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Measuring bilingualism: The quest for a “bilingualism quotient”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2020

Viorica Marian*
Northwestern University
Sayuri Hayakawa
Northwestern University
*Corresponding author: E-mail:


The study of bilingualism has a history that extends from deciphering ancient multilingual texts to mapping the structure of the multilingual brain. The language experiences of individual bilinguals are equally diverse and characterized by unique contexts of acquisition and use that can shape not only sociocultural identity but also cognitive and neural function. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this variability in scholarly perspectives and language experiences has given rise to a range of methods for defining bilingualism. The goal of this article is to initiate a conversation about the utility of a more unified approach to how we think about, study, and measure bilingualism. Using concrete case studies, we illustrate the value of enhancing communication and streamlining terminology across researchers with different methodologies within questions, different questions within domains, and different domains within scientific inquiry. We specifically consider the utility and feasibility of a bilingualism quotient (BQ) construct, discuss the idea of a BQ relative to the well-established intelligence quotient, and include recommendations for next steps. We conclude that though the variability in language backgrounds and approaches to defining bilingualism presents significant challenges, concerted efforts to systematize and synthesize research across the field may enable the construction of a valid and generalizable index of multilingual experience.

Original Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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