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Characterizing the social diversity of bilingualism using language entropy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 March 2019

Jason W. Gullifer*
Department of Psychology, McGill University Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music, McGill University
Debra Titone
Department of Psychology, McGill University Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music, McGill University
Address for correspondence: Jason W. Gullifer, E-mail:


Bilingual and multilingual individuals exhibit variation in everyday language experience. Studies on bilingualism account for individual differences with measures such as L2 age of acquisition, exposure, or language proficiency, but recent theoretical perspectives posit that the relative balance between the two or more languages throughout daily life (i.e., interactional context) is a crucial determinant for language representation, access, and control. We propose an innovative measure to characterize this construct by using entropy to estimate the social diversity of language use. Language entropy is computed from commonly-collected language history data and generalizes to multilingual communicative contexts. We show how language entropy relates to other indices of bilingual experience and that it predicts self-report L2 outcome measures over and above classic measures of language experience. Thus, we proffer language entropy as a means to characterize individual differences in bilingual (and multilingual) language experience related to the social diversity of language use.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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