Code-switching

From ArticleWorld


Code switching describes the process of people moving between registers, dialects, and languages in the course of a conversation. Code switching, which can last for a phrase or a few sentences, is sometimes described as a form of language interference, that is, the transfer of elements of one language to another on the level of phonology, grammar, lexicon, or orthography. At other times it is seen as a second language learning and teaching tool. The phenomenon is of interest because it expresses underlying rules of the grammar of languages, the facility of bilingualism or language acquistion, as well the use of language as a marker of belonging.

Kinds of code switching

There are many ways of code-switching. For example, two bilingual people of Arab descent in France might carry on conversation that is predominantly French with Arabic phrases or descriptives peppered through. Analyzing this might allow an observer to note the differences in syntax in the languages. Or an Indian child might switch between Gujarati and English, speaking to grandparents in the former, and friends in a mix of both languages, displaying the sociological and age factors in language acquisition. An African American might speak 'proper' English generally, but switch to ebonics to include or exclude a person of another race from the conversation, or to make a point about cultural pride. A gay person who passes for straight might when talking about homosexuality switch to butch or flamer mode, while a computer programmer or aid worker might ironically switch to hypertechnical or jargonish language with colleagues. In Latin American countries, an indigenous person might switch between Nahuatl or Quechua and Spanish as a sign of aspiration. The puns in the novels of Vladimir Nabokov are often the result of code switching between Russian, French, and English, and the humor often arises from shifts in register between authoritarian and abject.

Rules and reasons

The ease – and possibility – of code switching is often studied in terms of the rules that govern the main language. Phonetically, for example, what sounds 'follow' naturally in the main language of conversation often determine what words and forms of words from the second language make their way in, while syntactically, it may have to do with, say noun-adjective order. Code switching is notably distinct from pidgins, which are in fact languages, albeit with simplified grammars. Vivian Cook and Noam Chomsky both see code-switching as one way of second language acquisition, and as a way to compensate for language difficulties. Cook further writes that when code switching is used for this reason, it can be viewed as intereference, but should not be when it is read as a sociolinguistics tool.