Discuss the importance and function of code-switching in bilingual children and/or learners of a second language.
This essay will consist of arguments for and against the importance of code-switching (or CS). The positive aspects focus on CS as a conscious choice, CS a social tool and CS requiring a fluency in all languages involved. The negative aspects will consist of the stigma attached to code-switching in general and in children, the difference between CS and ‘code-mixing’ and whether CS occurs randomly. The main function that CS has is that it is a social tool. All functions I have found are an elaboration of this. The functions I will talk about most are using CS to manage conflict, to reiterate a point and to get attention.
CS is defined by the OED as, “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation.” Although this does cover the basic definition, I also looked at a linguistic definition of the term. The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching defined it as,
…a specific skill of the bilingual’s pragmatic competence, that is, the ability to select the language according to the interlocutor, the situational context, the topic of conversation, and so forth, and to change languages within an interactional sequence in accordance with sociolinguistic rules and without violating specific grammatical constraints. (Bullock and Toribio, 2009: 242)
I would say that this definition gives a more accurate perception, as it elaborates upon the factors that can influence CS.
The majority of the research on CS in bilingual children that I have looked at does not look at adult bilingual CS. Other researchers agree with this, for example Gardner-Chloros said it only occurs when comparing differing reasons for CS (2009:145). I will however, first give a general outline. This will show the benefits of CS in later life and will show a comparison between the way children and adults CS. An advantage of being able to fluently CS is that it can be used as a social tool. Heller stated that CS is a conversational strategy and has many purposes such as, “...conversational acts as requests, denials, topic shifts, elaborations or comments, validations or clarifications...” (1988: 77). She said it could be used to manage and avoid conflict. This is especially true when the different varieties of language are associated with different roles in that society. She uses an example to clarify this from Gal (quoted in Heller, 1988: 77). Here, CS was used in an argument between a German-Hungarian husband and wife, with their daughter listening. The daughter code-switched to gain their attention in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Heller also uses an example from Calsamiglia and Tuson (1988: 77) between Catalan teenagers (monolingual talking to bilingual). Again, it was used in an attempt to diffuse a situation. Heller said that by using, “the language of the interlocutor; the speaker realigns his relationship to his interlocutor as in-group, thereby permitting him to say things only an in-group member can get away with.” (1988: 79). Leading on from this, it would make sense to assume that CS is often used as an identity marker (also a social tool). There is a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that using CS shows group membership and solidarity within a group (Bullock and Turibio, 2009: 10). Bullock and Turibio (henceforth known as B & T, as this is my main source) state that it is used to find out if someone else is also bilingual (2009: 138). The example they look at is the use of Turkish in the Netherlands; the base language is Dutch, so Turkish-Dutch will CS to Turkish for this reason – to find out if others are too.
Children have also been found to CS as a social tool. Jorgenson found in his study of Turkish-Danish classroom debates that children used CS to show dominance and power. For example, they would switch when making an important point (found in...
-Bullock, B. E. and Toribio, A. J.,(2009) 'The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching’, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
-Gardner-Chloros, P. (2009) 'Code-switching ', Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
-Heller, M. (1988) 'Code-switching: Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives ', Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & co.
-Heller, M. (1995) 'Language Choice, Social Institutions, and Symbolic Domination. ' Language in Society 24 (3): 373-405
-Cromdal, J. (2004) 'Building Bilingual Oppositions: Code-Switching in Children 's Disputes. ' Language in Society 33 (1): 33-58
Oxford English Dictionary
-Oxford English Dictionary (2012) ’Code-switching’ [Online]. Available from: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/code-switching?q=code-switching. [Accessed 29th October 2012].
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