguistic diversity in Habsburg Austria as a model
for modern European language policy, by Rosita Rindler-Schjerve and Eva Vetter.
pp. 49-70). The main argument of this paper is that the language policy of the
nineteenth-century Habsburg Empire can be considered a promising example of
multilingual management and planning since it shows a potential that projects
into present-day multilingual Europe. The article starts by recalling one of the
main articles (Art.I-3) of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe,
that ''the European Union shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic
diversity, and shall ensure that Europe's cultural heritage is safeguarded and
enhanced'' (49) which produced the motto ''unified in diversity''. The writers then
describe the Habsburg model of multilingualism in relation to the European
Union. Unlike the developing linguistic homogenization taking place at that
time, the Habsburg Empire had principles like ''pluralist equality'' and
''democratic participation''. Though there were some attempts at making German the
language of the politically dominant group, it was never institutionalized over
the state. The writers exemplify this fact, giving evidence from three specific
domains of the empire: education, administration and the judiciary. The main
contribution of the article comes with ''the lessons to be learned''. Regarding
the success and failure of the language policy in the Habsburg Empire, the
writers raise important issues which might be of use for democratic
decision-making in the context of language policy and multilingualism in present
day Europe. Although one should not draw an exact parallel between the Habsburg
Empire and the EU, the principle of 'equality' and 'diversity' are what seem to
be in common. The first lesson to be learned is that, contrary to the tendency
towards ''English only'' within EU institutions, there is a need for a balanced
linguistic policy which will encourage linguistic diversity in multilingual
communication. The Habsburg Empire model can be conceived as a good historical
case study which might give inspirations for new projects in language contact
environments and for new solutions for presently existing conflicting scenarios.

Part II, ''Receptive multilingualism in discourse'', opens with Anne Ribbert and
Jan D. ten Thije's article (Chapter 3: Receptive multilingualism in Dutch-German
intercultural team cooperation. pp. 73-101). The article aims to illustrate the
occurrence of receptive multilingualism in Dutch-German team cooperation as a
form of institutional communication. Unlike the first two articles focusing on
the genetically closely related Scandinavian languages, this paper deals with
Dutch-German as less close languages. The combination of the languages is not
only interesting for their being genetically less close languages, but also
because receptive multilingualism is rare between the Dutch and the German. In
cases where they come into contact, either one of the interlocutors adapts the
language of the other, or English is used as a lingua franca. The chapter first
reviews the factors supporting the occurrences of receptive multilingualism in
relation to House and Rehbein's (2004:3) parameters of multilingual
communication, namely factors referring to social and linguistic relations
between nation states, the institutional constellations within nation states and
factors related to the perspectives of the individual interactants. Receptive
multilingualism, following these factors is supposed to occur in situations
where the two languages and their speakers have an equal socio-political status
(House and Rehbein, 2004), when the speakers have enough experience with other
cultures, when the speakers' perception of the actual linguistic distance is not
too far - the notion 'psychotypology', and when speakers are familiar with the
phenomenon of receptive multilingualism itself in order to adequately use it
(Braunmüller and Zeevaert, 2001). As for the analyses, the writers provide
representative extracts from discourse between a Dutch and a German teacher
working at the Goethe-Institute Amsterdam. The findings reveal the importance of
institutionalized key words as special means to ensure mutual understanding.
This section is the most remarkable section of this chapter. The authors,
referring to Koole and ten Thije's (1994) characterization of institutional key
words, analyze the institutional discourse. In line with their descriptions, it
becomes noticeable that keywords receive an institution-specific meaning that
helps the interlocutors to activate common institutional knowledge and to
establish mutual understanding. Last but not least, the authors explain how
these key words contribute to the understanding of intercultural differences by
introducing Rehbein's (2006) concept of cultural apparatus.

The second chapter in Part II, authored by Ludger Zeevaert, provides a
theoretical subsumption of the term receptive multilingualism in connection with
the terms semi-communication and intercomprehension (Chapter 4: Receptive
multilingualism and inter-Scandinavian semi-communication. pp. 103-135).
Defining receptive multilingualism as a form of communication where ''both
interlocutors speak their own language and at the same time are able to
understand the language of their counterpart'' (104), the author emphasizes the
active role of the hearer. That is, similar to Rehbein's view of the hearer
within the theory of Functional Pragmatics (2006), and referring to Maturana
(1998), the author explains how information is created with the contribution of
the hearer. Utilizing examples taken from interscandinavan semi-communication,
as many others in the volume, the article calls attention to the role of a
common background of the interlocutors, like Ribbert and ten Thije did in the
previous chapter. This study is important due to two reasons: first, because it
considers the hearer as the key person in receptive multilingual communication;
and second, it presents receptive multilingualism in Scandinavia as an
alternative to lingua franca communication in the European Union which consists
of countries sharing a common cultural background.

Chapter 5 outlines the Swiss model of multilingualism and is titled ''Receptive
multilingualism in Switzerland and the case of Biel/Bienne'' (by Iwar Werlen. Pp.
137-157). The article recaps four models of interlingual communication in
Switzerland: 1) the Swiss model in which every speaker speaks their own language
and expects the others to understand them, 2) the Biel/Bienne model, the
bilingual model, 3) the default model, a monolingual model in which the language
of the territory is spoken by everyone, and 4) lingua franca English.
Particularly, the article investigates how the choice of language in
conversations varies in the officially bilingual (German-French) cities of
Biel/Bienne and Fribourg/Freiburg where the default language is French. The
results reveal that in Biel/Bienne the addresser's language leads to an
accommodation of the addressee, while in Fribourg/Freiburg when a person is
addressed in German the conversation continues in a receptive multilingual mode
unless the addresser switches to French. The article is important for two
reasons: 1) it presents receptive multilingualism as a democratic option for
multilingual societies, and 2) it provides an excellent example for how
receptive multilingualism is officially fostered.

In contradiction to the previous chapter, in chapter 6 Georges Lüdi proclaims
that the Swiss model does not work as successfully as it is claimed (Chapter 6:
The Swiss model of plurilingual communication. pp. 159-178). Giving examples of
authentic cross-linguistic communication at work in Switzerland, the author
instead proposes that in face-to-face interactions speakers profit from all the
communicative resources they share. Based on the data obtained in a monolingual
French-speaking and a monolingual German-speaking bank, the article shows that
rather than choosing the Swiss model or the lingua franca English, many other
plurilingual communication techniques are employed. In particular, the observed
techniques were: accommodating to the other language when a communicative
problem appears, language mixing, asking linguistically more skilled people to
translate or briefly summarize, or choosing the default (L1) in emotionally
important moments.

Another article that analyzes receptive multilingualism in business
communication is authored by Bettina Dresemann (Chapter 7: Receptive
multilingualism in business discourses. pp. 179-193). Though Zeevaert (in this
volume) along with many other studies blame linguistic deficits or different
cultural backgrounds for the communicative problems that arise in intercultural
communication, the author (based on Loss, 1999) in line with the argumentation
of Lüdi (Chapter 6 in this volume) argues that, in spite of the fact that the
participants may lack linguistic and cultural knowledge of the other party, for
successful communication to occur in multilingual business discourses
interlocutors create a common ground for their interactions by using cues and
combine them with other forms of knowledge, such a pragmatic knowledge, general
knowledge or professional knowledge to interpret the situation.

The last chapter investigating receptive multilingualism in discourse considers
the phenomenon of English as a lingua franca, which is perceived as the leading
option for communication in multilingual discourses (Chapter 8: Speaker stances
in native and non-native English conversation: I + verb constructions, by Nicole
Baumgarten and Juliane House. pp. 195-214). The article examines subjectivity in
discourse of native and non-native speakers of English in L1 and English as the
lingua franca (ELF) with respect to the use of how I + verb constructions such
as ''I think'', ''I don't know'', ''I mean''. It reports discrepancies in terms of
linguistic subjectivity between these three groups. This paper is
thought-provoking and stimulating, since the findings related to ELF speakers
provide further evidence for arguments against lingua franca communication. The
second important contribution of the article comes with the 'let-it-pass'
strategy that is introduced as a characteristic feature of ELF talk. The term,
referring to House (1999 and 2002), is described as to the participants'
tendency to ignore grammatically incorrect or incomprehensible utterances and
focus more on the content of information for the sake of successful communication.

Part III, entitled ''Testing mutual understanding in receptive multilingual
communication'', has two contributions examining the mutual intelligibility of
interscandinavan communication. The first article (Chapter 9: Understanding
differences in inter-Scandinavian language understanding, by Gerke Doetjes. pp.
217-230) is an overview of the studies conducted on inter-Scandinavian language
understanding. Doetjes argues that the studies included in the overview are far
behind in presenting how well Scandinavians understand each other's language,
due to the fact that the results are affected by the method chosen to test
mutual intelligibility. The article investigates language understanding based on
six different test types: 1) open questions, 2) T/F questions, 3) multiple
choice questions, 4) word translation, 5) summary, and 6) short summary. The
studies cited by Doetjes show that, despite the claim that within the
inter-Scandinavian context Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are mutually
intelligible languages, Norwegians are the most capable of successfully
mastering inter-Scandinavian communication. Danes and Swedes, on the other hand,
reveal problems in understanding each other.

A second chapter testing mutual understanding among the speakers of Scandinavian
languages is authored by Lars-Olof Delsing (Chapter 10: Scandinavian
intercomprehension today. pp. 231-246). In particular, the study tests the
degree of intelligibility in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and English via the
methods of open questions and translations. The primary intention of the study
is to compare the results with those of Maurud (1976), because there have been
substantial changes concerning language choice and language policy in
Scandinavian countries since the 1970s. The results obtained from 1200 pupils
are quite similar to those of Doetjes (in this volume) and Maurud (1976), in
that the Norwegians seem to understand the neighboring languages better than the
Swedes and the Danes, and the Danes are better than the Swedes.

The last part of the book, Part IV, is devoted to ''Determining the possibilities
of reading comprehension in related languages''. The first chapter of this part
(Chapter 11: Interlingual text comprehension, by René van Bezooijen and
Charlotte Gooskens. pp. 249-264) assesses the relative intelligibility of
written Frisian and Afrikaans for speakers of Dutch considering two factors:
attitudes towards the languages and the linguistic distance. The results
obtained from 20 native Dutch language students show that written Frisian is
more difficult for them than Afrikaans. Moreover, the authors report that this
result has no significant correlation to the attitudes developed towards these
languages on an individual level. That the article measures linguistic distance
between the languages involved predominantly on account of the number of
cognates and non-cognates is a very important contribution. The article's
contribution becomes even more appealing with the finding that rather than the
number of cognates, the number of non-cognates plays a prominent role in
fostering the degree of understanding.

As do the other papers in this part, Madeline Lutjeharms discusses reading
comprehension in related languages (Chapter 12: Processing levels in
foreign-language reading. pp. 265-284). The author aims to present an overview
of studies on reading in a foreign language, particularly when the languages are
related. Considering the reading process as a form of information processing,
the article provides explanations of processing levels of the reading process
starting with eye movements, and moving to word recognition and sentence
processing. Although the article does not examine reading comprehension in a
specific receptive multilingual discourse, it is noteworthy in that it does not
only highlight the importance of the linguistic distance in reading L2 texts ,
as in the other papers in the volume, but also the remoteness of the linguistic
features of the languages involved.

The following chapter, authored by Robert Möller (Chapter 13: A computer-based
exploration of the lexical possibilities of intercomprehension. pp. 285-305), is
based on the assumption that cognate words provide an excellent basis to develop
receptive competence between languages. Möller in this article explores the
extent of the Dutch and German cognates by means of a computer program. The
author presents the Levenshtein algorithm so as to provide a reliable measure of
lexical accessibility. The findings propose that of the 5000 common Dutch words
75% are accessible for German readers, which provides enough evidence to support
Dutch- German receptive multilingualism (the same phenomenon is also discussed
by Ribbert and ten Thije in this volume). This is an informative and inspiring
chapter which might encourage further research on identification of recognizable
cognates and consequently on receptive competencies between other languages.

The last chapter of the book is relatively different from the rest as it focuses
on acquisition of an L3 (Chapter 14: How can DafnE and EuroComGerm contribute to
the concept of receptive multilingualism, by Britta Hufeisen and Nicole Marx.
pp. 307-321). This article, within the theoretical framework of two models,
Meißner's Spontaneous Learner Grammar and Hufeisen's Factor model, aims to help
students identify the relevant knowledge of their previously known languages to
gain receptive competencies in learning a new language. The article draws a
distinction between acquisition of an L2 and an L3 with the claim that in most
European countries English is taught as the first foreign language and when a
person decides to learn another European language like German or French, he is
already equipped with some knowledge of a foreign language which eases his
learning process of the new language. Providing results from two researches,
DafnE and EuroComGerm, the authors suggest that in order to promote receptive
multilingualism among EU citizens, learners of a new language (L3) should be
trained to link and use their knowledge of a related, formerly learned language

_Receptive Multilingualism_ is a stimulating, novel and enjoyable book that
brings together articles which examine multilingualism from a newer perspective.
In this respect, the volume will indisputably inspire further research in this
field. Despite the fact that the volume is a collection of articles from diverse
theoretical frameworks, there are some issues raised in almost all articles. To
start with the European motto unity in diversity is referred to by many
articles. The motto is used to describe the ideal linguistic situation in
Europe, emphasizing the importance of multilingual communication (with the
characterization of House & Rehbein, 2004) and multilingual education. The
second issue discussed in all articles is English as a lingua franca (ELF).
Although House (2003) regards ELF as a language for communication, a useful
communicative tool especially in international encounters rather then as a
threat to national languages and multilingualism, many articles in the volume
consider ELF as a serious reason for receptive multilingualism losing its status
in European countries. Last but not least, the volume is thought-provoking in
that it urges some political and educational decisions to be taken to support
receptive multilingualism which is presented as 1) a reasonable preference of
multilingual communication, and 2) an opportunity to avoid linguistic
discrimination (Zeevaert, in this volume).

The line of attack in which the chapters are organized in the volume helps the
reader to pursue the topics and connect between the chapters and discussions
smoothly. The standard of the chapters are noticeably high. Even though the
editors limited the context of receptive multilingualism to Europe, it would be
very interesting to learn about receptive multilingualism in other language
contact areas such as in Africa or in Asia in another volume. All in all, I
highly recommend the volume for those interested in multilingual communication.

Braunmüller, Kurt & Zeevaert, Ludger. (2001) _Semikommunikation, rezeptive
Mehrsprachigkeit und verwandte Phänomene_. Eine bibliographische Bestandaufnahme
[Arbeiten zur Mehrsprachigkeit, Folge B 19]. Hamburg: Universität Hamburg,
Sonderforschungsbereich Mehrsprachigkeit.

Budovičová, Viera. (1987) Literary languages in contact (A sociolinguistic
approach to the relation between Slovak abd Czech today). In _Reader in Czech
sociolinguistics_ [Linguistics & literary studies in Eastern Europe (LLSEE) 23],
Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 156-175.

Haugen, Einar. (1966) Semicommunication: The language gap in Scandinavia. In
_Explorations in Sociolinguistics_, S. Lieberson (ed), Den Haag: Mouton, 152-169.

House, Juliane. (1999) Misunderstanding in intercultural communication:
Interactions in English as lingua franca and the myth of mutual intelligibility.
In _Teaching and Learning English as a Global Language_, C. Gnutzmann (ed),
Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 73-93.

House, Juliane. (2003) English as a lingua franca: A threat to multilingualism?
_Journal of Sociolinguistics_ 7/4, 556-578.

House, Juliane & Rehbein, Jochen. (2004) What is 'multilingual communication?'
In _Multilingual Communication_, J. House and J. Rehbein (eds), Amsterdam: John
Benjamins, 1-18.

Jensen, John. (1989) On the mutual intelligibility and language coalescence.
_International Journal of the Sociology of Language_ 146, 119-136.

Koole, Tom and ten Thije, Jan D. (1994) _The construction of Intercultural
Discourse. Team Discussions of educational advisers_. Amsterdam: RODOPI.

Maturana, Humberto R. (1998) _Biologie der Realität_. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Maurud, Øivind. (1976) Nabospraksforstaelse I Skandinavia. _En undersøkelse om
gjensidig forstaelse av tale- og skriftspak i Danmark, Norge og Sverige_
[Nordisk utredningsserie 13] Stockholm: s.s.

Rehbein, Jochen. (2006) Aspects of Functional Pragmatics. Talk given at Seul
University, Korea.

Zeevaert, Ludger. (2004) _Interskandinavishe Kommukination. Strategien zur
Etablierung von Verständigung zwischen Skandinaviern im Diskurs_ [Philologia
64]. Hamburg: Dr. Kovač.

Dr. Çiğdem Sağın-Şimşek is a lecturer teaching various linguistics and ELT
courses at Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. Her research
interests include second and third language acquisition, multilingualism and
interlingual communication.