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Review of  The Exploration of Multilingualism

Reviewer: Ron Peek
Book Title: The Exploration of Multilingualism
Book Author: Larissa Aronin Britta Hufeisen
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 21.2618

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EDITORS: Aronin, Larissa; Hufeisen, Britta
TITLE: The Exploration of Multilingualism
SUBTITLE: Development of research on L3, multilingualism and multiple language
SERIES TITLE: AILA Applied Linguistics Series 6
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2009

Ron Peek, Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, Birkbeck,
University of London


The Exploration of Multilingualism aims to provide an 'ontogenetic perspective
on research in L3, multilingualism and multiple language acquisition', as well
as a 'conceptually updated picture of multilingualism studies and third/multiple
language acquisition', and is intended for 'lecturers, students, educators,
researchers, and social workers operating in multilingual contexts' (back
cover). The book contains nine chapters, all by experienced researchers and
experts within the field, with extensive references at the end of each chapter.
Apart from the introduction, all chapters are preceded by a short abstract and
keywords. There are few notes and a name and subject index can be found at the
back of the book.

In Chapter 1, 'Introduction: On the genesis and development of L3 research,
multilingualism and multiple language acquisition', the editors begin by noting
the increased interest in and awareness of multilingualism in recent times,
which has resulted in several key publications on multilingualism and third
language acquisition (TLA), such as the Handbook of Multilingualism and
Multilingual Communication (Auer & Li Wei 2007). In Aronin and Hufeisen's view,
'multilingualism subsumes bilingualism', involving 'the use and acquisition of
two and more languages' (p. 1). However, they are quick to note that for some
researchers 'tri- and multilingualism is more than L2 plus yet another language'
(p. 2) and that bilinguals differ in certain aspects from multilinguals. Hence
the use of 'L3' to mark this distinction, which according to the website of the
International Association of Multilingualism 'stands as a symbol for research on
three or more languages, and for research on multilingualism and multilingual
language acquisition and learning'. The chapter then sketches how early
researchers such as Vildomec (1963) identified multilingualism as a separate
field of enquiry, the subsequent investigation by researchers into trilingual
acquisition by their own children, and a consolidation period in the late 1980s
and early 1990s, where multilingualism and L3 research began to emerge and
separate itself from second language acquisition (SLA) and bilingualism
research, including the biannual international L3 conferences from 1999 onwards,
founding of the International Association of Multilingualism in 2003, and launch
of the International Journal of Multilingualism in 2004. The editors identify
the main contemporary research strands: sociolinguistics (societal and
individual multilingualism); psycholinguistics; neurolinguistics;
pragmalinguistics; applied linguistics; and education. A brief summary of future
challenges faced by multilingualism researchers follows, namely '... how to deal
adequately with the number of variables, the complexity of sciences and the
relevance for life in education, morals, religion, politics, interpersonal
relations, globalisation, and business.' (p. 4) The chapter ends with an outline
of the remaining chapters.

Chapter 2, 'Defining multilingualism' by Charlotte Kemp, deals with the
important conceptual issue of defining 'multilingual' and 'multilingualism', and
how to distinguish these from related terms such as 'bilingualism'. She
identifies two sets of reasons that may explain the divergence in definitions of
multilingualism. The first set is related to participants, i.e. the 'complex
situation with regard to the nature of their use of various languages' (p. 12).
The second concerns researchers, i.e. their 'differing backgrounds, ideologies
and purposes' (p. 12), which can lead to the use of different methodologies.
Kemp then discusses how researchers have used 'monolingual', 'bilingual',
'multilingual' to date, and touches on other related terms such as 'unilingual',
'bilinguality', 'diglossia', 'polyglot' and 'plurilingual', with a particular
emphasis on their context of use, as exemplified in psycholinguistic,
sociolinguistic or educational studies. The discussion brings out two main areas
of difference amongst researchers: 1) the number of languages in relation to
'bilingual' and 'multilingual', and 2) whether the terms are used to refer to
the language use of particular individuals and communities within societies, or
just societal use. The author addresses two important questions that impact upon
operational definitions of 'multilingual' and 'multilingualism', namely 'What is
a language?' and 'How may languages be counted?' (p. 16). In reply to the first
question, she cites the Ethnologue and points out that researchers in practice
tend to address 'What is a language?' by taking into account their own and
participants' perceived language boundaries in social and/or cultural usage. The
second question on counting or measuring languages is also problematic and six
related issues are discussed: required proficiency level; required functional
capability level; the criterion of 'mutual intelligibility'; cultural and
political criteria; other affective criteria; and literacy. The chapter finishes
with the suggestion that although a definite answer is unlikely, multilingualism
researchers should provide an explicit, detailed definition of multilingualism
in their studies, thereby allowing others '... to understand the principles
behind the study, and how each study relates to the existing literature.' (p. 24)

Chapter 3, 'The genesis and development of research in multilingualism:
Perspectives for future research' by Rita Franceschini, contains three sections.
The first section examines the recent social and scientific interest in
multilingualism and the emergence of a broad multilingual perspective within
language studies and social discourse, mainly due to an 'increased sensitivity
towards socio-cultural diversity' and 'the great variety of
(socio-)linguistically-based issues and problems at the societal level which
have arisen from increased migratory movements' (p. 29). Nowadays multilingual
abilities are generally seen in a more a positive light within linguistics, as
well as society at large. This is evidenced in current European educational
language policies and national language teaching curricula, even if the
potential of functional, practical communicative multilingual abilities of
individuals is not always fully capitalised on in some officially 'multilingual'
countries. The second section presents a dynamic, multi-level and
culturally-founded definition of multilingualism as: '... the capacity of
societies, institutions, groups and individuals to engage on a regular basis in
space and time with more than one language in everyday life.' It 'is a product
of the fundamental human ability to communicate in a number of languages' and
'... designates a phenomenon embedded in the cultural habits of a specific
group, which are characterised by significant inter- and intra-cultural
sensitivity' (pp. 33-35). Before ending this section, Franceschini, like other
authors in this volume, argues for more clarity on how bilingualism differs from
multilingualism. The third section outlines numerous interesting topics for
future research, grouped under six thematic headings: the history of active
multilingualism and multilingual grammars; language borders, minorities and new
opportunities for peripheries (such as the internet); the statistical basis and
legal status of multilingualism; multilingualism in institutions;
multilingualism in discourse; and multilingualism in the individual.
Franceschini concludes that even if defining multilingualism and related
concepts may remain an issue, it is paramount to combine systematic theoretical
and methodological reflection with solid empirical groundwork, particularly in
view of applying research findings in educational, family, community, society
and industry settings.

Chapter 4, 'The development of psycholinguistic research on crosslinguistic
influence' by Gessica De Angelis and Jean-Marc Dewaele, focuses on three areas:
key topics covered from the 1950s to date; the introduction of new frameworks in
crosslinguistic influence (CLI) research; and the instrumental and catalysing
role of the L3 network in this context from the 1990s onwards. The chapter is
organised according to developments in the field in the 1950s and 60s, the
1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and those from 2000 onwards. Early developments in
the 1950s and 1960s are Weinreich's (1953) coordinate, compound and subordinate
distinction, the systematic discussion of non-native language transfer in
Vildomec's (1963) study of multilingualism, and Peal and Lambert (1962) showing
the positive rather than assumed detrimental affects of bilingualism. The 1970s
include descriptive language transfer studies on the unique nature of non-native
languages, and the introduction of several key notions, such as 'interlanguage'
(Selinker 1972), overt and covert transfer (Schachter 1974), and perceived
language distance or 'psychotypology' (Kellerman 1977), as well as more
cognitive studies, such as Albert and Obler (1978) on language recovery in bi-
and multilingual aphasiacs. The 1980s saw an increasing emphasis on cognitive
and psycholinguistic processes, with frequency of use as a key factor in CLI
research. Significant topics at this time include: the role of language distance
in non-native language transfer; the role of metalinguistic awareness and prior
knowledge in implicit/explicit learning; and the development of human speech
production models. In the 1990s, language distance remained an important topic
and much research focused on explaining CLI findings in terms of speech
production models, leading to significant modifications of the latter. Other key
developments are the notion of 'language modes' (Grosjean 1997) and a shift from
language transfer in second languages to that in third or additional languages,
underlining the need for less traditional, more multilingual frameworks.
Finally, the first L3 conference in Innsbruck in 1999 brought many researchers
together and an international network of scholars with similar research
interests was established. In the new millennium this network was formalised
into the International Association of Multilingualism in 2003, which became an
official Research Network of AILA in 2006.

Chapter 5, 'The role of prior knowledge in L3 learning and use: Further evidence
of psychotypological dimensions' by Muiris Ó Laoire and David Singleton,
contains two studies investigating the role of perceived similarity between
languages in L3 acquisition within an Irish secondary school setting. After an
overview of bilingualism and third language education in Ireland and a
discussion of the psychotypology factor and L2 factor in crosslinguistic
research, the authors outline the aims and hypothesis of the two studies, prior
to more detailed discussion. The first, two-part study (Study A) examines
crosslinguistic influence at the lexical level among French L3 secondary school
students with English L1 and Irish L2 (part 1: original study), as well as
balanced bilinguals in English and Irish (part 2: replication study to
neutralise the L1 factor). Here the authors hypothesise that '... given the
greater lexical proximity (and perceived proximity) between English and French
as opposed to that between Irish and French, cross-lexical influence from
English would far outstrip any such influence from Irish.' (p. 82) Findings from
both parts of the study confirm the hypothesis, showing a major English lexical
influence regardless of its L1 or L2 status, as well as the virtual absence of
any Irish lexical influence. The second study (Study B) examines crosslinguistic
influence at the morphosyntactic level, with a specific focus on word order in
non-finite purpose clauses and morphological inflection in noun phrases
following prepositions, in two groups of English L1 and longstanding Irish L2
speakers who are learning German L3 at secondary school. Since German and Irish
are similar with regard to these two morphosyntatic features, a knowledge of
Irish could facilitate German L3 production here and potentially be leveraged by
German L3 learners. The hypothesis is that '... there would be more evidence of
Irish-based transfer in this case than in Study A.' (p. 82) The results show
some evidence of Irish L2 crosslinguistic influence in students' German L3 word
order production, but awareness thereof appears to be minimal when looking at
their introspective comments. No facilitative effect was found for morphological
inflection, due to students' overall low specific task performance. This leads
the authors to the preliminary conclusion that students' successful German L3
word order production draws considerably from similar structures in Irish, even
if they are unaware of such similarity. For additional support, they cite
various studies indicating the huge difficulties English-speaking learners of
German without Irish have with word order in subordinate clauses.

Chapter 6, 'Methods of research in multilingual studies: Reaching a
comprehensive perspective' by Larissa Aronin and Britta Hufeisen is primarily a
methodological and theoretical chapter, introducing new and more recent
terminology. After reviewing traditional research methods, the editors examine
methodological developments in relation to contemporary multilingualism
research. They identify and define three 'inherent emergent qualities' of
contemporary multilingualism, namely complexity, liminality and suffusiveness,
and how these 'properties' reveal themselves in various concrete developments in
'the current global linguistic dispensation' (p. 105). They relate three
properties to recent research methods in multiple language learning and use. For
example, awareness of complexity has resulted in several new approaches and
models within multilingualism studies attempting to do justice to this aspect,
such as emergentism and Herdina and Jessner's Dynamic Model of Multilingualism
(2002). The liminality of contemporary multilingualism research, i.e. the idea
that previously unnoticed language-related process and phenomena are now
becoming more apparent due to current sociolinguistic conditions (p. 105), can
be witnessed in the renewed interest in identity in both recent qualitative and
quantitative multilingual studies. Finally, there is the suffusiveness of
contemporary multilingualism, i.e. the idea that 'it permeates the world in
terms of the existence of multilingual populations, geographical areas, business
and other activity domains where multilingual practices prevail' (p. 105) In the
authors' view, this suffusiveness, combined with complexity and liminality, has
led to an expansion and deepening of methodology in multilingual studies,
encompassing the following: metaphorical thinking; conceptualisation and
re-conceptualisation (e.g. developing a thesaurus of multilingualism;
philosophical conceptualisation; model development specific to multilingualism;
mental constructs); as well as crossdisciplinary research and appropriation of
methods from other disciplines. They conclude that such expansion is both a
necessary and welcome development, allowing for a more comprehensive perspective.

Chapter 7, 'The study of multilingualism in educational contexts' by Jasone
Cenoz and Ulrike Jessner, presents 'an overview of international research on
multilingual education, in contrast to bilingual education' (p. 122). The
authors point out that multilingual education is more complex and poses
additional challenges, such as which and how many languages to teach as a
separate school subject and/or use as the medium of instruction (e.g. standard,
minority, heritage, community languages), and from which age onwards. Depending
on the above factors, a distinction can be made between bilingual education and
SLA, as well as between trilingual and TLA. Which languages are used in
education often depends on a language's social prestige, such as English as a
lingua franca, which in turn may influence the choice of learning it as an
additional language, and demonstrates the significance of language attitudes in
this context. The authors review some of the literature concerning differences
in linguistic and cognitive effects in multilingual learning and second and/or
language bilingual acquisition, including different types of simultaneous and
consecutive acquisition; (re)activation of prior languages; crosslinguistic
influence and crosslinguistic interaction; and the role of language learning
experience, metalinguistic and metacognitive awareness in language learning
strategy development. This is followed by a more in-depth examination of the
role of the age factor in TLA in school contexts, i.e. the ideal onset age, with
specific reference to an extensive study of the introduction of English as a
third language in the Basque (pre-)primary educational system. The chapter
concludes with a plea for a multilingual approach to multilingual education,
which pays attention to the age factor, the use of different instruction
languages, the year of introduction of different languages, and how to develop,
assess and test multilingual proficiency and multicompetence.

Chapter 8, 'Multilingual resources: Associations, journals, book series,
bibliographies and conference lists' by Peter Ecke, provides a very detailed and
useful resource guide for multilingualism researchers, particularly so in
combination with the numerous references contained elsewhere in the book.

In the final chapter, 'Crossing the second threshold', the editors review the
crucial steps in multilingualism research, summarise the findings of the volume
and provide a short future research outlook.


First of all, the book is well organised. The clear layout, together with the
abstracts and few notes, make it easy to browse and to locate specific items of
interest quickly. The publication also shows how L3 and multilingualism research
has become a discipline in its own right, related to but also different from
bilingualism and SLA research, dealing with its own range of complexity, as well
as terminological and other methodological issues. Many of the authors underline
the importance of a productive research network, now formalised in the
International Association of Multilingualism, with its own biannual conferences
and other dissemination formats.

Most of the chapters are overviews, except Chapters 5 and 8. These two contain
empirical studies, more of which can be found in Gibson et al. (2008). In
chapter 5, Ó Laoire and Singleton refer to some of the literature demonstrating
the difficulties that English-speaking German L3 learners (without Irish)
encounter with word order in German subordinate clauses, in support of their
finding of the facilitating role of Irish in German L3 word order production.
Perhaps a similar, but larger follow-up study, including a control group without
Irish, could be conducted to obtain further empirical data. This would provide
additional insight into the effects of implicit and explicit prior knowledge in
L3 acquisition, identified as a key research topic by De Angelis and Dewaele in
their chapter.

Methodological issues are discussed informatively in Chapters 3 and 6,
underlining the need for a comprehensive perspective. Such a perspective should
balance empirical evidence with novel theoretical frameworks and methods,
including the appropriate use and/or adaption of established methods within
applied linguistics (see Li Wei & Moyer, 2008), to enable complementarity and
triangulation. Against the background of how other authors define
multilingualism, I particularly enjoyed Chapter 2, where Kemp highlights the
main issues involved in defining 'multilingual' and 'multilingualism' and the
importance of clearly defining key research terms. This brought to mind
Hammarberg's (2009: 4-7) different but related discussion of how to define 'L1',
'L2' and 'L3'.

To conclude, The Exploration of Multilingualism shows the challenges and
diversity of multilingual research, addresses important methodological issues,
and discusses significant past and recent developments. It also suggests and
identifies new and exciting avenues for further investigation, as well as
providing a useful list of resources, including extensive bibliographical
references. As a whole, the book is an excellent starting point for those
wanting a quick overview of L3 and multilingualism research, whose key message
could be summarised as follows: multilingualism studies are here to stay.


Albert, M.L. & Obler, L.K. 1978. The Bilingual Brain: Neuropsychological and
Neurolinguistic Aspects of Bilingualism. New York NY: Academic Press.

Auer, P. & Li Wei (eds.) 2007. Handbook of Multilingualism and Multilingual
Communication. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Gibson, M., Hufeisen, B. & Personne, C. (eds.) 2008. Selected Papers from the
Fribourg Conference on Multilingualism and Multiple Language Acquisition.
Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Hohengern.

Grosjean, F. 1997. Processing mixed languages: Issues, findings and models. In:
Tutorials in Bilingualism. Psycholinguistic Perspectives. A.M.B de Groot & J.
Kroll (eds.), 225-254. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hammarberg, B. (ed.) 2009. Processes in Third Language Acquisition. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.

Herdina, F. & Jessner, U. 2002. A Dynamic Model of Multilingualism. Perspectives
of Change in Psycholinguistics. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Kellerman, E. 1977. Towards a characterization of the strategy of transfer in
second language learning. Interlanguage Studies Bulletin 2: 58-145.

Li Wei & Moyer, M.G. 2008. The Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in
Bilingualism and Multilingualism. John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Peal, E. & Lambert, W.E. 1962. The relation of bilingualism to intelligence.
Psychological Monographs 76(27): 1-23.

Schachter, J. 1974. An error in error analysis. Language Learning 24(2): 205-214.

Selinker, L. 1972. Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics
10(3): 209-231.

Vildomec, V. 1963. Multilingualism. Leyden: A.W. Sythoff.

Weinreich, U. 1953. Languages in Contact. The Hague: Motion.

L3 website:,
accessed online 11-03-2010.

Ron Peek is a PhD candidate in the Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication, Birkbeck, University of London. His main research interests are in the field of L3 and multilingualism, with a particular focus on polyglots and the role of language learning strategies and beliefs in multilingual acquisition (