LINGUIST List 24.2872

Mon Jul 15 2013

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

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 04-Jun-2013
From: Clara Burgo <>
Subject: El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablante
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Silvina A MontrulTITLE: El bilingüismo en el mundo hispanohablantePUBLISHER: Wiley-BlackwellYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Clara Burgo, DePaul University


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

In Chapter 1, there is an introduction to different theoretical approaches tothe study of bilingualism and a description of the variables that define thedegree of bilingualism and the bilingual. It contains an explanation of whatbeing bilingual means, as well as some important related definitions such asprimary vs. secondary languages or minority languages. At the end, there is abrief 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, andPart III- Policies and Education.

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

In the next chapters, the historical, political, cultural and linguisticrelationships of minority languages co-existing with Spanish in the US, LatinAmerica and Spanish are examined, in addition to how these relationshipsaffect the communities in question. Chapter 3 describes bilingualism in Spain,where three minority languages (i.e. Basque, Catalan and Galician) share anofficial status with Spanish. The chapter discusses how Spanish has affectedthe status of these minority languages and how recent political changes, suchas the maintenance and revival of the minority languages, have contributed tothe current situation of bilingualism in these areas.

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

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

Chapter 7 is centered on the acquisition and development of one or twolanguages during childhood. Bilingual children develop two parallel linguisticsystems and go through the same developmental stages as monolingual children.The degree of development and knowledge of a language in a bilingual childdepends 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 explainthe importance of the role of age and context of acquisition in characterizingbilinguals, as well as how a second language is acquired. The main differencebetween the acquisition of the first language and that of the second languageare transfer errors from the mother tongue, which are typical ofinterlanguage, and have nothing to do with the second language. One of thepossible reasons for non-native competence of a language is the criticalperiod hypothesis. According to this, if a person is not exposed to a languagefrom childhood, he/she cannot acquire native-like competence in that language.Adults learn faster in initial acquisition stages, but younger speakers do inlater stages.

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

Section III closes the book by addressing politics and education. Chapter 10starts with a discussion of the foundations of bilingual education. The goalis to examine its role in sociopolitical contexts. Governments decide whatlanguage(s) will be diffused. Therefore, minority languages have to bestandardized in order to be transmitted in school. Bilingual schools aresubjected to linguistic and educational policies that need to be consideredfor implementation. As such, these schools have different focuses regardingthe type of education, students or political status of languages.

In Chapters 11, 12 and 13, the current situation of linguistic policies inSpain, Latin America and the United States is examined. In Chapter 11, it isclaimed that bilingual education and the use of minority languages forinstruction contribute to expanding their use as well as their political andsocial status. A lack of education in the minority language contributes to itsloss. In Spain, there has been an important investment in the revitalizationof these languages through linguistic planning and education.

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

Finally, Chapter 13 focuses on bilingual education in the United States, whichhas a long history linked to immigration and social and educational policies.The general norm in educational politics in the United States is promotingEnglish as the only language for economic and social success, which isdetrimental for the maintenance of minority languages. Foreign languages arestudied at the high school or college level, and therefore, Hispanics haveaccess to Spanish programs, particularly those for heritage speakers, so thatthey can reconnect with their heritage language and culture.


The goals of the book and the intended audience are clearly and specificallydescribed by Montrul. The book fills an important gap in the fields of Spanishbilingualism and Spanish in contact with other languages and is intended foradvanced Spanish undergraduates, graduate students, Spanish instructors,sociolinguists, or students of related fields interested in Spanish in contactwith other languages. There was a need for a textbook written in Spanish thatincludes a general overview of bilingualism and of Spanish spoken throughoutthe world, including in the US. This is the first textbook in Spanish forstudents of Hispanic Linguistics interested in bilingualism. Even though it isan introductory book, it requires previous knowledge of basic syntactic andlinguistic terms.

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

Even though the book is divided into three main sections -- Bilingualism andSociety, Individual Bilingualism and Politics and Education -- the author doesan amazing job of relating chapters to each other in order to give coherenceacross this structure. This strategy will particularly be appreciated bystudents because it allows them to easily draw connections between conceptsthat may superficially seem somewhat disparate.

Specific chapters within the book are particularly strong. For example, inChapter 2, a good variety of examples are presented to explain structuralchanges in language contact situations, which include comments on severalindigenous languages such as Quechua, Guarani, or minority languages likeBasque. As far as I know, this is the first book to do this in such anexhaustive way, and in a student-friendly format, so that the intendedaudience can account for social aspects that involve bilingualism in theseareas. Furthermore, in Chapters 3 and 4, minority languages are presentedthrough representative examples of the situation of most bilinguals living inthe areas in question. This effectively introduces the historical context ofthe contact situation with Spanish of these minority languages in Spain andLatin America.

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

Finally, in the final chapters, readers get a critical review of bilingualeducation, especially in the United States, as well as heritage programs,which attempt to reconnect Spanish heritage speakers with the language theylearned in their childhood, which is typically gradually replaced withEnglish. After understanding what being bilingual means and how bilingualismis understood in other countries, in addition to the role it plays, theinformation presented here encourages reflection on our role as educators inthe 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 acritical awareness of the complexity of bilingualism in the Spanish-speakingworld in social, cultural and political contexts. It is written in anaccessible style for students and teachers, and thanks to its wide amount ofexercises and discussion topics, can be used for a Spanish bilingualism courseor as a self-study textbook. In sum, Montrul offers an updated overview ofSpanish in bilingual situations around the world, written in Spanish, whichusefully expands upon previous work by Zentella (1997) and Silva-Corvalán(1995).


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

Zentella, A.C. (1997). Growing up bilingual: Puerto Rican children in NewYork. 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.

Page Updated: 15-Jul-2013