Everyday Multiple Language Use as a Potential Resource for the Self

Positive Emotional and Motivational Consequences of a Language-Dependent Self-Representation

Nanine Lilla|2019

Freie Universität Berlin


everyday multiple language use, self-representation, language use pattern, context-dependent language use, emotion and motivation


This dissertation addresses the self of people with everyday multiple language use. As the self arises from the social interactions of everyday life, we assume that everyday multiple language use is reflected in the representation of the self. Conducting five empirical studies, we investigate our theoretical assumptions about a language-dependent self-representation and its positive emotional and motivational consequences. In Study 1 and Study 2, we conducted secondary analyses of existing data on bilingual immigrant school students in Germany to investigate the impact of everyday multiple language use on spontaneous accessibility of self-knowledge. Findings from Study 1 showed that for students who typically speak German only when at school but not when at home, self-knowledge bound to the school-context was more easily accessible and self-knowledge bound to the home-context less easily accessible than for students speaking German across contexts. Analogously, findings from Study 2 showed that students who typically speak German only when at school accessed two more distinguishable sources of self-esteem, in terms of affective components of self-knowledge related to the school and family context, than students who speak German also when at home, when asked in the German-speaking context of the school. In order to more directly assess the extent to which individuals’ different self-aspects are represented in different languages, i.e. compartmentalized along language lines, we introduce a newly developed bilingual version of a self-descriptive trait sorting task which we test with school students speaking English and Norwegian in Study 3. Applying the newly introduced procedure in Study 4, we assess the extent of compartmentalization along language lines in international university students who due to staying abroad currently used multiple languages in everyday life and examined the relation to their affective response towards negative bogus feedback. Findings revealed that participants’ variation in self-esteem was small when participants had chosen traits in both of their languages for their self-description in comparison to participants who had used traits in one language only in the bilingual trait sorting task. Findings from an experiment presented in Study 5, showed how accessing self-knowledge in an open self-description task in a language other than German helped participants of an online survey to buffer self-esteem threats caused by negative bogus feedback and, consequently, showed higher levels of self-esteem and more motivation to work on a second test than participants who described themselves in German after having received negative feedback in German. Taken together, our findings indicate that language offers an organizing principle for self-knowledge representation, which positively effects emotion and motivation in self-threatening situations. Based on our findings, we propose that everyday multiple language use should be considered as a potential resource for the self and discuss possible implications of our conclusion regarding theory and practice.

Suggested citation

Lilla, Nanine Yvonne. Everyday Multiple Language Use as a Potential Resource for the Self. Freie Universität Berlin, 2019, doi:10.17169/refubium-1637.




urn: urn:nbn:de:kobv:188-refubium-23860-6

doi: 10.17169/refubium-1637


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