Receptive multilingualism means that it is possible to use one’s own language in a conversation while only understanding the language of one’s interlocutors.
The Council of Europe defines multilingualism as “the presence in a geographical area of more than one variety of language”.
On the Treccani website it says “multilingualism is the ability of an individual or an ethnic group to use different languages alternately and without difficulty”.
This article deals with receptive multilingualism, which refers to the language pattern used in a community of people with different mother tongues and where in a normal conversation everyone uses their own language. This form of communication is also known as the Scandinavian model because the inhabitants of Scandinavia manage to communicate using their own languages.
In receptive multilingualism, in a linguistic exchange, each interlocutor uses his or her own language and only understands the other’s. The listener is only required to understand the other’s language. The listener is only required to have the ability to understand the language of the speaker, it is a passive competence of the language on the part of one or more interlocutors, obviously depending on how many people are involved in the communication, the interesting thing is that there is no need to be able to speak the language of the person in front of you.
Receptive multilingualism is widespread and institutionalised in Europe, in addition to Scandinavia it is present for example in Switzerland and also in other countries, but the highest expression of this phenomenon can be found on the island of Warruwi.
On the island of South Goulburn, off the north coast of Australia, lives a community of about 500 people who speak 9 different languages, the Warruwi Aboriginal community.
This small island is one of the few places left in the world where different indigenous languages coexist. The Aborigines communicate with Mawng, Burarra, Yolngu-Matha, Ndjenna and Na-kara, Bininj Kunwok, Kunbarlang, Iwaidja, Torres Strait Creole, and of course English, which contrary to what one might think is not used to communicate in case of difficulties in understanding.
The Warruwi understand each other because everyone understands some or all of the other languages while still responding in their own. They implement receptive multilingualism, which refers to the model used in communities of speakers of different languages who each use their own idiom during a language exchange.
In my opinion, this is the best way to preserve one’s own language without much effort on the part of the speakers, and without any preference or supremacy of one idiom over the other, while at the same time keeping one’s cultural identity intact.
Translated with ranslator