Language Mixing in Bilinguals (Annotated Bibliography)

Why do Bilinguals Code-Switch?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

13 Pages, Grade: 1,0


1. Introduction

In today’s globalized world bilingualism, defined as the regular use of two or more languages, is a widespread phenomenon and has become nearly the standard and monolingualism the exception. Consequently linguists have become more and more interested in this topic and in the last decades much has been published regarding bilinguals and their language behavior.

Being able to manage two different languages or dialects, bilinguals are capable to code-switch within their languages. Code-Switching (in the following referred to as CS) occurs when a word or a phrase in one language substitutes for a word or phrase in a second language.

“Code switching is the alternate use of two (or more) languages within the same utterance, as illustrated in (1) (Belazi, Rubin, and Toribio, 1994).1

(1a) This morning mi hermano y yo fuimos a comprar some milk. This morning my brother and I went to buy some milk.
(1b) The student brought the homework para la profesora. The student brought the homework for the teacher.”

CS follows functional and grammatical principles and is a complex, rule-governed phenomenon. Bilingual speakers often code-switch from one language to another, especially when both languages are used in the environment. This is mostly the case in multilingual communities. Although much has already been written on how bilinguals organize their two languages, little is known about why bilinguals mix their two languages during communicative process. It would be easier for them just to stay in one language while communicating, being understood by everyone. Nevertheless they switch codes during conversations. This raises the question: Why do bilinguals code-switch?

The aim of this annotated bibliography is to shed some light onto this discussion by presenting both actual and back dating research efforts. Within the vast research area of bilingualism and CS it is not easy to find clear and satisfying answers. The papers selected try to cover a wide range of different approaches, including two leading and often quoted articles by Myers-Scotton, in order to point out the diverse points of view regarding the topic under discussion. In the end this should lead to first answers to the question why bilinguals code-switch, paving therewith the way for further research.

2. Annotated Bibliography

David, A. & Wei, L. (2004). To what extent is codeswitching dependent on a bilingual child’s lexical development?. Sociolinguistica, 18, 1-12.

Annabelle David is Research Associate at Newcastle University; Li Wei is Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Birkbeck University of London. According to the authors the developmental aspects of CS in very young bilingual children has received little attention. Therefore their study draws on a longitudinal study of two bilingual children’s language development between the ages of 1;4 and 3;0 who grow up bilingual in French and English. It is their goal to determine to what extent CS might be dependent on the child’s lexical development by asking “whether there may be a developmental threshold for switching, to what extend switches might be a response to lexical gaps, and, whether a developmental pattern exists in the nature and the type of codeswitching observed” (2). Both Families have adopted the One Person-One Language strategy. The lexical data is collected through diaries kept by the parents and monthly parental checklists. In addition to that, the children were audio-recorded from the 2-word stage at regular intervals in monolingual contexts with one parent. The data suggests that “as soon as the child is able to combine languages, s/he is also able to codeswitch, whatever the composition of his/her lexicon” (11). The types of switches produced by the child are very dependent on what is available to him/her at the time in the lexicon. The authors conclude that the lexicon plays a very important role regarding the development of CS, even though it is probably not the only factor that plays a role. Additionally no child can be found having a lexicon composed of half French half English items, or only content morphemes in one language and system morphemes in the other. Unfortunately this article offers no answer to the question why bilinguals code-switch.

Dussias, P. E. (2001). Psycholinguistic complexity in codeswitching. International Journal of Bilingualism, 5 (1), 87-100.

Paola Dussias is Associate Professor of Spanish, Linguistics and Psychology at the Penn State University and has her research interests in psycholinguistics, bilingualism, sentence parsing and CS. The aim of this study is to determine whether the functional element effect, attested in production data, occurs during comprehension as well. In order to test this hypothesis the paper compares the results of several published corpora analyses of CS, involving Spanish and English with reading time results reported in an earlier work by Dussias (1997). The focus is on the differences between switches involving Det and NP, and switches involving Comp and IP. The results corroborate earlier results of corpus-analysis: Code switched constituents in which functional elements do not participate in the CS process are preferred over code switched constituents in which functional elements do participate in the switch. Bilinguals will therefore perform switches of the first type in most of the cases. Without previous knowledge of the functional element effect this study is difficult to access. Furthermore it does not provide important findings related to the research question.

Ervin-Tripp, S. & Reyes, I. (2005). Child codeswitching and adult content contrasts. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9 (1), 85-102.

The authors, researchers at the University of California and the University of Arizona, discuss in their paper possible links between the “conditions of developing child bilingualism and the adult outcomes in semiotic contrast in elicited speech and codeswitching” (85). Their purpose is to examine the context and development of CS in children as an aspect of pragmatic development and to link developing CS practices to the adult division of labor between languages. After surveying different contexts of child bilingualism the authors reflect on the types and functions of CS which are discourse-related switching, borrowing or crutching, situational CS and conversational switching. This analysis is of big use in order to answer the research questions mentioned above. Certain types of metaphorical CS in adults imply a semiotic separation of languages which suggests that languages my call up different semantic contexts. From a very early age, infant bilinguals use the appropriate language for addressees and different contexts. CS of longer segments can be found before 2;0. Some adult CS makes use of semiotic differences implied by language for speakers to signal the meaning context for interpretation. Like Lanvers, cited below, the authors regard language mixing in infants as CS.

Franceschini, R., Behrent, S., Krick, C. & Reith, W. (2004). Zur Neurobiologie des Codeswitching. Sociolinguistica, 18, 118-138.

The authors are working in a project on ‘Multilingualism in the Brain’, which is headed by the Saarland University. What happens in the brain of a multilingual individual when he switches the language? Neuroscientific research offers an access to neurobiological correlates of CS and therewith complements the mere linguistic approach of this phenomenon. This paper presents first results of the researchers’ project and tries to answer the question whether the manner of processing CS differs in regard to an ascending competence in L2. Regarding the perceptive level of CS it is important to localize the areas and brain activities that are in particular applied during the process of CS. Therefore the subjects (lying in a nuclear spin) have the task to read a scrolling text which switches the language at the end of sentences. Regarding their competence in the second language, the subjects are composed of three groups: Students of medicine, students of linguistics and interpreters (both in training and trained). The first results show the following: 1. Less competent readers in L2 show higher activities in the right hemisphere, especially in the “right Broca” compared to the activation of the normally dominant sinistral areas of language. 2. At the moment of switching an additional activity in the prefrontal lobes (BA 9 and 10) occurs. It seems as they are responsible for encoding an alien code or for switching from one code to another. This study offers a readable insight into another sphere of the topic of CS, but offers unfortunately no results regarding the question under discussion.

Grosjean, F. & Miller, J. L. (1994). Going in and out of Languages: An Example of Bilingual Flexibility. Psychological Science, 5 (4), 201-206.

The authors are researchers at the Université de Neuchâtel and the Northeastern University and use a psycholinguistic approach of bilingualism and CS. In their study, French-English bilinguals retell stories and read sentences monolingually in English and French and bilingually in French with English code-switches. The aim is to find out whether the phonetics of the base language are carried over into the guest language. The results show that the base language has no impact on the production of code switches. The shift from one language to the other is total and immediate; it involves a total change, not only at the lexical but also at the phonetic level. Furthermore bilinguals do not start switching one or two words before the guest word and do not switch back to the base language during the words that follow. They reason, that bilinguals are both very flexible and extremely precise when going in and out of a code-switch. Grosjean and Miller give a clear and precise outline of their experiments which makes the findings easy to access. They do not answer the question why bilinguals codeswitch but they give an answer on the question how they do this.

Heredia, R. R. & Altarriba, J. (2001). Bilingual Language Mixing: Why Do Bilinguals Code- Switch?. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10 (5), 164-168.

The authors, researchers at the Texas A&M International University and the University at Albany, explore the potential theoretical explanations for CS, the costs and benefits associated with this language behavior, and the role of language dominance in the direction of the switch. In order to answer the research question, the authors use a psychological approach examining the cognitive mechanisms underlying the bilingual’s ability to integrate and separate two languages during the communicative process. Heredia and Altarriba do not present their own data. Furthermore they review the current status of research and give a useful access to the topic. They suggest that language accessibility may be the key factor in CS and that bilinguals would switch languages whenever a word in a base language is not currently accessible. This article points out, that on the one hand theoretical work is needed to explain how the bilingual’s two linguistic systems interact and on the other hand empirical research to clarify the linguistic as well as the psycholinguistic factors influencing CS.

Jan, J. M. (2003). Code-switching for power wielding: Inter-gender discourses at the workplace. Multilingua Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication, 22, 41-57

Jariah Binti Mohd Jan is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language at the University of Malaya. In this study she examines several extracts of formal talk exchanges where instances of CS occur between working adults during office meetings and therein pays special attention to linguistic power-wielding among male and female participants. The


1 This definition and example is taken from: MacSwan, Jeff (2004). “Code Switching and Grammatical Theory”, in: Tej K. Bhatia & William C. Ritchie (eds.): The Handbook of Bilingualism. Oxford: Blackwell, p. 283.

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Language Mixing in Bilinguals (Annotated Bibliography)
Why do Bilinguals Code-Switch?
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für England- und Amerikastudien)
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language, mixing, bilinguals, bibliography), bilinguals, code-switch
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Julia Leib (Author), 2010, Language Mixing in Bilinguals (Annotated Bibliography), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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