Code-switching in Lebanese Talk Shows

Term Paper, 2018

21 Pages, Grade: 2,7


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Code-switching: theoretical background
2.1 Lebanon’s history of language
2.2 Definition of code-switching
2.3 The Markedness Model by Carol Myers-Scotton (1993) and the Communication Accommodation Theory by Howard Giles
2.4 Linguistic variable
2.5 Previous findings

3. Methodology

4. Analysis and results

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Arabic is the most widely spoken language by the six million inhabitants of Lebanon, as article 11 of its Constitution states, “Arabic is the official national language. A law determines the cases in which the French language may be used.” Due to the fact that Lebanon was under French rule during the first half of the 20th century (1918-1948), French is unsurprisingly used as a second language today (“Lebanon Fast Facts”, 2017). Nevertheless, since “English is seen as the language of business, technology and communications with the non-Arab world” (Hodeib, 2007, para. 5), it is increasingly gaining status in Lebanon and especially among the younger generation. As a consequence, Arabic, French and English are frequently mixed in written and spoken language. When observing Lebanese television, it even seems as if the English-Arabic code-switching is steadily increasing a few years. Code-switching could thus be seen as one of the characteristics that defines life in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, for visitors and its residents (Mortada, 2015, para. 3). Concerning two different episodes from a Lebanese talk show, the question posed in the given paper is whether, the topic of a conversation or speech influences the usage of code switching by Lebanese native speakers with regard to, for example, frequency or type of their code-switching. Therefore, I also want to look at why a speaker could do code-switching when talking about certain topics.

In contrast to the comparatively abundant research on code-switching between Arabic and English (or any other language), whereby the focus here is often on dialects from greater nations like Egypt, Algeria or Saudi-Arabia, research on code-switching between the dialect of the smallest Arabic nation Lebanon and English is rather limited. One of the reasons therefore could be the fact that English was only introduced to schools in Lebanon in the 21st century. The consequence for this is that Lebanon will still be associated with French as its lingua franca, although an increasing number of Lebanese people are speaking English. As a Lebanese native speaker, I often watch Lebanese series or talk-shows, in which the participants nearly always switch to English. Nevertheless, I never asked myself why they are doing it and on what their code-switching could depend on.

This paper takes the case of a Lebanese talk show as an example of English code-switching of Lebanese native speakers. I am going to analyze two different episodes from the Lebanese talk show Lahon w bas, a satire entertainment program, moderated by Hisham Haddad. Lahon w bas is a weekly show, which hosts a different guest on each episode or just let the host speak and entertain the audience, highlighting the latest socio-political developments (“Lahon w bass”, para. 1). The analysis centers the investigation of the type of English code-switching of the respective speaker and other striking characteristics.

The paper begins with a brief overview of Lebanon’s history concerning language and a definition of code-switching. Following this, an explanation of the Markedness Model and the Communication Accommodation Theory is given and an overview is outlined of previous research on code-switching in Lebanon. The methodology underlying the present study is then introduced and finally the findings are presented and discussed.

2. Code-switching: theoretical background

2.1 Lebanon’s history of language

The Phoenician language (a branch of the West Semitic language family) is the oldest recorded spoken language in Lebanon (“History”, 2010, para. 3). However, the period of time Phoenician existed and was used there is not known (“History”, 2010, para. 3). Even in today’s Lebanese there can be seen traces from the Phoenician language in vocabulary and sentence structure (“History”, 2010, para. 4). Nevertheless, until around 900 AD, Syriac (part of the Eastern Semitic development of Aramaic) became the official language of the whole Middle East and was now the dominant language in Lebanon (“History”, 2010, para. 4). Due to the Islamic conquests, the Arabic language was finally introduced as the language of the institutions in the whole region and thus Syriac was definitively abolished (“History”, 2010, para. 6). Despite the fact that the Arabic language influenced Lebanese lexicon, Lebanese people kept a large part of their grammar as is (“History”, 2010, para. 6). Through the existence of several Aramaic dialects in North Lebanon and Arabic dialects in coastal cities, the speaker blended Aramaic with Arabic features (“History”, 2010, para. 6). All this contributes to the development of a distinctive regional language. Between the 17th and 20th century also the Turkish language influenced the Lebanese vocabulary (“History”, 2010, para. 7). At the end of the World War I France proclaimed the establishment of Greater Lebanon and therefore the Lebanese constitution was modeled after that of the French (“History of Lebanon”, n.d., 18). As a consequence, the French language has marked a great impact on Lebanon’s society and culture: aside from Arabic, most of the government publications, for example, now appear in French. Even today about 40% of Lebanese people are considered francophone, and approximately 70% of Lebanon’s secondary schools use French as a second language of instruction (Barlow, 2008, p. 311). Nevertheless, even if English is used as a secondary language in “only” 30% of Lebanon’s secondary schools, the use of English gains more and more popularity (Barlow, 2008, p. 311). Besides the fact that English is increasingly used in science and business interactions (Hodeib, 2007, para. 5), especially the youth and educated people in Lebanon prefer to use modern languages, such as English, since it seems more fashionable and “up-to-date” (Awad, 2015). Moreover, “Lebanese students from English-medium backgrounds are much less likely to be motivated to learn French than their counterparts who have attended at French- medium schools because French lacks international status” (Hodeib, 2007, para. 26).

2.2 Definition of code-switching

Bullock and Toribio define code-switching as “the ability on the part of bilinguals to alternate effortlessly between their two languages” (Bullock & Toribio, 2009, p. 1). In other words, this means that two languages are used within a sentence. The person can either start a sentence in a certain language and continue using another one or use a single, for example English word within an Arabic sentence. Generally, speakers of more than one language are known for their ability to code-switch or mix their language during their communication. Furthermore, Crystal (1987) asserts that there are several reasons for switching from one language to another. The first is that code-switching can occur when a speaker cannot express himself (due to fluency or memory problems) in a certain language and is thus switching to another one (Crystal, 1987). Secondly, code-switching can be used to announce specific identities or simply express solidarity with a particular social group and deliberately exclude a person from a conversation. According to Skiba (1997), code-switching cannot be seen as a language interference, since it supplements speech. Once code-switching is used due to an inability of expression, it provides continuity in speech rather than presenting an interference in language (Skiba, 1997). Even if the terms code-switching and code-mixing are not used interchangeably by some linguists, one can differentiate between them: “Code-switching has a special, social pragmatic consequence while code-mixing does not” (Khullar, 2018, para. 1). Code-switching is done for a particular purpose, the speaker changes in a sense identities while talking to different people, whereas code-mixing is done more out of linguistic requirement and thus it is done more unintentionally (Khullar, 2018, para. 4). Nevertheless, in this paper only the term “code-switching” will be used.

Besides, one can differ between three types of code-switching: inter-sentential code-switching means that the language switches at sentence boundaries (Esen, 2018, para. 14). Lebanese- English examples are:

1. “If you forgot my book, ma takol ham.'’" ‘If you forgot my book, don’t worry."
2. “Aib alayke, your behavior is so embarrassing!” ‘Shame on you, your behavior is so embarrassing!"

Whereas intra-sentential code-switching means the shift in the middle of the sentence (Esen, 2018, para. 15). Examples are:

1. “Rohna al madrase bil bicycle, w ashen hek taazabna."" ‘ We went to school by bicycle, and that is why we were exhausted."
2. “I"m working on my paper right now, bas I can call you later.” ‘I"m working on my paper right now, but I can call you later."

There is even an extra-sentential code-switching which means an insertion of a tag from one language into an utterance in another language (Esen, 2018, para. 16). An example here would be Lebanese students who use certain expletives like yane (‘I mean") while speaking English or so while speaking Lebanese:

1. “I really like student life, but sometimes it is stressful, yane there is always a lot to do.”
2. “Rfiete ma ejet aal mawaad, so asabet mena ktir w rohet al bet. ” My friend forgot our appointment, so I went back home and was very angry."

2.3 The Markedness Model by Carol Myers-Scotton (1993) and the Communication Accommodation Theory by Howard Giles

Carol Myers-Scotton"s Markedness Model (1993) deals with a sociolinguistic dimension of code-switching: markedness. She states that there are social motivations for code-switching. According to Scotton"s markedness theory, it is suggested that code choices are indexical of the rights and obligations sets (RO sets) between participants in a given interaction type. A RO set is defined as “an abstract construct, derived from situational factors” (Myers-Scotton, 1993, p. 85). In an unmarked choice the choice of language in a given context is determined from the outset. Thus, the choice of language would not be determined in a marked choice. An instance for an unmarked choice would be an Arabic-English bilingual who decides to speak in Arabic with an Arabic monolingual or in English with an English monolingual. It is considered as an obligation to use a language the person, you speak to, understands. This means that it is his right to be confronted with a language he or she is able to speak and understand. Whereas a marked choice would be to speak in English to an Arabic monolingual or in Arabic to an English monolingual. Therefore, the unmarked choices would approve the existing RO set and the marked choices would change the RO set (Myers-Scotton, 1993).

The Communication Accommodation Theory by Howard Giles emphasizes the adjustments of speakers while communicating. The theory argues that “when people interact they adjust their speech, their vocal patterns and their gestures, to accommodate to others” (“Communication accommodation theory”, 2014, para. 1) and differs between three types of accommodative strategies: Convergence is a process where people tend to adapt the other person’s communication characteristics to reduce the social differences and increase interpersonal attraction (Giles, 1991). On the contrary, divergence refers to “the way in which speakers accentuate speech and nonverbal differences between themselves and others” (Giles, 1991, p. 8). This process can happen, when a person has no purpose on accommodating to another one in order to create a distance between both of them (Ayoko et. al, 2002). The third strategy is maintenance which means here the speaker’s insistence on the use of his or her own speech style without any consideration of the other’s behavior (Gallois et. al, 2006).

2.4 Linguistic variable

To investigate the Lebanese-English code-switching of Lebanese people living in Lebanon, there are abundant possibilities and different approaches to do that. Besides from looking at code-switching in social media, such as comments on Facebook or chat records, you can also have a look at Lebanese interviews and conversations in, for example, talk shows or any other format to receive authentic and spontaneous data. In general, talk shows provide the possibility to observe a specific language use, which is in this case code-switching, within different topics like politics, trends, tradition, religion, etc. In contrast to series or films, we can be sure about the spontaneity of the spoken language. Furthermore, talk shows not only invite guests from higher socioeconomic class or of a certain age. This means that the results can be seen as more “reliable” and can enable us establishing more general assumptions about the language use. This paper will focus on diverse statements of guests in two episodes about different topics of the talk show Lahon w bas and analyse those statements which include Lebanese-English code­switching. The analysis will have a general look at which type of code-switching appears within a statement of the talking guest with consideration to the topic and find possible reasons for their code-switching. Therefore, a quantitative analysis with a linguistic variable as the frequency of code-switching within a statement would not make sense here. The linguistic variable in this paper is rather the topic of the conversation or speech of the speakers. The aim of the analysis is to figure out whether the topic of a speech or conversation could have an influence on their code-switching or rather why they do code-switching in specific domains. Furthermore, it is to be noted that the analysis of statements of a few guests in a talk show is obviously not a representative sample. Therefore, the analysis will not be able to determine whether or to what extent topics influence the code-switching of Lebanese people. Nevertheless, we will probably see that code-switching to English is not done in the same way by all Lebanese guests in the talk show but can be influenced and affected by the topic.

2.5 Previous findings

Code-switching in Lebanon cannot be seen as an exception, but rather as the norm. This is why an Arabic-French-English trilingual from Lebanon states: “Code-switching between Arabic, English and French is one of the most distinctive features of Lebanese culture, and I have never seen it practiced to such an extent in any culture” (Grosjean, 1982, p. 149). Even if many question whether Beirut is the “codeswitching capital of the world” (Mortada, 2015), there are shockingly few studies done on code-switching in Lebanon, even though the concern about the Arabic language in Lebanon is getting bigger and bigger. Indeed, there are abundant researches on Arabic-English code-switching in countries, such as Jordan, Morocco or Tunisia. However, they cannot offer us relevant results for Lebanon, particularly as the language situation completely differentiate. Nevertheless, there are interesting studies and analyses associated with my topic.

Akeel (2015), for example, investigates code-switching in Arabic-English bilingual speech within an interview between two female Arabic participants (one of them is originally Lebanese) in the context of hair and skin care. He analyzed the occurrences of code switching from Arabic to English in the conversation from a sociolinguistic perspective by means of a conversational analysis. The findings show that switching from Arabic to English is overwhelmingly utilized in the interview and that speakers switched to English in certain occasions especially when they mention things which are associated with topics like style, fashion, moisturizing, etc. Additionally, “the analysis showed that code-switching occurs more frequently after a previously said English word or phrase or in some repeated words” (Akeel, 2015, p. 60).

Another interesting study was done by Hamouda (2015), who examined the various functions and the syntactic categories and types of switches to English in an Egyptian talk show by investigating approximately five hours of YouTube videos of the talk show in which code­switching to English occurred. In terms of the syntactic categories of the switches, nouns were the most switched category followed by adjectives and noun phrases. The most frequent type of switches in the data was tag switches. However, intra-sentential and inter-sentential switches occurred very rarely. The study shows that conversational functions of code-switching found in the data were grouped into eight categories, such as difficulty retrieving an expression in Arabic, academic or technical terms, association with certain domains, objectivization etc.


Excerpt out of 21 pages


Code-switching in Lebanese Talk Shows
University of Würzburg
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Code-switching, Bilingualism Second Language Acquisition
Quote paper
Nevin Baidoun (Author), 2018, Code-switching in Lebanese Talk Shows, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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