Joshua Fishman has introduced domain analysis which describes the use of languages in various institutional contexts in a multilingual society. Fishman suggests that one language is more likely to be appropriate in some specific contexts than another (Fasold 1984: 183):
Proper usage indicates that only one of the theoretically co-available languages or varieties will be chosen by particular classes or interlocutors on particular kinds of occasions to discuss particular kinds of topics. (Fishman 1972: 15).
Domains are defined in terms of institutional contexts or socio-ecological co-occurrences. They attempt to designate the major clusters of interaction situations that occur in particular multilingual settings. Domains enable us to understand that language choice and topic...are...related to widespread socio-cultural norms and expectations (Fishman 1972: 19).
According to Fishman, there is no invariant set of domains applicable to all multilingual settings, as language behavior reflects the socio-cultural patterning. Domains can thus be defined intuitively, theoretically or empirically. They, too, can differ in terms of socio-psychological and societal-institutional level. Socio-psychological analysis distinguishes intimate, informal, formal and intergroup domains. These domains can then be identified with domains at the societal-institutional level (such as home, school, etc.): which coincide with which activities (ibid, 19-20). Barker claims (ibid, 29) that domains are as real as the very social institutions of a speech community and they show a marked paralleling with such major institutions. (ibid, 22).
In a research of the Puerto Rican community in New York (in 1971), Fishman, Cooper and Ma arrived at a list of five domains: family, friendship, religion, employment and education (Romaine 1995: 30). Anju Saghal, on the other hand, in her study on language use in India, described the language use in India in the three domains of Family, Friendship and Institution (Saghal 1991: 299).
Görlach (1991: 29) points out that in countries in which English is a native language, societies have used English for various functions, whereas in countries, such as India, in which English has been a second language, a foreign language, it has been restricted to the domains of administration, law and parts of education, and the media, some forms of literature, other uses of language being reserved to the mother tongue.
Bayer describes as a deciding factor for the development of different status and functions of languages a hierarchy of identities which can be found in all multilingual societies: identities are stressed differing degrees of attachment, primary attachment being stressed to one identity. Languages are allocated specific roles and they are used in different contexts: the use of the mother tongue, for instance, is generally restricted to the home and in-group interaction, whereas the dominant language of the environment is the language of administration, education and mass communication. Thus language acts as a "token of cultural identity of individuals and groups" (Bayer 1990: 101).
Bonvillain states, too, that one language is usually having greater prestige than others in a society. Factors such as the social status of native speakers and economic, political and social contexts of contact contribute to this (Bonvillain 1993: 303). Bailey (1991: 117) quotes Matthews (1908) who claims that the success of the spread of a language and its general acceptance depend very little upon the qualities of the language, but is very much dependent on the qualities of the race that has it as a mother tongue, and on the position the race holds in the society.