Multilingualism as an Object of Sociolinguistic Description

Rakesh Bhatt, Agnes Bolonyai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the earlier study “Code-Switching and the Optimal Grammar of Bilingual Language Use” in 2011, we present a unified account of language use in multilingual communities using the key insight of OPTIMIZATION to capture variations between multilingual communities. This paper explores the extensions and implications of our optimality-theoretic model of multilingual grammars. We provide evidence indicating that the vast array of empirical facts of bilingual language use (code-switching) are constrained by the operation of five universal socio-cognitive constraints of multilingual grammars, and that community grammars differ from each other in terms of how they prioritize these five constraints. We provide evidence to show that the model we propose (i) accounts for bi-dialectal community grammars, as well as grammars of indigenous and transplanted multilingual communities; (ii) replicates reverse patterns of socio-grammatical differences observed earlier between indigenous and transplanted communities in terms of the relative ranking of two constraints (POWER and SOLIDARITY), linked with different indexical potentials for accruing “a profit of distinction”; and (iii) presents empirical evidence of a complete dominance hierarchy of constraint rankings, satisfying, ultimately, the desideratum of an optimality-inspired framework of assumptions, i.e., constraints are universal; constraints are in (potential) conflict with each other; constraints are violable; and the sociolinguistic grammar of bilingual language consists of the interactions between, and optimal satisfaction of, the constraints.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number277
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • code-switching
  • optimality theory
  • multilingual grammar
  • variation


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