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Multilingualism and

Multicompetence: A Conceptual View

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano
Language Study Unit
39100 Bozen-Bolzano
South Tyrol, Italy

The overall aim of this article is to argue that the functioning of every language system is based
on a potential multilingual competence. The empirical basis for this is now broad enough to
gain a comprehensive view on the overall competence of a multilingual individual. Moreover,
increasing theoretical reflection has conferred an increasingly independent profile in the field
of multilingualism research. In the main part of this article, a definition of multilingualism is
proposed and related to the term “multicompetence.” The proposed definition of multilin-
gualism, emerging from sociolinguistically rooted studies, distinguishes not only the classical
social, institutional, and individual dimensions of observation but includes a new interaction
dimension as well. The term “multicompetence” is then discussed in its historical development
form on which psycholinguistics oriented studies. The European LINEE project tries to en-
large the concept of multicompetence with the aim of making it suitable for a sociolinguistic
embedding. This usage-based approach is presented and further claims for more conceptual
reflections in the field of multilingualism are made.

THE TERM “MULTILINGUALISM” HAS estab- sociolinguistics, with the term multicompetence,
lished itself over the past two decades in linguis- which originally arose within a psycholinguistic
tics. It is widely used and describes the various context.
forms of social, institutional, and individual ways Before the second section, a few premises on
that we go about using more than one language. the approach and an outline of the change in
Included are not only varieties such as national perspective that has favored the emergence of re-
languages but also regional languages, minor- search into multilingualism should be provided.
ity languages, migrant languages, sign languages, In the second section, a definition of multilingual-
and, in the broadest sense, dialects. The area of ism is proposed and discussed, as is the concept of
research is extensive and seems to be increasingly multicompetence. Then an extension of the con-
expanding; it is now time to clarify the definition cept of multicompetence will be presented, which
of multilingualism and multicompetence. has been developed within the research network
This contribution has a conceptual vein; nev- LINEE. It will be shown that this extended un-
ertheless, it is grounded on direct empirical derstanding of multicompetence allows a coher-
research, worked out mainly in the European ent incorporation into the sociolinguistic frame-
research network LINEE (Languages in a Net- work.
work of European Excellence).1 The main aim
of the present article is to combine the con-
cept of multilingualism, which is more rooted in
If, with hindsight, one tries to create a defi-
nition for the term multilingualism, one has to
The Modern Language Journal, 95, iii, (2011)
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2011.01202.x inevitably examine its multiple status and the
0026-7902/11/344–355 $1.50/0 meanings connected with it: On the one hand,

C 2011 The Modern Language Journal multilingualism describes an intrinsically social
Rita Franceschini 345
way of life and cultural practice, which comes into peared to be nearly nonexistent or a disturbing
being via the use of language in interaction and its factor. Of course, multilingualism existed in spite
access through cognitive processing; on the other of it all. Nowadays, it can be clearly said that re-
hand, there is an actual sociopolitically driven search has often idealized away the existence of
interest connected with the term, alongside huge multilingualism, along with all multilingual prac-
public attention to this topic over the last few tices. With another look, we literally “dis-cover”
decades. The complete decoupling of these sides multilingualism under other premises as if it were
is not possible, nor does it make sense. There are new, yet it is rooted in history (see Franceschini,
therefore three premises, which are provided in in press).
the following subsections.

Multilingualism Is Doubly Natural The Current Social Interest in Multilingualism Is

Part of a Change in Perspective
If we think of a person as a social being, then
Multilingualism as a positive phenomenon has
it is obvious that contact with other people and,
entered the public eye more and more over the
in particular, language contact is likely to hap-
last few decades and has received targeted promo-
pen. The naturalness and inevitability of language
tion. To give an example, the European Union has
contact—in the sense of its “unmarkedness”—
set itself the goal of promoting two languages in
is demonstrated by the fact that it can only be
addition to the first language using various mea-
hindered with great effort. People contact is “so-
sures.3 European citizens should be able to be-
cially natural,” fundamental, and indispensable
come trilingual in the future. Despite all resolu-
for the development of language skills. Further-
tions, the implementation of this philosophy is
more, there is overwhelming evidence that lan-
hampered by a somehow “diglossic” view in Eu-
guage skills are biologically part of every individ-
rope using and learning English as a preferred
ual and can be developed in many ways.
second language.
Therefore, multilingualism demonstrates a
The diffusion of the term multilingualism is con-
doubly natural phenomenon: The social and cul-
nected with an ongoing change in perspective in
tural shaping of multilingualism is in its own way
society. This has been largely brought on by the
just as “natural” as the biological basis.

The Historic Foundation of Multilingualism

1. An increased sensibility toward diversity
The European cultural area, perhaps not as and thus a departure from assumptions of homo-
deeply as others, has been multilingual for cen- geneity;
turies, even though this has not been noticed and 2. The evidence of the variety of language phe-
has eluded scientific observation for a long time.2 nomena based on increased waves of migration
Reasons for this issue could lie in a period roman- over the past 50 years.
ticizing the nation state, with origins in the 17th
and 18th centuries, during which the unity of the In research, the term multilingualism is nowa-
people under one language was the prevailing way days of the utmost importance in forming a com-
of thinking (occasionally it still is) and which then prehensive bracketing of interests, which over the
indirectly influenced the blossoming humanities. past few decades have been driven forward with
Linguistic theories developed in the 19th and 20th various methodologies (Li Wei & Moyer, 2008).
centuries arose from the prevailing tendency to- Multilingualism is not a completely new research
ward language unity, and, therefore, in our opin- topic. The term sometimes stands for an extended
ion, unnatural premises, such as homogeneity and view of the earlier research into bilingualism and
separateness. Multilingual practices were parallel second language acquistion (SLA; De Angelis,
and ongoing in all these periods, as they were 2007). This extended view is part of a long tra-
necessary for cultural transfer and the develop- dition of research into bilingualism and today
ment of trade (Adams, 2003). These practices concerns various disciplines in linguistics, such
were, from time to time, so obscured, suppressed, as sociolinguistics and psycholinguistics, research
and (via the prevailing monolingual mentality) into language acquisition (L1, L2, Ln) and lan-
so blotted out that they escaped the notice of re- guage contact especially, as well as translation
searchers at the time. From this view, research studies, and it has repercussions for foreign lan-
into multilingualism could not (and still occasion- guage teaching (for an overview, see Auer & Li
ally cannot) legitimately be undertaken, as it ap- Wei, 2007).
346 The Modern Language Journal 95 (2011)
A DEFINITION OF MULTILINGUALISM WITH collectively historically shaped and can also be po-
A FOURTH DIMENSION litically co-determined (one thinks of, e.g., the
south Slavic region with its new or retro defini-
If an expression has to be defined that has come tions of varieties and languages). Attitudes are
to fruition in science, as well as in daily use, then known as powerful variables that co-determine the
the various connotations connected with it are development of multilingual language use (e.g.,
either to be decoupled or have to flow into the negative attitudes can hamper language acqui-
definition. Due to the premises presented here, sition, power relations can influence individual
the latter way is taken and an attempt to integrate opinions, and so on). Therefore, attitudes also
the social relevance of multilingualism in its defi- have to be seen as central (Jenkins, 2008). With
nition is made. such an emic point of view on language varieties,
Taking these premises into account, it appears language experts put their ready-made scholas-
necessary to combine scientific requirements, his- tic knowledge to one side up to a certain point
toric appropriateness, and a social view to de- (but they do not give it up!) to allow for the fact
velop the term multilingualism further. Due to that things that can be seen as being similar from
the aforementioned considerations, a dynamic, a structural or typological point of view can, in
usage-based, and culturally rooted definition of a communication culture, be perceived as being
multilingualism is proposed (see also Frances- completely different.
chini, 2009, pp. 33–34). The novelty of this ap-
proach can be seen in the introduction of a par-
ticular dimension, which pays more attention to Discussion of Aspects of the Definition
multilingual behavior in groups and will be la- In the discussion about bilingualism, normally
beled “discursive multilingualism.” three levels—not four, as proposed here—have
been distinguished: social, institutional, and in-
Definition of Multilingualism dividual (see, e.g., Lüdi, 1996a, 1996b). The first
level was born out of a macro view of multilingual-
Multilingualism conveys the ability of societies, ism: Societies such as the Swiss or the Belgian are
institutions, groups, and individuals to have regu- defined as bilingual or multilingual because of the
lar use of more than one language in their every- existence of consistent historical language groups.
day lives over space and time. Language is impar- At an institutional level, almost implicitly, the
tially understood as a variety that a group admits practices of institutions as bodies (as expressed in
to using as a habitual communication code (re- official documents of companies, for instance) or
gional languages and dialects are also included, taking place in institutions (e.g., doctor–patient
such as sign languages). communication in hospitals) are placed together.
In observing multilingual practices, it is possi- At an individual level, people’s language compe-
ble to distinguish societal, institutional, discursive, tences and abilities are in the foreground.
and individual multilingualism. In the proposed definition, we are following
Multilingualism is based on the fundamental this basic structure. It is succinct, even almost can-
human ability to be able to communicate in sev- onized. Nevertheless, it is not quite satisfactory
eral languages and it describes a phenomenon on closer examination: There is an admittedly
embedded in cultural developments. Therefore, unavoidable overlap of qualitatively differing per-
it is marked by high cultural sensitivity. spectives. Do the three distinctions point to the
“Language” is understood here as a variety that origin of the data in and from institutions? Is
a group adopts as a habitual way for communica- a view along the lines of a difference according
tion. A group (an institution or society) can also to macro/meso/micro levels intended? In addi-
habitually use several varieties. Dialects (as area tion, methodological approaches have an unequal
varieties) are included here as important identi- weight. Therefore, statistical, macrosociological
fying codes. Like other varieties, they are part of methods are obviously being applied more often
the multilingual repertoire. when observing societal multilingualism against
In the formulation of the definition of multi- microanalyses, used mainly on the discursive di-
lingualism, the identification of the habitual va- mension proposed here.4
riety used is deliberately given an “emic” com- Despite these concerns, the division appears
ponent (a language group is taken seriously in to make sense if the accompanying overlaps
its “right to self-determination” with respect to are monitored. However, it is more appropri-
its code[s]) and thereby includes identity as- ate to speak of dimensions of multilingualism
pects and attitudes as well. Language attitudes are rather than of levels, which softens the illusory
Rita Franceschini 347
separation effect and allows combinations. In this in mentalist terms, interiorized linguistic knowl-
sense, the four proposed dimensions are con- edge. Competence in Chomskian terms is thus
ceived of as positions when observing multilin- concerned with the formal system of an ideal
gual practices, like footing-points (the wording is speaker-hearer.
inspired by Erving Goffman’s terms). The term was also developed in parallel
with sociolinguistics, for which the individual is
The Fourth Dimension conceived as a performing person involved in
concrete, situationally embedded actions. From
In the proposed definition, an additional this view, it is in social interaction that compe-
fourth dimension concerning the investigation tence in a language or in several languages can be
of both oral and written discourse is now made best captured. Competence, in generativist terms,
explicit. With discursive mutilingualism, the would then be only a restricted part of it.
characteristics of bilingual and multilingual In the sociolinguistic paradigm of studies we
interactions in groups or dyads are in the follow here, the usage of variable forms to en-
foreground. This dimension can neither be act different functions is seen as a pervasive and
placed in the dimension of “institution,” where nonerasable characteristic of language. The term
it sometimes was placed, nor in the dimension “communicative competence” (Hymes, 1972),
of individual multilingualism. In contrast with then, was developed to cover concrete usage in
the latter dimension, these analyses do not entail different situations, showing that the knowledge
the competences or abilities of an individual but of grammatical rules alone does not make a per-
examine multilingual practice along with the son a competent (or native) speaker in the real
construction of sense in dialogue. One thinks of world.
the numerous globally documented studies on Communicative competence can easily com-
codeswitching, of conversations between native prehend different and typologically distant vari-
speakers and nonnative speakers, of the use of eties. In this way, the term is open to include mul-
lingue franche, ethnolects, and the like. They are tilingual competencies. These can be seen as an
not easy to force into one of the three dimen- enlargement of the range of varieties a person can
sions. One has to consider that in this dimension, activate from his or her repertoire, and a reper-
the data come from mostly informal contexts. toire, then, can be conceived of as the sum of ex-
Even though these contexts can be macrosocially periences a person has (Hall, Cheng, & Carlson,
embedded, in the end the phenomenon cannot 2006).
be adequately described in any of the other In the wide field of SLA (developed in both
dimensions. previously mentioned paradigms), the necessity
The discursive dimension today displays an to explain the acquisition of several languages
independent, now established point of view (in (in parallel or subsequently) and the growth of
written and oral forms), which justifies an inde- language abilites (in formal and/or informal set-
pendent dimension of observation in addition tings) was central for many studies concerned with
to the other three. It puts interaction at the bilingual and multilingual competencies. In this
center and follows the common development of respect, the concept of “interlanguages” was help-
sense and form. The results and the degree of ful to see how the systems of learners develop into
development of this approach suggest the need more and more complex states by integrating on-
to make allowances for their qualitatively differ- going new experiences (a leading influence was
ent view via an explicit nomination in the def- Larry Selinker).
inition, as is proposed in the aforementioned Interlanguages received an autonomous status,
definition. essentially because of the consistent regularities
found in these varieties. In this paradigm of stud-
COMPETENCE AND MULTICOMPETENCE ies, language learners or acquirers are not just
seen as failing to achieve the target language.
In addition to the overarching term “multilin- They give this impression only when compared
gualism,” a main conceptual problem concerns with idealized native speakers (as was the case
the term “competence.” The central question that in early studies in this field). Thus, the insights
many have asked is: Which competence term suits into the complex language structures of interlan-
multilingual speakers and how should their lan- guages eliminated an outdated view of language
guage use be modeled?5 constructions. The way was opened for the obser-
The term “competence” had, and still has, vation of practices of different second-language
a central position in generativism, designating, (L2 or Ln) users.
348 The Modern Language Journal 95 (2011)
Under these premises, the question about The introduction of the term “multicompe-
which competence term suits multilingual speak- tence” began to bring up numerous questions:
ers and their social practice best arises in re- How can speakers fluently change from one lan-
newed terms. Competence has now to capture guage into another, like in codeswitching? How
the flexible usage of several varieties, also be- can they shut out one language while they are
tween those that are considered different lan- using another? How do they manage the two dif-
guages. This brings to mind the great work of the ferent phonological and pragmatic systems? On
last decades on codeswitching, codemixing, and a cognitive level, does one access a common rep-
related phenomena (see Auer, 1999b; Muysken, resentation with the L1 when using the L2, or
2000; Myers Scotton, 1993). It became more and various separate ones, or are these all blended to-
more evident that bi- and multilingual speakers gether? How can contrasting parameters be con-
share characteristics that distinguish them from tained in one and the same person, or in their
monolinguals, for example, codeswitching and competence?
translation. Also, transfer studies, at the begin- Cook was subsequently one of the very con-
ning, mostly concerned with transfer from the vinced defenders increasingly committed to a
first language (L1) to the L2, began to discover departure from a view of the L2 system of the
reverse influences from the third language (L3) learner, which regards the learner of the L2 as in-
to the L2 and the L1 (Cenoz, Hufeisen, & Jessner, variably imperfect and never achieving perfection
2001a, 2001b; Cook, 2003b). in the target language. As the L2 learner is mostly
Today, it is evident that a highly debated term (consciously or subconsciously) compared with
like “competence” or “communicative compe- a native speaker,6 he or she will inevitably always
tence” has to cover multilingual usage and has come away from this comparison as constantly
to cope with the underlying dimensions as well falling short of perfection, as an eternal learner,
as the cognitive ones (Franceschini, Zappatore, & akin to Sisyphus. The competence of an L2 user
Nitsch, 2003; Grosjean, Li, Münte, & Rodriguez- should not be measured with that of a native
Fornells, 2003) that this implies. speaker but should compare L2 competence with
One of the most promising concepts in this re- L2 competence.
spect was multicompetence, brought out in the Hereby Cook (1997) criticized a prevailing
early 1990s and introduced first by Vivian Cook. A methodological tradition in L2 research and, in
closer look at the development of the term, which doing so, explicitly highlighted the approach of
will be examined in the next subsection, cannot Wolfgang Klein and Clive Perdue’s research group
avoid following the positions of its inventor more as being more than adequate.7 This European
closely. This should not disregard the work in SLA Science Foundation project was concerned with
and language contact studies, which formed the developmental steps gone through by individual
fruitful ground from which the term “multicom- learners (Klein & Perdue, 1992). Generalizable
petence” grew. operation principles that the various learner vari-
eties have in common were worked out. Interlan-
guages are treated as systems in their own right,
even if they are not languages of a community.
On the Term Multicompetence: Five Development
Steps Overall, in the development of the term multi-
competence, one can roughly identify five different
It is interesting to observe how the term “multi- stages, while a sixth is in the making:
competence” was developed in psycholinguistic-
1. In the first phase, as expressed earlier, “mul-
and cognitive-directed branches of SLA in
ticompetence” appears as an argument against
parallel to the emergence of a clearer idea of mul-
Universal Grammar–oriented research into SLA,
tilingualism in sociolinguistics. The term “multi-
which ignores the problem of two coexisting
competence” was first made public in the early
grammars in one and the same mind (Cook,
1990s (Cook, 1992) in the formulation: “the com-
pound state of a mind with two grammars” (Cook,
1991, p. 112). According to Cook, in the begin- This first definition, “the compound state of
ning, the term was used more out of convenience a mind with two grammars,” caused misunder-
(Cook, 2003a). The concept of “interlanguage” standings due to the Chomskyan term “grammar,”
had been established since the 1970s to describe however.8 To make it clear that it is not syntax
the language competence of learners in their L2, in its narrowest sense that is meant, the defini-
but there was still no term to capture the compe- tion was reformulated to the present-day one:
tence of both—L1 together with L2. “Multicom- “knowledge of two languages in one mind” (Cook,
petence” then described a type of “supersystem.” 2005a, p. 2).
Rita Franceschini 349
A noteworthy substitution of the term “knowl- a child” (Cook, 2002, p. 1). The concept was, as
edge” with “coexistence” is found in the following briefly described earlier, initially created more for
definition: “Multicompetence refers to the coex- programmatic reasons so that one could confront
istence of more than one language in the same the view that L2 learners were perpetual lifelong
mind” (Cook, 2005b, p. 1).9 It is also notable that learners and instead give them equal status, just
from a formulation that refers to two languages, like that of a native speaker.
here “more than one” is used.
The criticism with respect to the use of the na- According to the definition, by the consistent
tive speaker as the only norm against which L2 use of the term “L2 user,” every other language
competence should be measured appeared in the that the learner has not acquired as an L1 can
early 1980s and was reinforced later. A plea is be meant. A further internal differentiation (or
made for “multicompetence in its own right,” as differences between an L2 and an L3 and a fourth
in the formulation of Cook (2005a, p. 3). language acquired later) is not dealt with in the
To avoid unwelcome connotations, there is in- framework of Cook’s work.
creasing talk of “language users” instead of “lan- 5. The thought process of expanding multi-
guage learners,”10 and so with time, the reference competence as a term to describe a basic ability
to the native speaker as the locus of the language of every person (i.e., as the “potential state of any
has become nearly irrelevant (Cook, 2005a, p. 3). human mind”; Cook, 2003a, s.d.), can be seen as
the last development.
2. After this definition stage, there is, as a fur-
ther development of the work, a broadening of What is of interest to us in this whole discussion
perspective in which the transfer process is seen about multicompetence is the fact that the com-
as a mutual influence between the L1 and L2 in petence term has significantly been broadened
both directions, as reverse transfer (Cook, 2003a). and increasingly incorporates the practical side
In a similar vein to Grosjean and Py (1991), Vi- of language usage.
vian Cook also emphasizes that “the L1 in the Today, when using the term “multicompe-
mind of an L2 user was by no means the same tence,” there is no need for the particular demar-
as the L1 in the mind of a monolingual native cation dispute of generativism, as in the first phase
speaker” (Cook, 2005a, p. 4). Differences arise to described here. Research into the broad area of
the advantage of L2 users, such as the develop- language acquisition and its accompanying prac-
ment of reading skills in their L1, written compo- tices has established itself in its own right, with
sition of essays in the L1, general diversified men- more self-assurance. It is clear that multilingual
tal skills, analogical thinking (reasoning) and cre- use requires thorough analysis and will be more
ativity, and so on (see the pioneers in this respect: complex than we have been able to grasp through
Cook, 2005a, p. 4; Lambert, Tucker, & d’Anglejan, current theories.
1973). All in all, appearing to emerge from the last
3. In the 1990s, further interest in the cognitive stage is the fact that the connection with soci-
dimensions of bilingual competences arose. The olinguistic concepts is possible and, therefore, the
question was posed as to how language, thinking, concept of multicompetence is becoming compat-
and cultural influences were interconnected un- ible with the aforementioned definition of multi-
der the conditions of bilingualism and multilin- lingualism.
gualism. As perception is affected when learning
another language, thought processes also seem to Criticism of the Term “Multicompetence”
be affected during the acquisition of other lan-
guages. It is assumed that a changed perception In the last subsection we followed the develop-
in interaction with the newly acquired language ment of the term on the line of Cook’s writings.
is set up—learning languages changes thinking. However, the ongoing discussion was richer than
Cook attached particular potential for develop- that (see, e.g., Dewaele & Pavlenko, 2003; Edwards
ment to this area of bilingual cognition research, & Dewaele, 2007; Genesee, 2002; Hufeisen &
which is based on work from the 1990s (see, e.g., Lindemann, 1998; Kecskes, 1998), and the con-
Cook, 2005a). cept and its use received consistent criticism.
4. In the course of these studies on multicom- The main criticisms are of two kinds. The first
petence, it has become clear that the concept of pertains to the lack of social embeddedness. One
the L2 user stands at the core as “any person who has to bear in mind that multicompetence was
uses another language than his or her first lan- originally born out of a psycholinguistic and more
guage (L1), that is to say, the one learnt first as generativist perspective, with some enlargements
350 The Modern Language Journal 95 (2011)
in the course of its development, as was discussed and diversity of experience and use” (p. 229).
previously. Still, the traces of a mentalist view are To refer to highly skilled individuals, the authors
there, in accordance with the overall interest in suggest the term “multicontextual communicative
formal aspects of the language system, even if, expert” (p. 233). These individuals are highly ex-
for example, bilingual acquisition is the object of perienced in a variety of communicative domains
analysis. and have experiences in reacting in multiple com-
Following naturally from the previously re- municative contexts.
ported discussion, this lack of social embedded- As we can see, the authors take a strong usage-
ness can be overcome in enlarging the range of based view on language knowledge, with its
the concept. This enlargement presupposes a so- activity-sensitive nature. The basic language struc-
ciolinguistic approach (e.g., a position that is an- ture is based in concrete, historical contexts of
chored in language use and is not restricted to a language use (Hall et al., 2006, pp. 226–227). The
mentalist interest). differences among speakers are then to be seen
The second criticism is more fundamental and not in the different number of languages they may
is convincingly exposed in Hall et al. (2006). use but on the “amount and diversity of experi-
The position can be subsumed under the head- ences and use” (Hall et al., 2006, p. 229). Multi-
ing of “radical usage-based position.” It consid- lingual speakers have more varied communicative
ers multilingualism as a case of the underly- experiences.
ing characteristics of the variability of language In a similar vein, the LINEE project, working
(Franceschini, 2003). In the terms of Hall et al. on highly multilingual contexts, aims to gain a
(2006), the language knowledge of multilingual- sociolinguistic foundation of the concept of mul-
ism turns out to be “the inherent nature of all ticompetence, which will be discussed in the fol-
language knowledge” because all language knowl- lowing subsection. The aim here is not to discuss
edge is “socially contingent and dynamic” (p. the concrete results of the project, but to present
229). Therefore, multilingualism is only a spe- the conceptual steps made.
cial case of variable use, languages being sep-
arated ideologically, but not psycholinguistically The Broadening of the Definition of Multicompetence
(Hall et al., 2006). The authors put forward in the LINEE Project
three main critiques to multicompetence-driven
research: to assume that the L1 and the L2 In the European LINEE project, the term “mul-
knowledge are distinct and discrete systems; to ticompetence” was taken up and adapted to a
assume that there are qualitative differences be- sociolinguistic point of view, mainly in the spe-
tween monocompetence and multicompetence; cific thematic area “Multilingualism and Educa-
and to assume homogeneous knowledge across tion.” This area aims to gain a comprehensive
speakers and contexts (although speakers and view of multilingualism, such as is displayed in
contexts vary across age, gender, social class, re- modern situations within and outside the world
gion, communicative habitus, etc.). Behind these of formal education (see Cenoz & Gorter, 2005;
assumptions, the monolingual speaker neverthe- Mitchell & Myles, 2004). The conceptual work
less reappears and is used, even involuntarily, as aimed “to clarify the shift from bi- to multilin-
a valuable yardstick. Elaborating on this point, gualism by analyzing the historical and acquisi-
Hall et al. (2006, p. 224) argued that it is dif- tional dimensions, with a focus on multicompe-
ficult to draw a clear distinction between multi- tence as a key concept for linguistic diversity in a
competence and monocompetence. A monolin- knowledge-based society” (Mitchell, 2008, Project
gual can be as dynamic and variable in his or Annex 6.2.6).
her use of a language and can be in this theo- The use of the term “multicompetence” in this
retical sense also multicompetent in his or her context is due to the need to take into account
own language, as a multilingual is. The two are the results we have already seen, which point to
just exploiting the inherent characteristic of lan- the potential profit that speakers growing up with
guage (variability) on the wider or smaller scale of several languages can gain.
languages they can use. Additionally, dynamism In LINEE, the ambition is to create a frame-
is not a characteristic inherent only in multi- work for multicompetence, which captures multi-
lingualism—not only multilingual use is flexible lingualism as a culturally, historically, and dynam-
and variable. ically determined means of communication. This
The differences between multilinguals and trend is happening against the backdrop of the
monolinguals are, in Hall et al.’s (2006) terms, various European language situations, which are
“not on number of languages, but on amount being studied in the project. Multicompetence
Rita Franceschini 351
should help to explain the intertwining of indi- portant cornerstones, whereas the original term,
vidual competencies and everyday use. In the end, “multicompetence,” specifies the group and in-
we can say that the LINEE research group extends dividual dimensions of multilingualism and joins
the original views of multicompetence to sociolin- this up with the competence term.
guistics and education and achieves the following Thereby, the definition of multicompetence in
working definition (Franceschini, 2008; Mitchell, the LINEE project takes on a bridging function.
2008): It makes the following connections:

Multicompetence, i.e., the knowledge of more than 1. The connection between the multicompe-
one language in the mind, is part of the individual tence of an individual with the social embedding
capacity of a person and develops in interaction with in which these competences are experienced;
his or her social or educational environment. Mul- 2. The connection between the different multi-
ticompetent individuals make use of their linguistic lingual language skills in the variable competence
knowledge when interacting within a range of linguis-
of a speaker;
tic settings, including both multilingual and mono-
3. The connection between this communica-
lingual situations. Multicompetence, or multilingual
competence, is thus at the same time a tool and a tive competence and the usages concrete com-
state and relates to the complex, flexible, integra- munication encounters.
tive, and adaptable behavior which multilingual in-
In this way, we reach a richer view of the spe-
dividuals display. A multicompetent person is there-
fore an individual with knowledge of an extended cific competences put in action in multilingual
and integrated linguistic repertoire who is able to use encounters.
the appropriate linguistic variety for the appropriate
Multicompetence in this sense arises from MULTILINGUALISM
the individual level and from the interactional
practice, as can be seen in the above defini- In this article, only two concepts have been scru-
tion. This strand of thought takes advantage— tinized in some detail: multilingualism and mul-
broadly speaking—of the interactionist and ticompetence. As can be followed by the broad-
neo-Vygotskian works (see Dausendschön-Gay, ened definition in the terms used in LINEE, being
2003; Dausendschön-Gay & Krafft, 1994; for an a multicompetent speaker does not simply mean
overview, Martinez & Pekarek Doehler, 2000). counting several languages or using languages flu-
All in all, in LINEE, the dynamic view pre- ently, nor having a general communicative com-
vails. With reference to Dewaele and Pavlenko petence. Multicompetence means having devel-
(2003), multicompetence is perceived not as an oped a cultural sensitivity toward various different
end state, but rather as a dynamic, evolving language situations.
system. In addition, in LINEE the concept of Multilingualism and multicompetence are cen-
multicompetence is strongly embedded in the so- tral to the ongoing research activities in different
ciolinguistic context, including beliefs and prac- disciplines, which are becoming more and more
tices, and therefore captures various other aspects sensitive to multilingual phenomena. This situa-
(socio-situational, educational, pedagogical) of tion is of great interest and is fruitful not only
multicompetence beyond a strictly speaking SLA- for empirical research, which is already vast, but
rootedness. The working definition goes back to also for the stimulus it offers for finding specific
a usage-based view of language knowledge such research methods and ways of thinking. Skeptical
as that of the recent functional–typological ap- minds may consider multilingualism as an epiphe-
proaches of Bybee and Hopper (2001) in a sim- nomenon. Nevertheless, it introduces a healthy
ilar way as already discussed in the preceding discussion to linguistics, not just sociolinguistics
subsection. (Franceschini, 2005). It helps to deconstruct as-
The definition of multicompetence elaborated sumptions like homogeneity and highlights the
during the work on real data in the LINEE project, naturalness of contact situations. Thus, the con-
which cannot be exposed in detail here (but see sideration of multilingualism has an important, shows that the term “multicom- side effect—it prepares the terrain for an inclu-
petence” is compatible with the definition of mul- sion of variability as a fundamental characteristic
tilingualism that was discussed here at the start. of language, continuing to deepen the way started
We can see “multilingualism” as a type of umbrella in the sociolinguistic field. Language varies across
term. The definition of multilingualism provides languages as it varies in the language, where it was
the superior framework determining the most im- first studied. The same holds true for dynamism.
352 The Modern Language Journal 95 (2011)
It is as if multilingualism has a lens effect for many of content or vague and runs the risk of becom-
researchers, being a magnifying glass uncovering ing merely a passing fashion—a shell of a word
the linguistic dynamism across languages. In fact, encompassing everything under which everyone
each language development and use is dynamic, understands something different.
but multilingualism shows it in a way one cannot The majority of modern linguistics is born out
easily elude. of the spirit of monolingualism and has, as a
Alongside the discussion of the two terms— reduction of complexity, brought about many
multilingualism and multicompetence—it can be assumptions. Confronted with multilingualism,
the values seem to be turning around. The ba-
observed that a part of psycholinguistics has be-
sic competence of a speaker is open toward mul-
come more socially interested and a part of soci- tilingualism if he or she can experience it over
olinguistics goes for the more cognitive side. In the course of his or her life. Assuming the natu-
fact, a cognitive sociolinguistics is on the way up rally occurring potential within multilingualism,
(Geeraerts, Kristiansen, & Peirsman, 2010) and one cannot help analyzing some of the basic as-
offers important insights. An inclusion of differ- sumptions of linguistics, both whether language
ent views is necessary because multilingualism is a ability is primarily seen as being a cognitive com-
phenomenon that combines experiences of dif- petence or as a social practice. Multilingualism, in
ferent people in specific societies. It concerns our definition, includes both, and therefore also
the development of knowledge and is observable multicompetence.
in social interaction and discourse. Multilingual-
ism is therefore complex in its foundation (social
and cognitive) and in its practice. A separation ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
into clear-cut disciplines in analyzing multilingual
phenomena seems obsolete, particularly when it
Many members of the LINEE network have taken
comes to power relationships, which goes along part in the fruitful discussion on the term “multicom-
with the different status of a language in a specific petence” in various meetings and written exchanges:
society (Simpson & Mayr, 2010; Wodak, 2009). Rosita Schjerve-Rindler, Eva Vetter, Ros Mitchell,
Multilingualism is a cross-cutting topic that has Jennifer Jenkins, Elena Ioannidou, Silvia Dal Negro,
enormous potential for transforming the future Gessica De Angelis, Gerda Videsott, Don Peckham,
of linguistics. Anna Fenyvesi, Katalin Petneki, Werner Wiater, Paul
For these reasons, multilingualism inspires us Videsott, Cristina de Grandi, Eszter Szabó-Gilinger, and
(apparently much more than other topics) to many more. Thanks go to them all. The responsibility
leave behind long-established assumptions, such for the positions taken up here together with all fallacies
is nonetheless not to be attributed to them.
as forced homogeneity, fixed structures, indepen-
dence from cultural embedding, and so on. It pre-
pares the way to search for frames in which time- NOTES
related, process-based, analytical tools and com-
1 LINEE was founded as a Network of Excellence within
plexity are taken into account as central points
(Franceschini, 2003). Over the last few years, the VI Framework programme (2006–2010) of the Eu-
the idea of placing the language system on the ropean Union, project number: CIT4–2006-28388. The
foundations of a potential multilingual compe- Language Study Unit of the University of Bolzano is one
of the nine partners, in addition to the Universities of
tence has become more tangible, as shown, for
Bern, Southampton, Prague, Szeged, Munich, Vienna,
instance, by Lourdes Ortega’s powerful presenta- and Zagreb. For more details, see
tion at the American Association of Applied Lin- 2 The broad reception of Adams’s works on multilin-
guistics meeting in March 2010 (see also Ortega, gualism in antiquity is an indication of an increasing in-
2009). We need initiatives that will also open up terest in research about the historic dimensions of mul-
across disciplines. At present, the most suitable tilingualism (see Adams, 2003; Adams, Janse, & Swain,
initiatives appear to be ones that address the com- 2005; Franceschini, in press).
3 See the document “Commission of the European
plexity and dynamics of the systems, and in this
regard, more than promising proposals are still Communities” (2007) written by the “High Level Group
on the way (e.g., de Bot, 2008; de Bot, Lowie, & on Multilingualism.” Franceschini (2009) presented re-
search perspectives in the area of multilingualism, in
Verspoor, 2007; Herdina & Jessner, 2002; Larsen-
which the recommendations put forward to the Euro-
Freeman & Cameron, 2008; Mühlhäusler 2003; pean Commission are gone into in more depth.
Ortega, 2009; Wildgen, 1999). These reflections 4 On combinatorics just an allusive reference: Data
and models are of great importance. Without any from individual language production can also be eval-
effort, a methodological and theoretical level of uated statistically and ethnographic approaches can be
the term “multilingualism” could become empty taken on a social level (which would otherwise employ
Rita Franceschini 353
microanaylsis) (see Deppermann, 1999/2001; Lamnek, Auer, P., & Li, Wei. (Eds.). (2007). Handbook of multi-
2010). lingualism and multilingual communication. Berlin:
5 This is not the place to discuss these models individ- De Gruyter.
ually, as this contribution is deliberately limited to the Bybee, J., & Hopper, P. (Eds.). (2001). DATE: Frequency
definition of multilingualism and multicompetence. It and the emergence of linguistic structure. Amsterdam:
would be worthwhile to conduct a comparative discus- Benjamins.
sion of the extension of de Bot’s (1992) extension of Cenoz, J., & Gorter, D. (Eds.). (2005). Trilingual educa-
Levelt’s “Speaking Model” and the dynamic systems ap- tion in Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
proach in de Bot (2008) and de Bot, Lowie, & Verspoor Cenoz, J., Hufeisen, B., & Jessner, U. (Eds.). (2001a).
(2007), together with Grosjean’s (2001) proposals on Cross-linguistic influence in third language acquisi-
Bilingual Language Modes. Furthermore, it would be tion: Psycholinguistic perspectives. Clevedon, Eng-
interesting to compare Green (1998), Lüdi (2004), and land: Multilingual Matters.
Herdina and Jessner (2002), as well as to take into ac- Cenoz, J., Hufeisen, B., & Jessner, U. (Eds.). (2001b).
count the views of Thomason and Kaufman (1988), De- Looking beyond second language acquisition: Studies
Graff (1999), Wildgen (1999), and Tomasello (2000) in tri- and multilingualism. Tübingen, Germany:
and to consider the prominently led discussion on the Stauffenburg Verlag.
practice of codeswitching and codemixing (see, e.g., Commission of the European Communities. (2007). Fi-
Auer, 1999a, 1999b; Milroy & Muysken, 1995; Muysken, nal report, High Level Group on multilingualism.
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