Da Lingua Code

Now that the unintentional sabbatical is over….

What do the following phrases have in common?

Hasta la vista baby

It’s a nice day, hana?

Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in English y termino en español

Answer: they are all forms of ‘code-switching’; that is, the (more or less deliberate) switching by bilinguals (or multilinguals) of two or more languages in conversation. More precisely, the alternate use of two or more languages in the same utterance or conversation. CS normally occurs in communities that are undergoing rapid social and linguistic change, group boundaries may be diffuse, and norms and standards vary according to people’s perception of the degree of separateness between the two languages. Also, what may look like interference from a bilingual’s first language can in fact be a conscious strategy of achieving a particular stylistic and rhetorical effect, when speaking to a fellow bilingual.

With regards to linguistic structures of CS, we can use a three-way division:
1. Tag-switching – It’s a nice day, hana? (isn’t it?)

2. Intra-sentential switching – Switching within a clause or sentence boundary. Examples of this type can be found in many Bollywood films: Stop it, otherwise meh ap ko marungee (I will hit you!).

3. Inter-sentential switching – Switching occurs at a clause or sentence boundary, where each clause or sentence is in one language or the other. An example would be, as given by the linguist Shana Poplack as the title of one of her papers: Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in English y termino en español (and finish it in Spanish).

4. Intra-lexical switching – Change occurs within a word boundary, e.g. English ‘shop’ with a Panjabi plural ending as in shoppã. It can involve using a word from the donor language that is grammaticalised according to the recipient language (or vice versa). An example would be ‘You’ve kharabed it!Kharab means to ‘damage’ or ‘ruin’ in Urdu and it being said as an English verb with _ed morpheme in past simple.

I looked into CS practises recently, particularly with three generations of south-Asian immigrant families in Bradford, West Yorkshire. This involved recording people, interviewing, and questionnaires. In one sample, I recorded a friend, and analysed her CS. In the extract she is engaged in a telephone conversation with her brother and uses a variety of CS acts that demonstrate her mastery of both English and Panjabi, and ethnic solidarity with the interlocutor.
(If you would like to hear the audios then please do let me know)

Example 1 (inter-sentential switching):
Did he not make photocopies…Mae usko akhiya si photocopy bana
{I him tell (past morpheme) photocopy make (verb compound)}
Did he not make photocopies…[I told him to make photocopies]
Here, the second sentence is said in Panjabi to reinforce the point of the first sentence Did he not make photocopies.
Note: verb compounding and noun reduplication are two archetypal areas which have long been noted as a feature of Hindi/Urdu/Panjabi to English CS, e.g. painting karna, shopping karna, car-wash karna, the list is endless.

Example 2 (intra-lexical switching):
In this example, prepositional-phrase “in my room” is said syntactically in Panjabi with “room” grammaticalised (intra-lexical switching):
I forgot to tell you, mer room-ech caparae paysen.
{My room in clothes (were located)}
I forgot to tell you, [there were some clothes in my room]

Example 3:
In the following example, Panjabi becomes the syntactic base language to which two English words are added.
Ahha jerey dryer se ni kaday yesterday?
{Yeah those dryer from which took yesterday}
Yeah, those that (I) took out of the dryer yesterday?

Example 4 (Tag switching for emblematic reasons):
Ok then?

I discovered that for second and third generations of immigrant families, such language behaviour—and CS choice— is based around the negotiation of their multicultural and multilingual identities. As south-Asian youth readily CS with their ethnic peers almost as signal of ethnolinguistic solidarity, this can translate into making conscious choices regarding which aspects of L1 (the first or ‘ethnic’ language) and L2 (the second language) cultures to adopt and which of those particular functions and contexts will involve use of each language e.g. spiritual/religious issues, matters related to food, family, etc.

Many people frown upon CS and see it as a type of “semilingualism” (a type of deficit theory referring to a bilingual speaking two languages but only partially). They believe that English is important for their children’s future and that a majority language education is the best way to guarantee proficiency in the majority language (and hence academic achievement). They feel that their ethnic language has become deficient in what Pierre Bourdieu, the French Sociologist, called cultural ‘capital’ (Bourdieu 1991: 230-231); in short, it is ghettoised.

Whether this pattern of language use is because people are not satisfied with their identities associated with either language, or because they are able to negotiate simultaneously two or more positively evaluated identities is a moot point. I feel another post on ‘language and class’ coming along soon…watch this space.

Some further stuff:
Alladina, S. and Edwards, V. (1991), Multilingualism in the British Isles Volume 2, London: Longman.

Auer, P. ed. (1998), Code-switching in Conversation: language, interaction and Identity, London: Routledge

Baker, C. (1995), Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Clevedon, Avon: Multilingual Matters (1st ed. 1993)

Genesee, F. (1989), ‘Early bilingual language development: one language or two?’ Journal of Child Language 16:1, 161-79

Grosjean , F. (1982), Life with Two Languages, London and Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press

Macaulay, R. (1977), Language, social class and education: a Glasgow study, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press

Myers-Scotton, C. (1993), Social Motivations for Code-Switching. Evidence from Africa, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Wei, L. (1994), Three Generations, Two Languages, One Family, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

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