Code-switching and the use of different varieties of English in blogs in a multilingual context
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
This project paper attempts to rationalize the reasons as to why code-switching and different varieties of English are used in blogs among young adults who are proficient in the language. The varieties that were found in all 6 case study blogs differ very much in style and form, ranging anywhere from colloquial to formal, or written in grammatically correct English to simple use of the language along with mild to heavy code-switching. Three important questions were raised and answered in the paper, namely i) what are the varieties of languages used in the blogs? ii) to what extent does the code-switching take place (e.g. word, sentence level)? and iii) what are the reasons for the occurrences of the code-switching?
“The accent of one’s birthplace lingers in the mind and in the heart as it does in one’s speech” Rochefoucauld, Maximes, 342
Blogs are currently a growing trend, especially among the younger generation who are technologically savvy. Maintaining a blog is almost a norm and to some people, something that they cannot live without. Many of these youngsters regard blogs as their means of expressing their sense of independence and individualism. It is their private world – a place where they are able to speak their mind without anyone questioning them (disregarding instances of comments being left by readers).
However, just like the writers themselves who are different from one another, the language varieties that are used in these blogs differ very much in style and form, reflecting the writers’ individuality. The language can range from being colloquial to formal, or in cases where the writers are multilingual, display instances of heavy code-switching.
These reasons for code-switching could range from trying to create a sense of importance about a certain topic or individual, to simply wanting to reflect one’s individualism and background by using certain expressions that are intended to exclude or include certain speech communities. For example, a blog written in the Malayalam language is meant only for readers who are able to read and write in the language, and thus not for the purpose of general viewing. This study attempts to examine the use of code-switching in certain Malaysian blogs and examine the possible reasons for code-switching by individuals who are proficient in English.
2. Literature Review
Haugen (1953, p.7) defines bilingualism as a phenomenon where “the speaker of one language can produce complete meaningful utterances in the other language”. As highlighted in Hakuta (1986), Mackey (1967) has also claimed that “bilingualism, far from being exceptional, is a problem which affects the majority of the world’s population” (p.11). This is a statement that I do not fully agree on, because bilingualism should not be considered a problem, but more a reflection of rapid globalization and an increasingly borderless world.
Hakuta (1986, p.10) also explains that “the story of bilingualism is in part about the changing perspectives of social scientists, changes that occur not only as a function of trends in the profession but as a function of trends in society as a whole”. This is something quite relevant to the topic of bilingualism as it has a lot to do with the changing perspectives of society and how it really functions as a trend.
In Paradis’s (Ed.) (1978), it is claimed that “…since the role of individual idiosyncratic factors seems to be an important aspect of code-switching, in that among groups of approximately equal bilingual abilities, some code-switch more than others, a complete determination of the sufficient conditions for code-switching probably lies beyond the reach of behavioral sciences”.
Paradis (1978) also further stated that “within a given linguistic community, there appears to be no single set of norms that determines how often, within a single sentence, languages may shifted, nor how many words or syllables must intervene between switches”. This is very true if bilingual communities such as within the Malaysian context are observed, where most of the people are multilingual and code-switching is an almost sub-conscious part of their lives.
Dopke (1992), claims that “[c]ode-switching can arise as a result of changes to the participants in a conversation, the setting, the discourse type or the topic or by the speaker’s need to emphasize or clarify a point, to attract or retain the attention of the listener, to quote someone else or to simply exclude or include specific audiences”. For example, Pillai (2008) shows that code-switching in this context is related to the concept of power and solidarity, and reflects one’s identity within a community.
Adler (1977, p.154), points out that if a person were to learn “a language in his home country, and learns it well, he will be affected by it to some extent”. Adler (1977, p.154) further adds that “he will have to absorb at least part of the culture of the society whose language he learns…speaking the language with natives will not only perfect his knowledge but he will also change [code-switch] more than would be the case otherwise”. This is due to the influence of other languages in his environment which affects his primary language. This theory would be used as the theoretical framework in the analysis of data from the case study blogs used for this project paper.
In a study on the use of Tagalog-English in blogs written by Filipino bloggers, Smedley (2006) summarized that “…switching is not merely a product of how speakers attend to the orderly production of conversation, but also a product of how they attend to the inherent heteroglossic nature of language and exploit their linguistic repertoire maximally to make their communication as effective as possible, and to construct and negotiate multiple identities”. This is proven when an individual code-switch to further elaborate and explicate meanings through communication with others around them, for example when using certain terms or phrases unique to a certain vernacular language in a predominantly English conversation. This is an underlying premise of which I will attempt to examine in this study.
Pillai (2008) also points out that switching can be at the micro level of accent switching in the Malaysian context where speakers do not change language variety but put on a different ethnic accent to reflect one’s identity within a community i.e. to be included in various speech communities.
It is also pointed out by Ibrahim (2005, cited in Pillai 2008) that there exists a “desire to use our own brand of English to construct a sense of belonging and identity…” ; and “…to emphasize solidarity or otherwise, and to communicate a particular stance or emotion”. This is another underlying premise regarding code-switching that this study attemps to explore. Similarly, Lipski (2008) discusses the sense of identity as seen within the context of code-switching and bilingualism.
This study will be based on the two assumptions. The first is the assumption by Adler (1977, p.154), that if a person were to learn “a language in his home country, and learns it well, he will be affected by it to some extent”. Adler further adds that “He will have to absorb at least part of the culture of the society whose language he learns…speaking the language with natives will not only perfect his knowledge but he will also change [code-switch] more than would be the case otherwise”.
The second would be a hypotheses by Smedley (2006) where he claims that “…switching is not merely a product of how speakers attend to the orderly production of conversation, but also a product of how they attend to the inherent heteroglossic nature of language and exploit their linguistic repertoire maximally to make their communication as effective as possible, and to construct and negotiate multiple identities”.
This research aims to examine the extent of code-switching in blogs written by individuals who are proficient in the English Language, and to determine the possible reasons for code-switching. In relation to these aims, the research questions that are addressed by this study are as follows:
1. What are the varieties of languages used in the blogs?
2. To what extent does the code-switching take place (e.g. word, sentence level)?
3. What are the reasons for the occurrences of the code-switching?
In order to obtain the relevant data for this research paper, six (6) blogs were chosen – three blogs each from writers of the two major ethnic groups in Malaysia, namely Chinese and Malays. The writers of all six blogs that were chosen are first, second and third year English major students from the Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, University of Malaya.
The main reason as to why only English major students were chosen is because they are proficient in the language, and thus would provide interesting data which may provide answers to the research questions raised.
All six blogs were analyzed to examine the varieties of languages used, and the extent to which they were used as well as the reasons for the code-switching.
The analysis was done based on two levels; i) intra-language (variations within English) code-switching at word and sentence level and ii) inter-language code-switching at word and sentence level.
5. Findings & Discussion
For this research, only data (blog entries) from the months of July to December 2008 were looked at and analysed. This is so that the data acquired is not too broad or too general, instead pointing out specific details which would help in the analysis of data. Three blogs by Malay bloggers and another three blogs by Chinese bloggers were studied and used as data.
5.1 Intra-language code-switching at word level
…I wus lyk, black out .
This sentence is quite interesting as it is made up of a few different varieties of English. The word “wus” is actually “was”, and this method of spelling and pronunciation is used mainly in African American Vernacular English speech. The word “lyk”, which is actually a short form of “like”, is used primarily in non-standard American English speech, where the word is inserted in the middle of sentences usually before a verb to describe one’s emotional state or reaction.
notice anything kewl~ today on my page??
The term “kewl” here is actually a differed spelling for “cool”, used usually in teenagers’ and young adults’ jargon. The term, in this context, brings about the meaning of “different and/or interesting or good”. The pronunciation for the word is as its written form.
I fucking hate my fucking life .
In this sentence from one of the blogger’s entries, the curse word “fucking” is used twice to further illustrate her anger and frustration. This syntactical formation is generally considered non-standard in addition to being offensive or taboo. However, many youngsters these days use this term very freely and it is accepted among the youth today.
So I’ll say, screw you .
Similarly, the phrase “screw you” is considered non-standard, although not as offensive as the earlier example. This phrase has a few attached meanings to it including “fuck you” and “to hell with you”.
n btw, its from mahatma gandhi .
In this sentence, the blogger uses the term “btw” which is an acronym for the phrase “by the way”. This acronym is non-standard English and is used only in written form. In addition to that, “n” is used in replacement of the more standard “And”, although it is not usually used at the beginning of a formal sentence.
And the prick just went on .
Although the blogger uses a generally informal variety of written English, she does code-switch to a non-standard term in between her words – the use of the term “prick”, for example, is considered offensive and taboo in most cases. Here, it is used mainly to illustrate her frustration and anger.
5.2 Intra-language code-switching at sentence level
I terribly hearts you .
This is a unique way of youngsters nowadays to express their love or liking for something, usually towards non-animate objects, as seen here where the blogger expresses her liking for a TV programme. This style of writing is not accepted in Standard English; however it is so in modern teenagers’ jargon.
What the heck .
The phrase highlighted here is a very informal utterance which is used to simply demonstrate one’s annoyance. This sentence is generally considered non-standard and is usually used to show exasperation or displeasure towards something, as seen in the example above.
Oh no-ness .
This phrase is considered ungrammatical in addition to being non-standard. Although for the most part the blogger uses standard and grammatically accepted written English, she chooses to switch to a less grammatical sentence structure, in this case most probably for the purpose of emphasizing her disappointment.
5.3 Inter-language code-switching at word level
Nenek belanja all 8 of us to watch the movie .
Here, the blogger code-switches from English to Malay to draw attention to the fact that her grandmother (whom she refers to as “Nenek” – a result of her hailing from a Malay culture background) had treated all eight of her siblings and family members to a movie.
This is an interesting feature as many people in Malaysia, regardless of their age, race and English proficiency level, use the term “belanja” quite often to replace the English equivalent “treated”. It is the main reason as to why the term, like many others akin to it, has a very Malaysian flavour to it.
even my abah had forgotten that it was my bday !
Similarly, another blogger from a Malay culture background used the term “abah” to refer to her father. She does not use the English terms “father” (formal) or “dad” (informal), but chooses instead to keep the term she uses to call him – “abah”.
As seen in the examples here, words or phrases referring to kinship terms are generally maintained in written form. This can be due to the habit or familiarity with the concept (family members) which makes it easier to refer to them with the names as per given and called.
Whatever la .
The term “la” is a very typical Colloquial Malaysian English discourse particle which is used primarily used at the end or beginning of a sentence, though occasionally they are inserted in the middle of sentences.
Influenced by the Malay language’s “-lah” suffix, it is commonly used in English conversations for various reasons, such as to create a sense of Malaysian-ism for an individual or to alter the meaning or tone of a sentence (to stress a point, persuade, show an acceptance of an offer, show agreement or admittance, or to soften a brusque reply).
plus, pray to Allah that those who r responsible for th death wil accept th biggest punishment in th world .
In the sentence above, the blogger refers to God as “Allah”. This is due to her cultural background i.e. being a Muslim. Usually, Muslims tend to refer to God as “Allah” because that is the term used to refer to God in the Muslim holy book, the Al-Quran.
Many Muslims grow up having to learn and read the book, as well as go for religious classes; all of which influences each and every one of them in terms used to refer to religious matters including the name for God.
maybe there’s hikmah in all of this .
Here, the blogger uses the term “hikmah” to bring about the meaning of “silver lining”. The Malay language term was chosen and used most probably because of the cultural background (being a Malay) of the blogger herself, where this term is used more often as compared to the English language equivalent.
In addition to that, the Malay term is preferred most probably due to the meaning it produces – the English translation of the term does not fully explain and carry the meaning of the term as compared to Malay.
First attempt to insert a new stick…patah .
Here the blogger code-switches from English to Malay in one of her entries. This term is widely used in the Malay language, as well as Colloquial Malaysian English where it is used to mean anything that is “broken”. In the context of this entry, the blogger uses the term to refer to her ruined hand fan.
This particular blogger code-switches from English to Korean in one of the entries. Although she is not Korean by heritage, she is interested in Korean culture and this is proven by her statement “i guess some of you already know of my fondness for all things Korean e.g. dramas, songs, actors, singers, food etc. therefore i won’t say much.” Due to the nature of the topic discussed in this particular entry (related to the Korean culture, specifically music), the blogger chooses to code-switch between English and Korean, although only at word level, most probably because she is not proficient in the language.
…listen to my plead of untaggin moi .
This particular blogger as seen here, code-switches from English to French. There is no apparent reason as to why she code-switches in this context, although it can be deduced that she has had some kind of exposure to the French language to be able to code-switch freely. In addition to that, she might have chosen to code-switch in this context to create more emphasis on herself.
I’m trying to earn money to pay for my cravings for oyster mee suah .
The blogger code-switches from English to Chinese in this particular entry, where the term “mee suah” is used, used to refer to a popular dish among the Chinese community. Due to the inexistence of the term in English, the blogger chooses to use the Chinese term to illustrate the concept.
However, only people whom are familiar with the Chinese language and/or dishes would be able to relate and fully comprehend the blogger’s thoughts and points.
Uncle, please hor .
In this sentence, the blogger inserts a Chinese discourse particle in an English phrase. The insertion of this term is to indicate a mode or sense of sarcasm as well as emphasis, where in this context the blogger is being sarcastic to a Chinese cab driver who was very rude to her.
I busy ma .
This particular blogger inserts the Chinese discourse particle “ma” at the end of her sentence. It is slot in at the end to stress her point, as well as a reminder to others that she was busy at the referred point in time.
The suffix “-nya” from the Malay language is used very commonly among Malaysians of all race and cultural background not just when using Malay but also English. Here, the suffix is inserted alongside English words (usually adjectives, as seen in the example above).
This is frequently done to put emphasis on the state of something or someone at a certain point of time. The usage of this suffix, in addition to other examples, tends to create a truly Malaysian feeling as only Malaysians tend to use the “-nya” suffix in this unique manner.
5.4 Inter-language code-switching at sentence level
Habis cerita .
As seen here, the blogger ends her primarily English language entry with this Malay utterance. In the context of this entry, the blogger used this phrase in substitution of “None of this would have happened” or “Problem solved”. This popular Malay phrase is used quite commonly among Malaysians to create a meaning close to “Not having so many problems”.
The blogger probably chose to use the Malay phrase not only because she is Malay, but because the English equivalent to the phrase may not provide the exact intended meaning as compared to the Malay phrase.
Soy Estudiante de Espana !
This particular blogger starts off her entry in Spanish, but continues in English, further explaining that she would be sitting for her Spanish examination later on that morning, which clarifies the reason as to why she code-switches from English to Spanish in this particular entry.
Tiap-tiap hari lepas habis buka puasa mesti kemas rumah .
For this particular entry, the blogger starts off in Malay and continues her post in English. Here it may be because of the nature of the situation itself where the practice of “Buka Puasa” is a Malay/Islamic culture, so the writer chooses to express this statement in the Malay language to make her point, as the custom of “Buka Puasa” is somewhat related to “kemas rumah” i.e. cleaning the house in preparation for the Hari Raya celebrations.
aku tak tau knape…. aku sgt curious nk tau wether…
Although this blog is primarily written in English, this particular entry was in Malay with a few English words inserted here and there. The main reason as to why this entry was written in the Malay language is most probably due to the nature of the topic discussed in the entry: related to religion.
Islam is almost always associated with the Malay language because the religion itself is taught in Malay, with translations of Arab phrases and terms into Malay. Thus, when one talks about matters relating to Islam, the use of Malay is, more of than not, preferred even by individuals who are generally proficient in the English language.
Tidur, makan, TV, mahjong .
This particular blogger does not code-switch as often as compared to the other five bloggers, except on certain occasions only. In this entry the blogger code-switches form English to Malay, albeit for one sentence only.
She most probably did this to emphasize the activities that she had been busy with i.e. sleeping, eating, watching TV and playing ‘mahjong’ (a board game popular among the Chinese) – all of which are forms of relaxation, which is something that is quite often regarded as being part of truly Malaysian.
“Along with physical appearance and cultural characteristics, language is part of what distinguishes one nation from another”
Finegan, Edward (2004)
The varieties of English used in all six blogs range anywhere from standard to non-standard or colloquial, as well as grammatical to ungrammatical. In addition to that, other languages are also used alongside English in various entries of all the blogs. These languages include Chinese, Malay, Korean, French and Spanish. The code-switching that takes place in these blogs are not only at word level but also at the sentence level. In some instances, whole entries are in a different language altogether, with a few English words inserted in between lines.
There are many reasons as to why code-switching occur in all the blogs researched. In some instances, it may be due to the individual trying to draw attention to something significant regarding certain matters. Here, when a person attempts to emphasize something that is regarded important and needs to be highlighted, code-switching happens either from English to the individual’s mother tongue or in certain cases, from English to a foreign language(s).
Another reason is as to why code-switching occurs in these blogs is the desire of an individual to stand out among many others. In this case, a person may use certain expressions and phrases which automatically include or exclude selected speech communities. These expressions and phrases may be within English itself where an individual may switch form a certain variety of English to another, or between a dominant language (English, in this context) to another.
It is interesting to point out that all the blogs chosen for the purpose of this research were written by individuals who are quite proficient in English. This in mind, one would assume that the possible code-switching that might take place would not be as extensive as what is seen here. However this notion was proven wrong, as most individuals are affected by other languages existing around them in one way or another.
In a multilingual context such as in Malaysia, it is clear that the assumption by Adler (1977, p.154) that when one learns “a language in his home country, and learns it well, he will be affected by it to some extent”. Case in point where the blogs that were analysed all had numerous instances of code-switching from English to one’s mother tongue (Chinese and Malay). Here, it is apparent that one’s cultural background affects one’s speech not only verbally but also in written from.
Smedley’s (2006) claim where he argues that “…switching is not merely a product of how speakers attend to the orderly production of conversation, but also a product of how they attend to the inherent heteroglossic nature of language and exploit their linguistic repertoire maximally to make their communication as effective as possible, and to construct and negotiate multiple identities” is also proven right in this research.
When an individual attempts to make a point clear or highlight a certain matter in argument, code-switching occurs. Knowledge of more than one language helps one to bring out the intended meaning of something during an argument, where it is presumed that with the use of more than one language, meanings can be emphasized and made clear. As a result, communication is made more effective.
Smedley (2006) also claims that code-switching also occurs due to the desire of an individual “to construct and negotiate multiple identities”. Here, an individual is seen as wanting to bring out more than what is seen by others around them. For example, an individual who is able to speak and write in grammatically correct and Standard English tries to bring out more than what meets the eye. There is a desire to reveal a different side of the person, working more like an alter ego
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Blogger 1 (Malay writer), taken from http://littlecharmvinyls.blogspot.com/ and http://zsazubir.blogspot.com/
Blogger 2 (Malay writer) taken from http://sy4h33r4h.blog.friendster.com/
Blogger 3 (Malay writer) taken from http://juzshahidah.blogspot.com/
Blogger 4 (Chinese writer) taken from http://ling3586.blogspot.com/
Blogger 5 (Chinese writer) taken from http://mandychockjy.blogspot.com/
Blogger 6 (Chinese writer) taken from http://evonhooi.blogspot.com/
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