Lessons from pre-colonial multilingualism

Authored by: Suresh Canagarajah , Indika iyanage

The Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism

Print publication date:  May  2012
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415496476
eBook ISBN: 9780203154427
Adobe ISBN: 9781136578144


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Multilingualism is often celebrated in the communicative context of late modernity, where languages come into contact in contexts of transnational affiliation, diaspora communities, digital communication, fluid social boundaries and the blurring of time/space distinctions (see Rampton 1997). However, this is not a new phenomenon. There is a small but growing body of scholarship on the types of multilingualism found in pre-modern and pre-colonial times. Scholars are using a different term for the type of multilingualism practised then: plurilingualism. Some believe that colonization and the influx of Western European language ideologies led to the suppression or distortion of the vibrant plurilingual practices in the pre-colonial southern hemisphere. An understanding of the pre-colonial language practices will help us to appreciate communicative practices in contemporary times.

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