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Is multilingualism linked to a higher tolerance of ambiguity?*

  • JEAN-MARC DEWAELE (a1) and LI WEI (a1)

The present study investigates the link between multilingualism and the personality trait Tolerance of Ambiguity (TA) among 2158 mono-, bi- and multilinguals. Monolinguals and bilinguals scored significantly lower on TA compared to multilinguals. A high level of global proficiency of various languages was linked to higher TA scores. A stay abroad of more than three months was also linked to higher TA although the effect levelled off after one year. Growing up in a multilingual family had no effect on TA. These findings show that a high level of multilingualism makes individuals more at ease in dealing with ambiguity, but we acknowledge that a higher level of TA can also strengthen an individual's inclination to become multilingual.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Jean-Marc Dewaele, Department of Applied Linguistics & Communication, Birkbeck College, 30, Russell Square, London WC1B 5DT,
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A previous version of this paper was presented at the Eighth International Symposium on Bilingualism in Oslo in 2011. We would like to thank the participants and the anonymous reviewers for their excellent feedback on an earlier version of this paper. Thank you also to Ruxandra Comanaru for her statistical advice.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
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