Do balanced bilinguals exist?
Jeanine Treffers-Daller – University of Reading, Institute of Education
In this paper I analyse the construct of language dominance and discuss different ways to operationalize and measure it. I will argue that language dominance is a multidimensional construct that is based on the two key dimensions of the bilingual experience as distinguished by Fishman, Cooper, and Ma ( 1968 ), Grosjean ( 2010 ), and Luk and Bialystok ( 2013 ), namely proficiency and use. Language dominance is similar in many ways to handedness. Most people are better at carrying out tasks with their right hand than with their left hand, or vice versa. Very few people are ambidextrous in that they are equally skilled at carrying out tasks with both hands. The notion of “balanced bilingualism” is highly problematic for a variety of reasons, in particular if conceptualized as “overall balance.” While bilinguals often have intuitions that one of their languages is their stronger one, upon closer scrutiny it is often the case that dominance varies according to the domains and the functions for which the languages are used or to the instruments used to measure it. The notion of balance becomes even more problematic in multilinguals, but most research focuses on bilinguals. I will conclude with an outlook towards research that is needed to develop our understanding of this area further.