The BLP responds to a need for clearer understanding of what constitutes language dominance and a need for fine-grained assessments of dominance both within and outside of research settings.
Guidelines and Standards
Bilingualism is a major focus of research in academic, educational, and clinical fields, but there are no clear guidelines on measuring language dominance. Instead, researchers have relied on a variety of means to evaluate bilingual language abilities, including:
- Language choice4,20
- Proficiency tests1
- Psycholinguistic tasks7,9,10
- Experiential criteria3
- Psychosocial criteria19
More and more researchers are calling for standardization of assessment tools across disciplines in order to specify effects of bilingualism on social interaction, academic success, cognition, and other human activity.2,11,12,17,22,23 Standards would also serve to increase comparability between experimental studies and enhance interpretation of results. The BLP offers a systematic means of conceptualizing and evaluating bilingual language dominance that will go a long way toward meeting demands for standardization and guidelines on measuring dominance.
Non-Research Uses for the BLP
The BLP is a valuable instrument outside of research settings. Teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators, for example, can use the BLP to gather demographic information about the students in their schools. Bilingual education, literacy development, heritage learning, and communication sciences are just a few contexts in which we envision use of the BLP. Other applications include clinical and workplace settings, where the BLP can be used to collect language history information about clients and employees. What is now guesswork about the linguistic profiles of bilinguals in these various settings can be replaced with BLP data for greater descriptive power.
The BLP is a multi-measure questionnaire designed to reflect the gradient nature of language dominance and the many factors influencing it, including:
- Age of acquisition/exposure9
- Years of schooling15
- Frequency/function of use13
- Linguistic environment8
- Language attitudes19
- Processing ability2,16
A first step in creating the BLP was to clarify that dominance is conceptually distinct from proficiency, though they are easily conflated and often correlated. Dominance is a construct that derives from the nature of bilingualism, of having two languages in one’s mind.12 It involves the relationship between competencies in two languages, and is thus inherently relativistic. Proficiency, on the other hand, does not require a bilingual context for its definition. Even a monolingual can receive a score on a proficiency test.
Gradient dominance highlights the fact that, although bilinguals often need to be classified as dominant in one or the other language, dominance is not necessarily dichotomous. A bilingual may not only be more or less dominant in one language relative to the other, but the relative strength of the two languages can change over a lifetime. Observing that practical ways of measuring dominance as a gradient construct are scarce motivated development of the BLP instrument.