Code Switching: Definition, Types and Examples
The ability to communicate our thoughts, emotions, and opinions to others is truly a remarkable ability. Our use of language can influence our self-concept and identity. Cultural influences are also reflected in our language and similarly influence how we conceptualize who we are and where we come from. Language has a social feature, which means that it is used by the members of society. The social aspect of language is studied by sociolinguistics, a subdivision of linguistics which studies social factors.
Bilingual communities use certain phenomena to make communication more effective and meaningful. One of these phenomena is "code switching" which we can observe mostly in second or foreign language classrooms. It refers to the use of two languages within a sentence or discourse. It is a natural process that often occurs between multilingual speakers who share two or more languages in common.
This article mainly focuses on the definition of code switching, the reasons for using code switching, the types of code switching and their definitions, and examples and suggestions for teachers using code switching to teach a foreign or second language.
The Definition Of Code Switching
Code switching can be defined as the use of more than one language, variety, or style by a speaker within an utterance or discourse, or between different interlocutors or situations (Romaine, 1992:110).
This phenomenon can be observed in the following example which mixes two languages:
If you have an exam next week, şimdiden çalışmaya başlamalısın.
Code switching occurs mostly in bilingual communities. Speakers of more than one language are known for their ability to code switch or mix their language during their communication. As Aranoff and Miller (2003:523) indicate, many linguists have stressed the point that switching between languages is a communicative option available to a bilingual member of a speech community, on much the same basis as switching between styles or dialects is an option for the monolingual speaker.
Reasons Speakers Use Code Switching
There are a number of possible reasons for switching from one language to another, and these will now be considered, as presented by Crystal (1987).
The first of these is the notion that a speaker who may not be able to express him/herself in one language switches to the other to compensate for the deficiency. As a result, the speaker may be triggered into speaking in the other language for a while. This type of code switching tends to occur when the speaker is upset, tired or distracted in some manner.
Secondly, switching commonly occurs when an individual wishes to express solidarity with a particular social group. Rapport is established between the speaker and the listener when the listener responds with a similar switch. This type of switching may also be used to exclude others from a conversation who do not speak the second language. An example of such a situation may be two people in an elevator in a language other than English. Others in the elevator who do not speak the same language would be excluded from the conversation and a degree of comfort would exist amongst the speakers in the knowledge that not all those present in the elevator are listening to their conversation.
As Skiba (1997) comments, code switching is not a language interference, on the basis that it supplements speech. Where it is used due to an inability of expression, code switching provides continuity in speech rather than presenting an interference in language. The socio-linguistic benefits have also been identified as a means of communicating solidarity, or affiliation to a particular social group, whereby code switching should be viewed from the perspective of providing a linguistic advantage rather than an obstruction to communication. Further, code switching allows a speaker to convey attitude and other emotives using a method available to those who are bilingual and again serves to advantage the speaker, much like bolding or underlining in a text document to emphasize points. Utilizing the second language, then, allows speakers to increase the impact of their speech and use it in an effective manner.
In some situations, code switching is done deliberately to exclude a person from a conversation. It is seen as a sign of solidarity within a group, and it is also assumed that all speakers in a conversation must be bilingual in order for code switching to occur. Bilinguals do not usually translate from the weaker language to the stronger one. Code switching is used most often when a word doesn't "come".
Code switching can be used in a variety of degrees, whether it is used at home with family and friends, or used with superiors at the workplace.
Code Switching As A Language Interference
In the classroom, code switching can be seen as language interference. Students may see code switching as an acceptable form of communication in society, and may feel comfortable switching languages in everyday normal conversation. This would put those who are not bilingual at a disadvantage, because they would not be able to communicate effectively. Therefore, code switching can be both beneficial and a possible language interference, depending on the situation and the context in which it occurs.
Types Of Code Switching
Code switching can be classified as follows:
In inter-sentential code switching, the language switch is done at sentence boundaries. This is seen most often between fluent bilingual speakers. For example: If you are late for the job interview, işe alınmazsın.
In intra-sentential code switching, the shift is done in the middle of a sentence, with no interruptions, hesitations or pauses indicating a shift. The speaker is usually unaware of the shift. Different types of switch occur within the clause level including within the word level. Some researchers call it also code mixing. For example: You are sleepy coğu zaman, because you spend a lot of saat in your bed.
There is an insertion of a tag from one language into an utterance that is in another language. For example: Turkish students use some boundary words like ama (but) or yani (I mean) while speaking English.
Suggestions For Teachers
The teacher can use code switching especially while teaching new vocabulary. Here are some suggestions for teachers of intermediate level students.
The teacher gives a dialogue to the students, which includes a Turkish statement which the students don’t know the English meaning. And he gives the English form of the sentence in parenthesis to show the meaning of the new word.
Joselyn: Babs, Babs, Oh there you are!
Babs: Calm down. What’s the rush?
Joselyn: Sana söylemek için can atıyorum. (I’ve been bursting to tell you)
Babs: Tell me what? It’s obviously got you excited.
Jocelyn: Well, Heather just told me that Mandy has dumped Gordon and got a new boyfriend.
Babs: Oohh, fancy that. Who is he?
The teacher wants his students to learn the meaning of the new word burst.
The teacher gives another dialogue to the students and wants them to guess the meaning of the words in their native language which are written in bold.
John: Would you like to go out to dinner or to a movie?
Karen: Either one, it’s up to you.
John: What would you prefer?
Karen: I really don't care; I just want to get out of the house.
John: Well, then how about dinner and a movie?
Karen: That’s a great idea!
Students try to guess the meaning of it’s up to you from the context. And after finding the its meaning as ‘sana bağlı’ , they are asked to put those words in the dialogue and read it again.
To conclude, code switching is a phenomenon that is inevitable in bilingual communities. It occurs mostly in second/foreign language teaching and it can be used beneficially in classroom activities. Although it is phenomenon that may be considered incompetence in language, it is natural, and can be turned to a purposeful and useful activity in language classes.
Aranoff, M. and Rees – Miller, J. (2003). The Handbook Of Linguistics. Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
Crystal, D. (1987). The Cambridge Encyclopedia Of Language. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
Romaine, S. (1992). Bilingualism. Blackwell Publishers: Cambridge
Saunders, G. (1988). Bilingual Children: From Birth To Teens. Multilingual Matters Ltd: Clevedon
Skiba, R. (1997). Code Switching As a Countenance of Language Interference. The Internet TESL Journal. Vol. III. No: 10.
© 2014 Seckin Esen
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