The Dominant Language Constellation Model to visualize our use of multiple languages

[Transcript of my video on youtube]

How do you use your languages?

Which ones do you feel are more in the foreground and which ones are more in the background?

There are different ways to visualize the language use and practices of individuals and one of them is the Dominant Language Constellation, I quote Larissa Aronin: “It denotes the set of a person’s most expedient languages, functioning as an entire unit and enabling an individual to meet all their needs in a multilingual environment.”

It is a modeling tool that describes the current language practices of multilingual speakers.

The Dominant Language Constellation is practice based and captures, I quote, “a subset of the languages that are deemed to be of prime importance in the repertoire of an individual or a group” and it contains or considers three factors:

1) the dominant languages, so the choice of which languages are used the most frequently

2) the participants self-reported proficiency in each language and

3) the perceived typological distance from language to another in the individual’s dominant constellation.

As the name indicates, the model focuses on the most prominent languages which means that it leaves aside the other languages that are in a multilingual person’s language repertoire, but used less frequently.

Fact is, that multilinguals can have two to four dominant languages! Interestingly the prominence of our languages can change and shift over time. When looking at our Dominant Language Constellation in different phases of our life, the languages that are most dominant in one phase might not be in the other phase.

The way I like to use this model with my languages is exactly in a dynamic non-static way; after all ,language use is something that changes constantly from face to face situations to situations depending on what we talk about, with whom, where and for what purposes. Our languages act like a team that helps us communicate effectively.

We know that our languages are always somehow present or retrievable to some extent: The languages we use more frequently are those we are more confident using, but our language repertoire is more than the sum of the languages or the parts! We also use our languages in different ways depending whether we are in a monolingual setting or a multilingual one.

The linguistic qualities and social functioning of a language are not the same when it is used in a constellation, as compared to when it is used separately in a monolingual mode. I quote here again Larissa Aronin.

So, my Italian is important and dominant in Italian contexts, but when using English it might shift into the background. But constellation of some kind always assumes that the languages are in contact with each other like a team as I just mentioned, or like a system of planets or stars.

What I find interesting is to find out what languages collaborate to help me express myself in a target language, but in a multilingual setting. This means that I can include for example other languages that those around me can also understand. Therefore my Dominant Language Constellation can adapt to different language constellations of the multilingual situation. What does this mean?

If I am in a group of French and German speakers, but they also understand English and Spanish, these are all the languages that can be used. Same goes also for a written language: when I write an email to a person with whom I share multiple languages, I have the option to use them all even when the context is formal.

Of course I’d use formal expressions in both or all the languages and not mix the registers. We can even use the dead languages we learned, like Latin – maybe not as frequently as the others, but when I’m looking for sayings or a quote, or a maxim: “Si tacuisses philosophus mansisses” sounds much better in Latin! Or when I’m writing a text message in German or with someone who would understand, I can write “Rin in de Kartuffeln, rus us de Kartuffeln” in the German dialect my mother grew up with. Or “vola bas e schiv’i piant” when I write to someone who also understands Northern Italian dialects or the Swiss Italian dialects.

The Dominant Language Constellation is a model that we can use to represent where our different languages are in any given moment but also how they rotate, how they move.

As I said it changes constantly depending on the situation the people we interact with, the texts we write or read, the topic, how do or use your various languages and dialects or sign languages.

How would you represent them when using the Dominant Language Constellation?

When do they change positions?

Let me know in the comments.

For further insights about this model, please check the website Dominant Language Constellation:

And the website from Larissa Aronin:

I recommend the following reads about DLC:

Aronin, Larissa & Laurent Moccozet (2021). Dominant language constellations: Towards online computer-assisted modelling. International Journal of Multilingualism.

Aronin, Larissa (2021). Dominant Language Constellations in Education: Patterns and Visualisations. In: Aronin L., Vetter E. (eds) Dominant Language Constellations Approach in Education and Language Acquisition. Educational Linguistics, vol 51.(pp.19-41). Springer, Cham.

Aronin, Larissa (2021). Dominant Language Constellations: Teaching and learning languages in a multilingual world. In Raza, K., Coombe, C., & Reynolds, D. Policy development in TESOL and multilingualism: Past, present and the way forward. (pp. 287-300). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Aronin, Larissa (2019). Dominant Language Constellation as a method of research. In E. Vetter, & U. Jessner (Eds.), International Research on Multilingualism: Breaking with the Monolingual Perspective (pp.13-26). Springer.

Aronin, Larissa (2019). Challenges of multilingual education: Streamlining affordances through Dominant Language Constellations. Stellenbosch Papers in Linguistics Plus, 58, 235-256.

Aronin, Larissa (2016). Multicompetence and Dominant Language Constellation. In V. Cook, & Li Wei (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Multicompetence (pp.142-163). Cambridge University Press.

Aronin, Larissa (2006). Dominant Language Constellations: An approach to multilingualism studies. In Muiris Ó Laoire (Ed.), Multilingualism in Educational Settings (pp. 140-159). Hohengehren: Schneider Publications.

I also mention the DLC in my post:

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