A Psycholinguistic Perspective on Code-Switching


7 Pages



The study aims to approach code-switching from psycholinguistic perspective. It sets itself to shed light on the concepts, factors as contextual and syntactic ones, and models and some other important aspects as when does code-switching occur? and how does it occur?

1. Introduction

Language is a mean of communication that is used to convey thoughts, emotions, beliefs etc. One may come closer to grasp in which sense language relates to other cognitive faculties if he can understand the mechanisms of processing, decoding, storage, and production.

The study deals with study code-switching from the psycholinguistics perspective. The definitions of the concept, its factors and models are included.

Psycholinguists have pursued a better understanding of how language are stored in the brain and produced. They avoid engaging with spontaneous natural language and they use controlled experimental data (Gardner-Chloros2009:120).

Psycholinguists and neurologists enrich our knowledge of brain and may extend our ability to treat various disorders effectively. Psycholinguists divides language functions into those concerned with

(a) the storage and representation of linguistic elements in the brain.
(b) the neurological activation and inhibition which determine how these elements come to the surface,
(c) production mechanisms (Ibid)

2. What is Code-Switching?

Codeswitching cannot be regarded as universal phenomenon since it is only widespread in some language communities. It is considered as psychological phenomenon whose causes are obviously extralinguistics, in other words codeswitching does not occur only as a result of language use but by mental processes taking place in bilingual’s place (Rahimi and Eftekhari 54: 2011).

3. Psycholinguistics Perspective of Code-Switching:

This aspect is motivated codeswitching: language alternation that is prompted not by the intentions of the speaker but by the specific conditions of language production. The processes taking place in the speaker’s brain: lexical items that are similar or identical in both languages can function as a trigger for the alternation from one language to another. The speaker in this case does not alter the language with a specific conversational aim. This means that the code-switching has no function in the local conversational context. Because of the difference between these two types of codeswitching some scholars have suggested giving them different names: the term code-switching should be used only for socio-pragmatically conditioned code alternation, whereas the psycholinguists use “code-mixing” or “language mixing conditioned code-switching, unlike pragmatically conditioned language alternation, is not intentional on the part of the speaker, there are differences between language users concerning the frequency of language alternation (Cohen, Rolsted, and MacSwan, 2005).

Code-switching, or non-functional code-switching, is nonintentional, it just occurs in the conversation of bilinguals and is promoted by so-called trigger words, which are defined as “words at the intersection of two language systems, which, consequently, may cause speakers to lose their linguistic bearings and continue the sentence in the other language may cause speakers to lose their linguistic bearings and continue the sentence in the other language” Those lexical items can usually be identified as belonging to more than one language (of the bilingual speaker or the entire bilingual speech community). However, it has to be stressed that these kinds of lexemes are not the result, but the cause of code-switching This means that the trigger word should not itself be regarded as a code-switched item, because it is part of the language of interaction(ibid.,).

It is a lexeme that is shared by both languages. The simple fact that it is at the same time part of the ‘other’ language as well can cause the switch (= triggering effect). In other words: this specific item subsequently elicits more ‘other’-language material(ibid).

Code-switching is very common within a particular speech community it is likely that language tagging information becomes lost and speakers become less and less aware of triggering effects (though at the endpoint of this development it is problematic to speak, even of triggering) ibid.

Communities mixed codes (or code-switching) are used as a default case and acting monolingual is the marked case. For this reason, a code-switched type of language system can be passed from one generation to the other in a given speech community(ibid.,)

Children who acquire two languages at the same time usually do not differentiate between the two systems before the age of three . In speech communities which use mixed codes it is difficult for children to acquire the language tags for the different systems. The following example is again characteristic of the Russian German speech community: These findings also suggest that psycholinguistic experiments should not be conducted only with educated people, who have acquired their second language system only later in their lives, because by then they have also learned how to keep both languages apart. It would be interesting to carry out lexical decision tasks with early bilingual and less well-educated speakers from minority speech communities such as the German-speaking community in Russia (ibid.,).

Authenticity language data is conditioned code-switching initiated by trigger words demonstrate that is plausible to assume one shared language store, where all items are interconnected. Jointly active language material is especially likely to be strongly connected and will be activated simultaneously. The lemmas are connected, but also equipped with language tags containing connotational (i.e. language specific) information (Ibid., ).

4. Psycholinguistics Factors to Code-switching

Psycholinguistic factors to codeswitching, in contrast, traditionally language choice is treated as a largely automatic function of speaker-internal production circumstances, unaffected by discourse-functional goals or conscious control. Most models of bilingual production parallel standard models of monolingual production, in which messages are first formulated before passing through a stage of lexical (lemma) selection followed by morphophonological encoding and finally articulation. These models assume that bilinguals have a single conceptual store shared by both languages, and that language selection takes place later during the lexical selection phase of production, either through higher activation of a lemma in one language, or through failure to inhibit the lemma in that language (Myslín & Levy 2015:7-8).

In this section, the factors are presented that may affect lexical activation (or inhibition) in each language, beginning with baseline lexical accessibility before turning to contextual and syntactic factors.Baseline lexical accessibility. A common intuition is that a speaker will choose the language in which the desired word first comes to mind. All else being equal, then, lexical selection among multiple languages is subject to each (language-specific) lemma’s baseline accessibility — how easily it can be retrieved from the lexicon for production, irrespective of context. Since higher word frequency and shorter length each increase accessibility multilingual speakers may be more likely to use the language in which the relevant word is shorter or more frequent related word-inherent property is the way its meaning is stored in the bilingual lexicon. In the standard approaches of bilingual production described above, bilinguals first access meanings from a single semantic system, and subsequently choose a language during lexical selection. An alternative view is the semantic system is only partially shared across languages: nouns are stored in a common system, but verbs and other words reside in language-specific parts of the semantic system, since these words elicit slower and less consistent associations across language. This makes nouns more “portable,” or switchable, a prediction that is consistent with observations that they are the word class most frequently code-switched and borrowed, followed by verbs and then other parts of speech. Nouns are thus predicted to be codeswitched most often, followed by verbs and then by other words. In similar way, concreteness and imageability, in addition to part of speech, affect lexical accessibility in the bilingual lexicon. Concrete, highly imageable words such as tiger are translated faster and elicit more reliable cross-linguistic priming than abstract words such as liberty, suggesting that concrete words are more integrated in the bilingual lexicon than abstract words. Because of this tighter integration, concrete words’ translation equivalents are more likely to be co-activated in production than abstract words’ translation equivalents, predicting greater probability of codeswitching for concrete, imageable words than for abstract words (Myslín & Levy 2015:7-8).

The properties of the context also affect bilingual lexical activation and thus the probability of codeswitching.

One of these is language-specific lexical cohesion: it has been observed that lexical items often persist in their original language of mention, even if the embedding stretch of discourse is in a different language. This persistence of language choice may serve to support cohesive ties to previous mentions and/or result from automatic preparation, in which activation of language-specific lemmas facilitates subsequent productions in the same language. So , words are likely to reoccur in their language of most recent mention (ibid.,).

Another contextual factor in language choice is triggering. Trigger words, such as the proper noun (California), may be stored in completely shared representations across language systems. When a trigger is produced, it increases the activation of the second language, thereby increasing the probability that the next word is a codeswitch. Trigger words comprise three types: proper nouns, phonologically unintegrated loanwords from the second language, and bilingual homophones. This last category consists of words from different languages that are pronounced identically, such as Dutch smal ‘narrow’ and English small and Broersma revises the original triggering hypothesis to take entire clauses as speech planning units, and indeed observe facilitation of codeswitching if a trigger word is present anywhere in the clause rather than just immediately adjacent the potential switch site.(ibid.,)

A third contextual factor in language choice is language-internal collocational strength between words. Backus points out that sequences of words that often co-occur in one language are accessed as units and are therefore unlikely codeswitch sites. Thus, a codeswitch from, say, English to Spanish within a strong collocation such as all over the place (e.g. all over el lugar) is less likely than a codeswitch within a weaker collocation such as all over the city (e.g. all over la ciudad).(ibid.,)

The fourth contextual factor is syntactic dependency distance. In an extension of dependency locality theory , Eppler provides evidence from spontaneous German-English codeswitching that the greater the number of intervening words between a potentially codeswitched word and its syntactic governor, the more difficult it is to track the (language-specific) dependency due to memory constraints, and therefore the less likely the word is to match its syntactic governor in language choice. Together with other contextual factors outlined above, as well as inherent properties of a word’s lexical accessibility, these factors reflect a broad set of speaker-internal psycholinguistic production circumstances that may inform codeswitching behavior. Ibid.,

There is growing evidence that emotional factors have a considerable impact in how one learns, remembers and uses languages Switching to an L2 may serve a distancing function (the “L2 distancing effect”) or allow the speaker to avoid anxiety-provoking material, whereas the L1 elicits more personal involvement.( Gardner-Chloros 2009,)

5. Models of Code-switching

Levelt’s proposals as to how speech goes through the various planning stages before emerging on the surface is one of the main models in the field. The model includes a “Conceptualizer”, in which intended meaning is planned and converted into “preverbal messages”; a “Formulator”, where this message is converted into a “phonetic plan”: this is where the appropriate lexical units, grammatical and phonological rules are selected; and an “Articulator” which converts this plan into actual speech. At the Formulator stage, a distinction between two aspects of a lexical entry is relevant: on the one hand it consists of a “lemma”, representing the meaning and syntax of the lexical entry, and on the other hand the “lexeme”, its morphological and phonological form(.ibid.,)


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A Psycholinguistic Perspective on Code-Switching
University of Babylon
Catalog Number
psycholinguistic, perspective, code-switching
Quote paper
Safa Naji Abd (Author), A Psycholinguistic Perspective on Code-Switching, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1289643


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