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Trilingual conversations: A window into multicompetence

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Edwards, M., Dewaele J.-M.


Trilingual conversations: A window into multicompetence



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Edwards, M., Dewaele J.-M. (2007). Trilingual conversations: A window into multicompetence. International Journal of Bilingualism 11: 221 - 242.


A recurrent theme in the literature on trilingual language use is the question of whether there is a specific “trilingual competence.” In this paper we consider this question in the light of codeswitching patterns in two
dyadic trilingual conversations between a mother and daughter conducted in (Lebanese) Arabic, French, and English. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of code switching in both conversants shows that, despite the fact that both subjects are fluent in all three languages, uses of switching are significantly different for mother and daughter across a number of features, including relative frequency of different switch types, and the incidence of hybrid constructions involving items from two or more languages. The subjects appear to display qualitatively distinct profiles of competence in the trilingual mode. This in turn leads to the conclusion that the facts of trilingual language use are best characterized in terms of “multicompetence” (Cook, 1991). The paper concludes with some further reflections on the uniqueness of trilingual language use (an “old chestnut” in trilingualism research, cf. Klein, 1995).

Key words

Codeswitching, language mode, multicompetence, language, dominance, trilingualism

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