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Code Switching Linguistic Activity English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2964 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Code-switching is the linguistic activity when bilingual speakers use more than one language within one, and the same conversational context (Appel & Muysken, 1987:117; Grosjean ,1982; Romaine, 1989). Researchers have come up with various reasons for what motivates bilingual speakers to code-switch. Two areas which have attracted widespread research are code-switching as a result of linguistic motivations, and the socially or psychologically motivated code-switching.

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Sometimes Bilingual speakers deliberately use words or lexis from another of the known languages when they lack a particular word in the language being spoken, to compensate for a linguistic need. In other words the easier accessibility of a word lexicon in the other language motivates them to use it. This is what is referred to as the 'most available word phenomenon' (Grosjean 1982:151), as speakers consciously or unconsciously fall back to the easily accessible lexicon . Studies of second language speakers' (L2) use of communication strategies have shown that bilinguals often resort to their first language (L1) intentionally to solve lexical communication problems in the L2 (Bialystok, 1983; Poulisse 1990). Olsen (1999) cites several instances where Norwegian children learning English unconsciously code-switch to Norwegian as a compensatory strategy due to lack of appropriate words.

In line with this argument are models of some speech production that categorise bilingual languages in terms of their structural constraints within the speaker's lexicon. Myers-Scotton (1992) makes a distinction between languages within what she referred to us 'matrix language frame model'. In this model the language providing more morphemes for the relevant interaction type than the other languages used in the same conversation is the 'matrix language'(ML)( Myers-Scotton 1992:105). The matrix language plays the more dominant role in the conversation between bilinguals. The other language(s), which by comparison to ML have relatively fewer morphemes for that particular interaction are known as 'embedded language' (EL). Myers-Scotton (1982) argues that the speaker always accesses ML lemmas and builds the morpho-syntactic frames on the basis of the relevant information contained in those lemmas. However, it is really difficult to pinpoint whether the 'matrix language framework' consciously or unconsciously comes into play when a speaker switches codes.

Socially Motivated Code-switching

The socially motivated code switching, which is the most widely researched area has exposed numerous references. Socially or psychologically motivated code-switching may be practised when a speaker aims, in some instances, to emphasise their identity or group membership, or it may be that they want to mark a change of subject, to specify a particular addressee, to draw attention to a particular part of the message, to express certain emotions or to mark 'asides' from the ongoing discourse (Grosjean 1982: 149-57; Appel and Muysken 1987: 118-20; Giesbers 1989:28).

Some scholars have argued that most code-switching is intentional behaviour albeit without the speaker's awareness ( Nortier 1989:4). There are cases, however, where unintended code-switching occur as a result of language interference . These may be referred to as incidental language switches, slips of the tongue or accidental speech errors ( Poulisse & Bongaerts 1994: 37). As mentioned already, L2 speakers often resort to L1 intentionally to solve lexical communication problems in the L2 (Bialystock 1983). They may switch unintentionally, however, when L1 words are easily accessible in the place of the appropriate L2 ones .

It would appear that there is an intersection between the linguistic and social motivations for code-switching. Myers-Scotton's (1982) 'matrix language' (ML) model imply that some languages are more dominant than others within a conversational context and, she also claims that language codes are 'indexical' of social relationships (1989). In the latter case, through language code, a speaker is established as a certain kind of person in relation to others. She claims that language code specifically indexes a particular set of rights and obligations that will hold between participants in an interaction. In this regard, a speaker will select a code that indexes the rights and obligations that he/she wishes to be in force between himself and others.

Myers-Scotton has identified different patterns of code-switching based on the notion of 'markedness'. An 'unmarked'choice means an expected choice, one that is associated with the type of interaction in which it occurs. This is an attempt to redefine relationship (Myers-Scotton 1989:334). She describes recorded instances of 'marked' and 'unmarked' choices of code-switching . The two examples, recorded in Kenya involves two friends and four young office workers. In the first instance, a Principal visits a friend who works in a car sales company. The Principal speaks Swahili to a guard at the gate, but switches to English when talking to the receptionist at the same organisation. At the friend's office the two friends, who speak one L1 switch codes 'unmarkedly' from Luhya (L1) to Swahili and sometimes to English. She argues that language in this instance is a mark of social identity. In the first instance, the Principal speaks Swahili to the guard at the gate because he 'places' the guard among the social category of those who speak Swahili but are not 'educated' enough to be able to speak English. The receptionist, on the other hand belongs to another social category, that of those who can speak English.

Marked choices, on the other hand may serve different functions. Among in-group members marked choices may, for instance, encode solidarity among a small number within the group ( Myers-Scotton 1989 :336) as the case of the young office workers illustrates. Four young office workers in the same government ministry in Nairobi are chatting. Two are Kikuyu, one is a Kisii and one is a Kalenjin. Swahili-English switching has been the unmarked choice when suddenly the two Kikuyu persons switch to their language. The conversation which was about setting up a group 'emergency fund' suddenly stops when the Kikuyu switch to their language to make a disparaging remark about what has been said. This is a marked choice communicating solidarity between the two Kikuyu but distancing them from others. This action motivates the Kisii to complain in Swahili and English, and the Kalenjin makes a switch from Swahili to English , a marked choice, to return the discussion to a more business-like plane (Myers-Scotton 1989: 336).

In other examples, marked codes may result from switching which are associated with emotion, social status or authority . In those instances, switches often encode more social distance between participants, sometimes out of anger or a desire to lower the addressee or increase one's own status. Codes-witching in this category is related to and indicative of group membership in particular speech communities (Auer 1998). The extent and the regularity with which they use two or more languages within a conversation may vary to a considerable degree between speech communities.

This marked choice is usually associated with authority, more commonly in former colonial regimes where the coloniser's language such as English was a mark of power (Myers-Scotton 1989 ). In all these activities the interlocutors are undertaking communication strategy to 'compensate' for a 'social' or 'linguistic' inadequacy.

Code-switching as Contextualisation

Code-switching studies have also looked at strategic activities of speakers in varying their communicative behaviour within a socially agreed matrix of conventions, which are used to alert participants in the course of the on-going interaction to the social and situational context of the convention. Conversation participants appear to exploit variable spoken language elements at all linguistic levels ( Local 1986; Local et al 1986) and at non-verbal level ( Duncan 1969, 1972; Kendon 1977) to contextualise their suppositions. According to Gumperz (1982:132-135) contextualisation conventions or contextualisation cues function to signal participants' orientation to each other.

As an example, Chinese/ English bilingual speakers switch languages to contextualise preference organisation and repairs ( Weir & Milroy 1995: 296). By building a contrast in language choice for two stretches of conversation , the speakers are able to draw attention to details of the projected course of conversation and to check each other's understandings. This is relevant, particularly in contextualisation preference organisation. Preference organisation refers to ranking of alternative second parts of the so-called adjacency pairs, such as acceptance or refusal of an offer or agreement or disagreement with an assessment (Levinson 1983; Pomeranz 1984).

Wei & Milroy (1995: 281-299) demonstrate this in their study of code-switching among three generations of a Chinese community in the North Eastern part of England. In one context B offers her assessment of A's new dress- ho leng 'very pretty' . A's response to this consists first of a 'reflective' question in Chinese - leng me ? 'pretty ?'. This type of question is formed by partial repetition plus question marker me and has discourse similar to English tags such as 'isn't it?' 'really?', suggesting that the interaction functions as a 'hedge' heralding a further dispreferred assessment of dress, and indicates only a qualified agreement with B's original assessment ( Pomeranz 1984). When B asks for confirmation in the following turn gua a guai a? 'expensive or not? , A's preferred response is in Chinese the same language as B's question.

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Sometimes code-switching is used primarily to contextualise imminent completion of a turn or talk or topic shifts, but at other times they have the capacity to signal meanings such as irony or seriousness, and social identities and attitudes of the participants. Auer (1984, 1991) has argued that bilingual code-switching should be analysed as a contextualisation cue, because it works in many ways like other contextualisation cues. However, code-switching has some characteristics of its own in addition to those it shares with such elements as gestures, prosodies and phonological variables. In particular, the sequential organisation of alternative choices of language provides a frame of reference for the interpretation of functions or meanings of conversational code-switching.

Code-switching for Political and Economic Reasons

Language choice and shift may also be due to political and economic reasons. People recognise that the official language becomes the vehicle of political participation and socio-economic mobility (Myers-Cotton 1993a:28). The competition among groups for primacy of one language over others, or at least parity with others is based on the supposed superiority of a language. If ethnic group's language become official, its members have a head start , while others have to try and identify with it. On the other hand, many nations, particularly those which were formerly colonised have always opted for their former colonial language choice or shifts due to its diversity and the fear of domination by others (Myers-Scotton 1983a). Thus, as already been illustrated, code-switching to a language such as English, French or Portuguese, for example, installs the speaker to a position of authority, power or social superiority over others in those multilingual communities formerly colonised .

The distribution and use of language choices in multilingual communities, therefore, can reveal not only the extent of stability of intergroup relationships, but also the ways in which the regulation of access to symbolic resources is tied to the regulation of access to material ones ( Heller 1992:123). Code switching in this instance, therefore, may or may not be conventional depending on the setting or context of the conversation. For instance, we have mentioned where code-switching is an unmarked expected behaviour , for example, among peer in-groups and where it is marked and intended to put down someone considered to be inferior.

In socio-political terms code-switching may represent part of a range of linguistic resources upon which people can draw to define the value of resources they control and to regulate access to them. In line with this argument, resources are distributed by specific groups in specific situations through the provision and evaluation, among other things, of symbolic, including verbal, performances (Heller 1992:123). A good example of this use of language is the French-English code-switching in a variety of settings in Quebec and Ontario Canada ( Heller 1992), where code-switching is used as a means of drawing on symbolic resources and deploying them in order to gain or deny access to these symbolic or material resources.

The understanding being developed above builds on Bourdieu's concepts of symbolic capital and symbolic market places, and Gumperz's concepts of speech economies and verbal repertoires (Bourdieu 1977, 1982; Gumperz 1982). In these instances code-switching is a means of calling into play specific forms of linguistic and cultural knowledge, forms which conventionally possess certain kinds of value (Heller 1992: 124). The value is linked to the extent to which these forms facilitate access to situations where other kinds of symbolic and material resources are distributed, resources which themselves have value based on prevailing modes of organisation of social life in the community and who controls them. The resources in question are not just those with concrete functional value but those related in more indirect ways to the methods people have of not only acquiring the basic things they need to survive, but also of acquiring various forms of power and solidarity ( Heller 1992: 123).

Finally, in relation to the linguistic motivation to codeswitching is the grammatical theory and how this structures and explains it. Muysken (1995:178) argues that formulation of this is crucial for research in linguistics as a scientific discipline. He thus poses a number of important questions that may help to explain how lexicon and grammar of a language structure code-switching. Some of the questions relate to the extent to which we can rely on properties of individual words, when we produce and comprehend utterances, and to what extent we can rely on general rules of the language we speak. Other important questions relate to whether we can reduce the differences between languages to lexical differences. Muysken (1995) proposes a universal explanation , for instance, when sentences are built up with items drawn from lexicons from two languages. He proposes a model that believes there is a general set of constraints on code-switching, constituted, for example, by structural equivalence (Poplack 1980) or government (Discuiullo, Muysken and Singh 1986), or matrix language embedded asymmetry (Myers-Scotton 1993a).

In conclusion, it is clear that code-switching is a vast and complex linguistic area of knowledge. For instance, this discussion has illustrated the general and less complex cases of the practice whereby learners in L2 code-switch to their L1 unconsciously to compensate their poor grasp of L2 ( Olsen 1999; Grosjean 1982). The discussion then delved in greater detail into the socially motivated code-switching, where the concept of a matrix language and the idea 'markedness' is demonstrated in a conversation among bilingual speakers (Myers-Scotton 1982; 1989). Using Myers-Scotton (1982) explanation of how a matrix language (ML) dominates over embedded language within a conversation context , and the concept of 'markedness' the essay demonstrates

how code-switching becomes a deliberate tool for bilinguals to perform certain linguistic 'acts', for example, that of showing their social positions of power, education or even to discriminate others. More complex sociolinguistic aspects of code-switching such as contextualisation and its use for political and economic reasons have been discussed. We have discussed how contextualisation in code-switching help to complete a conversation turn or talk or topic shifts, but how at other times they have they signal meanings such as irony or seriousness, and attitudes of the participants ( Wei and Milroy 1995).

An important sociolinguistic discussion of this essay has been how code-switching is practised for political reasons. We have seen how there is competition among groups for primacy of one language over others based on the supposed superiority of a particular language. This essay considered how when an ethnic group's language becomes official, its members are assumed to have a head start , thereby motivating others to try and identify with this language. Furthermore, many nations, particularly those which were formerly colonised have always opted for their former colonial language choice or shifts because it is believed that it is diverse, and they also fear being dominated by others (Myers-Scotton 1983a).

Finally were discussions on research proposals on the relation between grammar and code-switching. In relation to the linguistic motivation to codeswitching is the grammatical theory and how this structures and explains it. Muysken (1995:178) proposes a formulation of a model structured within earlier research.


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