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Bilingualism and multilingualism is an interdisciplinary and complex field. As is self-evident from the
prefixes (bi- and multi-), bilingualism and multilingualism phenomena are devoted to the study of
production, processing, and comprehension of two (and more than two) languages, respectively.
However, in colloquial usage the term bilingualism is used as a cover term to embody both bilingualism
and multilingualism. Although this use of “bilingualism” has been objected to strictly on etymological
grounds, it is a common practice since the inception of the field (see Weinreich 1953, cited under
General Overviews) to apply to the term for multilingualism as well as to the dialects of the same
language. For reasons of convention, concision, and convenience, the term bilingualism is used as a
cover term to include both bilingualism and multilingualism in this article. Still in its primary stages of
exploration, bilingualism is a rapidly growing area of linguistics, which is grounded in interdisciplinary
approaches and a variety of conceptual frameworks. In linguistics, bilingualism owes its origin largely to
diachronic and sociolinguistics, which deal with linguistic variation, language contact, and language
change. However, on theoretical and methodological grounds, bilingualism was/is viewed as a
problematic area of linguistics prior to and after the emergence of Chomskyan linguistic revolution (see
Issues and Conceptualization). Outside linguistics, bilingualism is also intimately tied with immigrant and
marginalized groups and their educational and economic problems. A case in point is the bilingualism
and intelligence debate during the first half of the 20th century (see under Effects and Education). The
pioneering phase of bilingualism research in linguistics began with the works of Weinreich 1953, Haugen
1953, Mackey 1967 (all cited under General Overviews) and Jakobson, et al. 1953 (cited under Issues
and Conceptualization) in the latter half of the 20th century (see also Description and Typology). Since
then, research in multiple fields of bilingualism has taken interdisciplinary dimensions. The key research
areas represented by the field include: the representation and processing of languages in the bilingual
mind/brain, childhood and adult language acquisition, bilingual speech disorders, bilingualism and mixed
linguistic systems, effects of bilingualism on individuals and societies, bilingualism and educational
challenges, language endangerment, and extinction, among others. The oldest accounts of bilingualism
can be traced back to Panini’s grammar of Sanskrit, religious texts, such as the Bible, and the accounts of
classical languages, such as Greek and Latin, in the context of linguistic prescriptivism, language contact,
and spread.

General Overviews

As pointed out in the Introduction, although the topic of bilingualism always drew attention in a variety
of contexts, it was not until the latter half of the 20th century that the topic began to attract serious
attention from linguists. The three seminal works that set the stage for diverse and interdisciplinary
approaches to the study of bilingualism are Weinreich 1953, Haugen 1953, and Mackey 1967. Although
written during the era of structural linguistics, they continue to impact the field. Weinreich 1953
presents an in-depth analysis of the linguistic, sociolinguistic, and psycholinguistic aspects of the two
grammars in contact. Haugen 1953 offers an exhaustive case study of the Norwegian language in
America, which is grounded in the pre-generative grammatical framework. Haugen claimed to have
pioneered the term codeswitching. The author of Mackey 1967 formulated the key fundamental
theoretical and empirical questions involving bilingualism.