The existence of different languages in Malaysia has served researchers well as a basis for the study of bilingualism among Malaysians. In this dissertation, the code alternations between Bahasa Melayu and English will be examined and discussed, focusing primarily on the functions of language mixing among Malay-English bilingual children in a particular setting. In this case study, both languages could function as the language medium where one language could serve as a facility for several embeddings of the other. The research has limit its investigation to the occurrence of code switching between the language forms of the national language of Bahasa Melayu and the international language of English as this is an interesting variety of language mixing to be studied. The researcher intends to offer examples of Malay-English code switching that occurs within a certain developmental stage (childhood) in a private domain so as to orient readers to the nature of language switching among bilingual children in a particular setting.
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Code switching is broadly discussed and used in linguistics and a variety of related fields. Many scholars have studied extensively about the patterns of code switching and its reasons. The present paper discusses the communicative functions of code switching and also the sociolinguistic reasons for code switching among Malay-English bilingual children. Data for the present study were collected from two Malay-English bilingual children attending an informal art class. The data were collected from these children while they were interacting in a particular domain viz. classroom setting. In this domain they have to interact with the teacher (who speaks both Malay and English) as well as with each other. It is observed that the children from whom the data were collected are competent to a certain extent in Malay and English.
1.1 Statement of Research Problem
The purpose of this study is to examine the discourse of two Malay-English bilingual children with reference to how the children use language to convey a message. The identification of the social variables will be based upon Gumperz (1982), Halliday (1975), Kow (2003) and Malik’s (1994) components of communicative functions, thus investigating how Malay-English bilingual children use language to convey a message in a particular setting (in the classroom), to address different participants (teacher and sibling), in discussing different topics and for different purposes.
1.2 Purpose of Study
By describing the functional use of code switching among Malay-English bilingual children, variation related to their relative proficiency can be analyzed and discussed. Specifically the study tries to explore the functions of code switching among Malay-English bilingual children as described by Gumperz (1982), Halliday (1975), Kow (2003) and Malik (1994). This study will especially benefit the view of language learning implicit in the communicative approach in language learning and communicative language teaching (CLT).
1.3 Research Questions
The research questions involved in this research are as follow:
What are the different communicative functions of code-switching used by Malay-English bilingual children in an informal classroom setting?
What are the communicative strategies employed by the children in discourse?
1.4 Definition of the Term
Code switching is an alternation in the form of communication that signals a context in which the linguistic contribution can be understood. It is accomplished by parties in interaction, and the meaning of their behavior emerges from the interaction. Thus, it is important to recognize that this signaling is accomplished by the action of participants in a particular interaction.
According to Nilep (2006), code switching is a practice of parties in discourse to signal changes in context by using alternate grammatical systems or subsystems, or codes. In order to study the reasons for code switching among children, one must study not only exclusively on the form but also the function in language use. This could be achieved by the study of how children accomplish their goals through the use of language.
1.5 Limitation of Study
One limitation of this research is that it could present generalized findings. Since the study will focus on a limited number of children, a wide continuum of different age groups, proficiency levels and settings could not be studied, thus limiting the amount and variety of discourse characteristics and speech patterns that could be documented, described and analyzed.
2.0 Literature Review
2.1 The Development of Code Switching in Second Language Acquisition
A study by Deuchar & Quay (1995) of a child in Wales acquiring English and Spanish between the ages of 1 and 3 years found that language choice was possible in one-, two- and multi-word utterances; while adult-like code-switching was beginning to emerge only in those multi-word utterances where functional categories and thus alternative grammatical systems were available. Thus, language choice cannot occur until the child has equivalent lexical items in the vocabulary between which she can choose. This also indicates that code-switching cannot occur until the child has two alternative grammatical systems. This is further reaffirmed by a study done by Huerta (1977), where the child’s developing bilingualism has led to an alternate use of two languages in his speech. According to Cantone (2007), code mixing has often been misinterpreted as evidence that bilinguals lack competence in speaking one or both languages. However, this proved to be inaccurate as observed by Huerta (1977), where the child’s mixed language utterances were found to be well formed and the syntactic constraints of Spanish and/or English are adhered to in code-switched utterances. His code-switching patterns often seem to reflect only language preferences and had seemed to serve linguistic functions exclusively. Both of these studies shed light on the correlation between language choice and code switching and a developing bilingual’s linguistic resources.
In the study done by Huerta (1977), it was found that the child does not yet seems to be aware of the concept “language” or that he possess two linguistic systems. His use of certain items in either language however, has apparently made him aware of the fact that there are different forms of expression for the same concept. However, in Zentella’s (1978) study on code switching among Puerto Rican children, it was found that bilinguals beyond the pre-operational stage are aware of several social, linguistic, and situational variables. This is evidently reflected in their language choices. These variables take on a particular configuration in specific interactions which either encourage or hinder code switching, particularly within the boundaries of a sentence. These two studies reflect that bilingual children will eventually develop patterns of the sequential use of language in conversation, address, standard routines and the like. With such acquisition resides the child’s communicative competence, (or more specifically, sociolinguistic competence), where the child is able to participate in its society as more than a mere speaker, but also as a communicating member.
According to Shuy (1977), functional language competence is defined as the underlying knowledge to make utterances in order to accomplish goals and to understand utterances of others in terms of their goals. Thus, a child will only be considered as demonstrating communicative competence when they are able to identify and comprehend directive utterances which may have other surface forms, and are able to select from a large repertoire of forms which are most suitable to the situation. This insight is reflected in a study done by McClure (1977), where it was found that children who do not have equal or near equal proficiency in both Spanish and English code-switch predominantly at the word level whereas children who are fluent bilinguals code-switch predominantly at the constituent level.
The findings of the previous research contribute important understanding of the processes of language learning, specifically the development of code-switching acquisition. As noted by Huerta (1977), documentation of the structure and rules of code-switching could provide awareness to educators that code-switching is an acceptable way of speaking, as it does not appear to be detrimental to the development of bilingualism. In contrast to that, code switching seems to be one approach to the simultaneous acquisition and maintenance of two languages.
2.2 Communicative Functions for Code Switching Among Bilingual Children
According to Rodriguez-Brown & Elias-Olivares (1987), ‘Speakers who have developed sociolinguistic or communicative competence have developed abilities to judge when to speak, when not to, what to talk about, with whom, in what way, when and where. In addition to this, the speakers develop attitudes regarding the languages and varieties they use, and the communicative events.’
Thus, a description of the ability possessed by the speaker which helps him or her communicate effectively in different settings and situations is much needed. Such a description could be achieved by looking at various code selection and style observed by Gumperz and Hernandez-Chavez (1972) as cited in Harris & Rampton (2003).
A few studies reaffirm the ability of children to situationally code-switch with ease. In the study done by McClure (1977), two major functional types of code-switching that was identified included situational code-switching, which was discussed in terms of four parameters: participants, topic, discourse type, and setting and stylistics code-switching, which was divided for discussion into code-switching to mark: emphasis, focus, elaboration, clarification, attention attraction or retention, mode shift, topic shift and addressee shift. This is similar to the children’s use of stylistics or conversational code switching for emphasis, addressee specifications, elaboration, and idiomatic expressions as observed in Zentella’s (1978) study.
McClure’s (1977) study show that in terms of code selection and situation it was found that the language proficiency, language preference, and social identity of participants are important. Identity also affects language choice in interactions among children. Shifting identity relationships among children are often marked by code alternation, when it was found that children will issue commands in Spanish when they assumed a position of authority. In Jorgensen’s (1992) study, children used code switches to obtain and maintain control over a situation, through group conversation. The children in the study displayed development of a range of means of linguistic power wielding. This was apparent when the children began to realize that they can choose between languages, and manipulate those who are at a linguistic disadvantage. Another fascinating finding was that utterances that are of major interest are the ones with focus on the social relations between the children. Zentella (1978) also noted such power /status struggles between the uses of English vs. Spanish in her subject. According to Jorgensen (1998) as cited in Auer (1998), ‘the difference in status between languages is indeed an important factor among linguistic minorities. Code switching into the minority language may be a tool to express solidarity, or to rebel, or to exclude a particular conversant because of the relatively low status of the language switched into’. Studies such as pursued by McClure (1977), Jorgensen (1992), Zentella (1978) goes to show that among children, linguistic awareness of language choice is used as an important battle field for power wielding.
The findings of this study points out that language choice among these children are neither random nor the result of linguistic incompetence. Their code switching is in-line with grammatical and functional principles. One purpose served by this sophisticated use of linguistic signs could be to form a sense of solidarity with the other bilinguals. Code switching for the bilingual also functions to mark changes in the situation as well as a way to display stylistic expression. As Zentella (1978) implicates, without full understanding of code-switching among bilingual children, a child’s full range of linguistic ability and code switching patterns may not be exploited in formal classroom lessons or examinations. Thus, a study of a child’s language choice might serve as a link from the school to the community, which would further enable us to understand why a child code switches in the classroom in different ways in different settings and situations.
3.0 Research Design
The subjects of this study were 2 Malay-English bilingual children of different age levels which include F, age 10 and S, age 6. The subjects were chosen after assessment on their relative language proficiency was collected from the following sources: a) teacher’s perception of the children’s proficiency; b) parents’ perception of the children’s proficiency; and c) researcher assessment of proficiency levels in Malay and English, after observation of the child in the classroom and an informal interview.
Halliday (1975) & Gumperz’s (1982) framework of functional concepts is used in this study. Possible conditions for code switching as described by Karen Kow (2003) as cited in Muthusamy (2006) and functions as described by Malik (1994) as cited in Muthusamy (2006) are discussed.
3.2 Language Alternations in the Switching Process
In order to establish a theoretical framework in the analysis of the language mixing occurrence, the researcher has based the variety of alternations as cited in Jacobson’s (2002) study on language mixing in multilingual Malaysia. This provides for a more neutral take on code switching to avoid literary argument and confusion between code switching and code mixing.
3.2.1 MALAY-English alternations
Bahasa Melayu or Bahasa Malaysia, henceforward Malay, serves as the medium language where a variety of elements from English is embedded into the language. This embedding process may involve insertional code switching of single lexical items or specific grammatical units such as phrases, clauses, sentences or random word groups. The occurrence of intra-sentential code switching thus means the display of alternations within a given sentence. However, the selection of independent clauses may display inter-sentential code switching, where alternations occur in the transition between sentences. The following examples are typical for this kind of language processing:
I tak kencing dah walaupun sejuk.
[I don’t wet my bed anymore even though it is cold.]
Ada banyak good things, kite boleh masuk syurga ke?
[When we receive a lot of rewards (from God), then would we be able to enter heaven?]
Example a. shows the insertion of a single lexical item, I. In b. the noun phrase good things is inserted before returning to Malay. It is important to note the occurrence of clausal alternations as well as inter-sentential code switching (where a full Malay sentence occurs in juxtaposition with a full English sentence) was not found within this particular communicative event, withal it does not implicate the inferior significance of the element within this particular language alternation.
3.2.2 ENGLISH-Malay alternations
It was noted based on interviews with the subject’s parents and teachers and through observations of the discourse that the subjects were more prone to English-Malay alternations. Thus, English was chosen to be the matrix language, where elements of Malay were embedded into English sentences. This occurred at the lexical, the phrasal and the clausal level:
My bibik and me.
[My maid and me.]
Is it dapat pahala also?
[Are you rewarded by God (when you do good things)?]
Dia when he is laying eggs dia jadi crazy sikit.
[When he is laying eggs he becomes a little crazy.]
Sentence c. shows the embedding of a single lexical item, that is, bibik. The noun phrase dapat pahala is embedded in d. The clause he becomes appears in e. Similarly, full sentences in both languages which stand in juxtaposition to one another were not found within the particular speech event.
3.3 Data Collection Procedure
After permission was given by the parents for the children to participate in the study, the children were audio-recorded during a one hour session in the informal classroom. A Sony Ericsson Aino audio recorder was used for data collection purposes. The recorder was focused on the target children. The subjects were recorded in an informal classroom setting (art class) and were unaware of the presence of the audio recorder. Field notes were collected discussing the context of the situation during the time of the recording.
3.4 Data Analysis
A transcription code system was developed to analyze the audio-recorded data. The information coded included the following:
Speaker: S = target child, F = second target child, T = teacher
Context (information relative to the lesson, activity, etc.)
Immediate situation (a brief description of what is happening between people involved in the interaction)
Translation to English (if the utterances is in Malay)
The data gathered was transcribed. Unintelligible utterances were dropped from the data set.
An interaction was defined as a series of conversational turns by two or more speakers around a common activity or topic which are temporally related. Code switching which appeared in the interactions was classified according to specific taxonomies developed and/or adapted from previous studies mentioned. Subsequently, code switching which appeared outside the categories in the taxonomies were classified by the classroom context in which they occurred.
Findings and Discussions
Lack of facility: According to Malik (1994), bilinguals often explain that they code switch when they cannot find an appropriate expression or vocabulary item or when the language of conversation does not have the particular word needed to carry on the conversation smoothly. David (2003) as cited in Muthusamy (2006) notes that an alien concept often has a speaker switch to the language from which the concept is borrowed For example, the expression ‘I’m the king of [insert noun or adjective]’ in English does have the Malay equivalent of ‘Saya raja segala [insert noun or adjective]’ to convey a characteristic of greatness. However, it could be assumed that the child is not aware of the dual nature of this expression. Hence, the expression ‘I’m the king of’ is directly borrowed and used as an instance of phrase level mixing as in the following example:
Sample 1 (The child recounting a bed wetting incident.)
F: I tak kencing dah walaupun sejuk.
[I don’t wet my bed anymore even though it is cold.]
Because I’m the king of sejuk.
[Because I’m the king of cold.] (Here the child is stating with much self-importance how well he could stand the cold.)
Furthermore, Kow (2003) also noted that code switching could also occur when some concepts are easier to express in one of the languages:
T: Who wrote that? (The teacher asks who wrote the name which she was asked to read aloud by S)
S: Sarah. Sarah aje buat.
[Sarah. Sarah was the only one who made it (wrote it)]
In Sample 2, the Malay phrase ‘aje buat’ was a far more convenient way of explaining as compared to its English alternative.
S: Is it dapat pahala also?
[Are you rewarded merit by God (when you do good things)?]
T: Yes, dapat pahala masyaAllah! Pandainya.
[Yes, you are rewarded merit (Arabic phrase for ‘Praise the Lord Allah’)! How clever of you.]
S: Ada banyak good things, kite boleh masuk syurga ke?
[When we receive a lot of merit (from God), then would we be able to enter heaven?]
In Sample 3, the child displays tag-switching by switching the tag phrase ‘pahala’ (which means merit rewarded from God in English) in both the English and Malay matrix of discourse. The child being only 6 years old, it is speculated that she has trouble expressing her understanding of the topic, which was on spirituality. This is reflected in how she displays patterns of intra-sentential switching with the English equivalent of ‘receiving merit from God’ with ‘pahala’ and ‘good things’.
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Lack of register: When speakers are more competent in one language as compared to the other and when the speakers do not know the terms in two languages, then code switching occurs. According to Malik (1994) as cited in Muthusamy (2006), speakers utilize the terminology that they are familiar with. Thus, one can identify a great deal of lexical code mixing. Therefore, whichever code that enables the speaker to get her exact meaning across will be the one that is acceptable including one where language mixing occurs. The following example is to the point:
T: Who drew this?
S: My bibik and me.
[My maid and me.]
Culture plays an important role here. It is interesting to note that in a majority of Malay households, a maid of Indonesian descent is often called ‘bibik’. Thus, it may be speculated that the child has been exposed to the lexical item in only one language and not the other. Thus, code switching occurs in order for the child to get her meaning across.
Sample 5 (The child makes inquiries about her teacher’s pet cat.)
S: Die beranak tak lagi?
[Has the cat given birth?]
T: Dia tak beranak lagi.
[It has not given birth yet.]
S: Ni ke girl cat?
[Is this a female cat?]
F: Die beranak.
In the conversation, both children show lack of register of the lexical item ‘give birth’. It is significant to note that prior to the above excerpt, both children were conversing in English. However, whenever the topic of giving birth is mentioned, both children will revert to their mother tongue, where they were able to use the Malay equivalent of ‘beranak’ instead. An even more fascinating observation is that once the topic of giving birth is exhausted, the children will resume their conversation in English. Furthermore, the target child S shows lack of register of the word ‘female’ thus replacing it with the phrase ‘girl cat’.
To emphasize a point: Switching is also used to emphasize a point. In several instances in the discourse, code switch occurred as means to emphasize a point.
Sample 6 (The children make inquiries about the cartoon characters they were about to trace.)
F: This one cannot trace kan?
[This one couldn’t be traced, could it?]
S: He’s like Mickey Mouse ke?
[Is he like Mickey Mouse?]
Sample 7 (The child recounting a prank which caused him to wet the bed.)
F: Faris terkencing!
[I peed in my pants!]
Sebab die bubuh ais, sepuluh ais pastu letak at my kotâ€¦
[Because she placed ice, ten ice cubes at my (intends to utter the Malay slang word for male genitalia but did not finish.)]
T: Put dekat your bird?
[Placed it on your private part?]
Who did that?
F: My sister lah!
In Sample 6, both children code switch to emphasize their questions. Sample 7 displays patterns that resonates with Gumperz’ (1982) work which lists interjection as one of the functions of code switching. The interjection code is noted when an abrupt emphatic exclamation expressing emotion is code-switched. The significant use of the Malaysian English particle lah in the last sentence simultaneously asserts the position of the child brusquely responding to an assumingly ‘silly’ question (the researcher speculates that perhaps the child presumes the teacher already knows or should know the answer to the said question).
4. Semantic significance: Malik (1994), Gumperz (1970, 1976, 1982), and Gumperz and Hernandez (1972) as cited in Muthusamy (2006) all stress that switching at a particular moment conveys semantically significant information. It is a communicative resource that builds on participant’s perception of two languages. Lexical choice conveys meaning during codes witching. Gal (1979) reinforced this view by stating that code switching is used as a means for conveying appropriate linguistic and social information. Conceivably, a code switched message could imply the speaker’s attitude, communicative intents and emotions. In Sample 8, the child code switches to imply his extreme reluctance of having to take care of his younger sibling at school, all by himself.
F: Teacher, next year teruk!
[Teacher, next year will be horrible!]
I have to jaga Syakila tapi kakak takde.
[I would have to take care of Syakila (his younger sibling) but my elder sister won’t be around (to help me).]
5. Habitual experience: Malik (1994) stresses the fact that code switching often occurs in discourse markers. In Sample 9 and 10, the child repeatedly code switches the discourse marker ‘pastu’ which in English means ‘after that’ or ‘and then’.
F: Because there are two big cats. The yellow cat is too small pastu under the car my neighbor see what happened and then she see there is blood.
F: Pastu I will be looking at Syakila alone.
[After that I will be looking after Syakila alone.]
6. Repetition: As noted by Gumperz (1982), one of the six functions of code switching includes repetition, where a speaker repeats a previously code switched message. Kow (2003) listed this occurrence as one of the possible conditions for code switching. According to Kow (2003), a speaker will continue to speak the language latest used because of the trigger effect (as cited in Muthusamy, 2006). In Sample 11, the child code switches the lexical item given/got/received with the Malay equivalent dapat. The teacher echoes her code switched message, which was then repeated in her reply.
T: Siapa beli, cantik sangat ni. (the teacher points to child’s schoolbag)
[Who bought this? It’s very pretty.]
S: Bukan beli, dapat.
[It wasn’t bought, it was given (to me).]
T: Dapat bag?
[The bag was given to you?]
S: The boys dapat blue, girls dapatâ€¦
[The boys were given blue (bags), the girls were givenâ€¦]
After looking at these few examples of code switching, it is necessary to conclude that all of the discussion mentioned above could be categorized within the facility of expression. Soh (1984) as cited in Soon (1987) says ‘Choice of language or code has important and often subtle social significanceâ€¦makes such communication more effective, affectively speaking, between speakers sharing the same languages’. In this particular discourse, a prominent determinant of code switching seems to be to express emotion and to imply communicative intent.
It can be concluded that there are many reasons why code switching takes place in particular social contexts. Every utterance has a purpose and is functional. However it can be seen that the utterances produced by the children is to fulfill several communicative functions, similar to an adult’s linguistic system.
Code switching and the employment of communicative strategies are used for a purpose. In the quest to communicating meaning, children use different strategies which include code switching. It this nature of resourcefulness and adaptability that attests to the fact that children are creative communicators.
This paper is important in understanding the complexities of bilingual competence. Clearing up misunderstandings and assumptions that code switching appears to be detrimental to the development of bilingualism is vital for both learners and language teachers alike. Understanding the concepts of communicative competence and applying them to language teaching will benefit bilingual students’ language learning.
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