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Code-switching is a term in linguistics referring to using more than one language or dialect in conversation. Bilinguals, who can speak at least two languages fluently, have the ability to use elements of both languages when conversing with another bilingual. What is said is syntactically and phonologically appropriate; that means that even if words from another language are included into the sentence, they will be adapted to the grammatical rules of the first language. Code-switching can occur between sentences (inter sentential) or within a single sentence (intrasentential). Code-switching is now considered to be a normal and natural product of interaction between the bilingual (or multilingual) speaker's languages.

Code-switching can be distinguished from other language contact phenomena such as loan translation (calques), borrowing, pidgins and creoles, and transfer or interference.

There are different perspectives on code-switching. A major approach in sociolinguistics focuses on the social motivations for switching, a line of inquiry concentrating both on immediate discourse factors such as lexical need and the topic and setting of the discussion, and on more distant factors such as speaker or group identity, and relationship-building (solidarity).

A second perspective primarily concerns syntactic constraints on switching. This is a line of inquiry that has postulated grammatical rules and specific syntactic boundaries for where a switch may occur.

While code-switching had previously been investigated as a matter of peripheral importance within the more narrow tradition of research on bilingualism, it has now moved into a more general focus of interest for sociolinguists, psycholinguists and also general linguists.

Code-switching can be related to and indicative of group membership in particular types of bilingual speech communities, such that the regularities of the alternating use of two or more languages within one conversation may vary to a considerable degree between speech communities and that intrasentential code-switching, where it occurs, may be constrained by syntactic and morphosyntactic factors which may or may not be universal in nature.

Work on bilingualism has revealed that code-switching is governed by systematic rules.[1]

Motivation[edit | edit source]

People code-switch for a number of reasons.

  1. Code-switching a word or phrase from language-B into language-A can be more convenient than waiting for one's mind to think of an appropriate language-B word.
  2. Code-switching can help an ethnic minority community retain a sense of cultural identity, in much the same way that slang is used to give a group of people a sense of identity and belonging, and to differentiate themselves from society at large.

One of the more complete theories of code switching within sociolinguistics is the Markedness Model, developed by Carol Myers-Scotten (1993). According to the markedness model, language users are rational, and choose a language that marks their rights and obligations relative to others in the conversational setting. When there is no clear unmarked choice, code switching is used to explore possible choices.

Many sociolinguists object to the markedness model, and to the suggestion that language choice is entirely rational (e.g. Auer 1998; Woolard 2004).

Mechanics[edit | edit source]

Code-switching is distinct from pidgin, in which features of two languages are combined. However, creole languages (which are very closely related to pidgins), when in close contact with related standard languages (such as with Jamaican Creole English or Guyanese Creole English), can exist in a continuum within which speakers may code-switch along a basilect-mesolect-acrolect hierarchy depending on context. Code-switching is also different from (but is often accompanied by) spontaneous borrowing of words from another language, sometimes outfitted with the inflections of the host language, sometimes not.

Code-switching within a sentence tends to occur more often at points where the syntax of the two languages align; thus it is uncommon to switch from English to French after an adjective and before a noun, because a French noun normally "expects" its adjectives to follow it. It is, however, often the case that even unrelated languages can be "aligned" at the boundary of a relative clause or other sentence sub-structure.

  1. Intersentential switching, switching outside the sentence or clause level, for example at sentence or clause boundaries
  2. Intra-sentential switching, switching within a sentence or clause
  3. Tag-switching, switching a tag phrase or word from language B into language A (this is a common intra-sentential switch)
  4. Intra-word switching, switching within a word itself, such as at morpheme boundary

Occurrence[edit | edit source]

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There are a number of situations where code-switching occurs.

A family that has recently immigrated to a country where a different language is spoken may switch back and forth between that language and their mother tongue, while they are learning the new language (this phenomenon is frequently noted amongst first and second-generation immigrants to France from its former North African, Arabic-speaking, colonies; now the Maghreb countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria).

Also, in countries with a large number of people from different ethnic backgrounds, communities will commonly switch between the language of their indigenous roots, and the language of the country they are living in.

Basque Country[edit | edit source]

In the Basque Country in Spain, code-switching occurs frecuently between Basque and Spanish.

Canada[edit | edit source]

Code-switching may occur in communities in Canada with both Francophone and Anglophone populations.

China[edit | edit source]

In China, code-switching occurs very frequently in regions where the spoken variety differs greatly with Standard Mandarin, the lingua franca. Many regions speak three varieties, along with Mandarin. As a former British colony, code-switching in Hong Kong switches between Cantonese and English.

Germany[edit | edit source]

In Germany, code-switching is particularly common among third-generation descendants of post-World War II immigrants from Turkey, Italy and other Southern European countries, as well as among the many so-called Russian Germans, who are Russian/former Soviet Union nationals with German ancestry that have been allowed to migrate to Germany since the early 1990s.

Gibraltar[edit | edit source]

Code-switching can be seen by people in Gibraltar, who speak a relatively unique mixture of English and Spanish called Llanito.

India[edit | edit source]

In countries such as India, where English is a lingua franca, educated people whose first language is a language other than English but who are also practically fluent in English often employ code-switching by inserting English words, phrases or sentences into their conversations. This has given rise to dialects referred to jokingly as 'Hinglish', 'Tanglish' and 'Banglish' (from Hindi, Tamil and Bangla). In fact, close examination reveals that in normal conversation, an average sentence spoken by an Indian (even if said to be in an Indian language) invariably contains words from both English and the relevant Indian language. This happens naturally, and is often hard to curb. Examples of this type of code-switching can be heard in many Bollywood films.

Israel[edit | edit source]

As a result of the huge amount of new immigrants (Olim Hadashim - עולים חדשים) living in Israel code-switching is very common. New immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the biggest group of new immigrants in Israel, switch between Russian and Hebrew. Code-switching is also common with the native born Israeli (Sabra) using words and expressions from Arabic and English in Hebrew.

Japan[edit | edit source]

Another example of this phenomenon is the mixing of Japanese and English by Western-educated Japanese and half-Japanese children, most notably those living in bilingual environments (e.g., attending international schools in Japan). Code switching is also widely seen among Americans of Japanese descent.

Example: Nihonglish speak suru?

Kenya[edit | edit source]

English being the official language and Kiswahili the national language, code-switching occurs frequently in almost all conversations even professional (although to a lesser extent). With 42 languages in the country there is also mixing of English and tribal languages. Code-switching between tribal languages is rare as most people will only be able speak one tribal language. Asian (i.e. Indian) communities also introduce code switching among Kiswahili, English and various South Asian languages (e.g. Gujarati, Hindi, Kutchi).

Lebanon[edit | edit source]

Not only does the Arabic dialect spoken in Lebanon contain an amount of English and French words unparalleled by any other Arabic dialect, but it is also very common to incorporate entire English and French phrases into everyday parlance, giving rise to combinations such as 'Bonjour. Kifak? Doing fine?' Among the educated classes, especially of the Christian community, it is not at all rare to constantly switch codes between Arabic, French, and - to a lesser extent - English - without any obvious pattern or motivation.

Malaysia[edit | edit source]

In Malaysia, the multi-racial community speaks "Manglish", a mixture of English with Hokkien, Cantonese and Malay.

Malta[edit | edit source]

Code-switching occurs frequently in the bilingual nation of Malta. The mixture of Maltese and English is called Maltenglish.

New Zealand[edit | edit source]

Code switching is common among the Pacific Island community, between native Pasifika languages and English. However, the same is not true for the native Maori language.

Philippines[edit | edit source]

Code-switching occurs frequently in the Philippines. The most well-known form of code-switching is Taglish, which involves switching between Tagalog and English. Taglish is used frequently in the popular media and by many government officials. Code-switching also occurs with regional languages of the Philippines as well as Min Nan Chinese. It is not uncommon to code-switch between three or even four languages.

Poland[edit | edit source]

In his autobiography the mathematician Stanisław Ulam, who was a member of the Polish School of Mathematics that flourished in an exceptionally polyglot region of Central Europe, quotes some amusing examples of sentences he remembers hearing colleagues utter without apparently noticing they were using as many as four languages in a single sentence.

Romania[edit | edit source]

Code-switching from Hungarian and Romanian happens to a certain extent among the bilingual members of the Hungarian minority in Romania. Because of this, their way of speaking may sound quaint or be difficult to understand for a native of Hungary. Another minority in Romania is represented by the Saxons. They are a German speaking population which has dwelt in Transylvania for centuries. They also use code-switching when communicating, mostly with Romanian or by using German words which receive Romanian endings.

Singapore[edit | edit source]

In Singapore, the multi-racial community speaks "Singlish" (almost interchangeable with Manglish), a mixture of English with Hokkien, Mandarin Chinese and Malay.

South Africa[edit | edit source]

Code switching is very common in South Africa due to the many languages of the country. Many South Africans are bilingual and codeswitching occurs in English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa depending on who the speakers are and where they reside in the country. For example, the Eastern Cape region has equal amounts of Afrikaans and English speakers, resulting in a mixture of the two languages. A peculiar example is the town of Graaff-Reinet where the residents are almost exactly split 50/50 between Afrikaans and English. Thus the town has and English school and an Afrikaans school. The mixed language of the town is often referred to as Grafikaans (a play on words Graaff-Reinet and Afrikaans).

South Korea[edit | edit source]

Code-switching occurs throughout South Korean culture and language and has resulted in the development of Konglish. It can be seen daily on signs throughout the country and is a common occurrence in conversations between South Koreans and Westerners as wells as between South Koreans themselves. It is the result of the South Korea's massive drive to learn English and the fact that English is a required subject for all elementary, junior high, and high school students to study. It is also the result of the fifteen trillion won hakwon industry in South Korea. Code-switching is so prevalent in South Korea that it has influenced English proficency tests such as TEPS that are created and controlled by South Korea.

Taiwan[edit | edit source]

Code-switching most commonly occurs between Standard Mandarin and Taiwanese, but have been observed to occur with Hokkien, other local languages (e.g. Formosoan) and sometimes Japanese as well. The degrees of usage can vary from complete sentences (e.g. a Mandarin conversation occasionally being replied with Taiwanese), or simply one or 2 words used in a similar manner to a loanword.

Tatars[edit | edit source]

Code-switching from Tatar to Russian is very popular among bilingual urban Tatars. This situation is similar to that of other non-Russian urban populations in the former USSR.

Ukraine[edit | edit source]

In contemporary Ukraine both Ukranian-Russian code-switching and language mixing (called surzhyk) are sometimes used. At the start of conversation if speakers find that they are speaking different languages, one of them may switch to another language. Switching several times in one conversation isn't frequently met. It is also usual to have a talk when one person speaks Ukrainian and another one speaks Russian. Mixing Ukrainian and Russian words is generally considered vulgar and called surzhyk.

United Kingdom[edit | edit source]

Code-switching occurs in the South-Asian heritage communities of Great Britain. This is the most widely distributed minority ethnic population inside and outside of London. Members of this community generally speak one of three languages: Hindi, Tamil, Mirpuri, Punjabi or Urdu. Although described as dialects, these languages are distinct. Intrasentential codeswitching between these languages and English is extremely common.

Code-switching also occurs in Wales. The slang term Wenglish exists but this refers to an English dialect influenced by Welsh. Wales is a part of Great Britain, although Welsh is a Celtic language and is only distantly related to English. Nearly all adult speakers are fluently bilingual with English. It may differ according to the standard of the speaker's Welsh, but an example of usage would be jokes where English is needed for the punch line.

Code-switching is also common in users of the Scottish Gaelic, and lowland Scots languages.

USA[edit | edit source]

In the United States, a country with a large number of Spanish speaking communities, a sentence might contain a mixture of Spanish and English words. It is so common that a slang term, spanglish, refers to this.

Example[edit | edit source]

Kroskrity (2000:340-341) gives the following example of code-switching by three older male Arizona Tewa speakers, who are trilingual in Tewa, Hopi, and English. The topic concerns the selection of a site for a new high school on the eastern Hopi Reservation:

Speaker A: Tututqaykit qanaanawakna. [spoken in Hopi]
Speaker B: Wédít’ókánk’egena’adi imbí akhonidi. [spoken in Tewa]
Speaker C: Naembí eeyae nąeląemo díbít’ó’ámmí kąayį’į wédimu::di. [spoken in Tewa]

English translation:

Speaker A: "Schools were not wanted." [spoken in Hopi]
Speaker B: "They didn't want a school on their land." [spoken in Tewa]
Speaker C: "It's better if our children go to school right here rather than far away." [spoken in Tewa]

In this two-hour conversation, these men had been speaking primarily in Tewa. However, when Speaker A makes a statement that considers the Hopi Reservation as a whole, he switches to Hopi. This usage of the Hopi language when speaking of Hopi-related issues is a conversational norm in the Arizona Tewa speech community. Kroskrity makes the claim that these Arizona Tewa who identify both as Hopi and Tewa use the different languages to help construct and maintain these discrete ethnic identities linguistically.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Fromkin, Victoria; Rodman, Robert [1974] (1998). An Introduction to Language, 6th edition, Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

This section is a stub. You can help by adding to it.

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