The sociolinguistic aspects of Code-Switching

Analysis of the movie “Real women have curves”

Seminararbeit, 2010

20 Seiten, Note: 1,0



Symbols and Abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Code switching
2.1 General definitions
2.2 Structural aspects..
2.3 Sociolinguistic approach
2.3.1 Gumperz Situational switching vs. metaphorical switching The functions of Code-switching
2.3.2 Myers-Scottons’ Markedness theory.

3. Case study: Types of Code-Switching in the movie “Real women have curves”
3.1 Facts about the movie
3.2 Hispanic influence in the USA.
3.3 Methodology and research interest
3.4 Analysis
3.4.1 Change of addressee
3.4.2 Change of topic
3.4.3 Tag switching
3.4.4 Affective switching
3.5 Summary of results

4. Conclusion and outlook


Symbols and Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

Whenever people with different language backgrounds share the same territory or have close relations the linguistic outcome is usually bi- or multilingualism. In such contact situations the languages involved often start to interact and influence each other, which results in a series of phenomena such as borrowing, convergence, pidginization, etc. (Haugen 1978, 21-22). Of all these concepts the one which has probably raised most interest among linguists and researchers is code-switching (CS), the alternate use of more than one language within a single conversation. While formerly this kind of language use was considered rather negatively and as a transitional step in the process of language shift, it is nowadays widely regarded as a vital and stable part of many bilingual communities all over the world (Myers-Scotton 1993, 2). But not only linguists are interested in CS. Filmmakers have also discovered its potential and use it as a creative element in their productions.

The overall purpose of this paper is to provide a short overview on the sociolinguistic approach on CS and to show how it is illustrated in contemporary media productions. Therefore, after presenting some of the most important theories of CS in the first part, in the second part I will analyze selected scenes of the movie “Real women have curves”. The goal thereby will be to find and explain possible connections between the social situation and the language choice in the respective scenes. Finally a short conclusion shall summarize the main results and ideas.

2. Code switching

As already mentioned in the introduction, of all contact phenomena CS is surely the one which has been studied most extensively throughout the last decades. The result is a great variety of different models, definitions and classifications and there are in fact many controversies among linguists in the study of the topic. In general CS can be analyzed from two main perspectives: a grammatical one and a sociolinguistic-pragmatic one (Winkelmann 2007, 15). In my paper I will focus on the sociolinguistic dimension of CS which means I will concentrate on its social, pragmatic and functional aspects. But first some general definitions:

2.1 General definitions

Haugen (1978) was one of the first to offer a definition of CS, referring to it as “a process of code-preservation in which two languages are not superimposed, but follow one another” (p. 21).1 This description was mainly supposed to point out the difference between CS and borrowing, which includes an overlapping and a mixture of the codes involved (p. 21-22). Later definitions vary according to the respective research focus. Poplack (1979) who represents the grammatical perspective describes CS as the “alternation of two languages within a single discourse, sentence or constituent” (p. 583). Carol Myers-Scotton (1993) on the other hand refers to it as “the selection of bilinguals or multilinguals of forms from an embedded language (or languages) or utterances of a matrix language during the same conversation”2 (p. 4). The important aspect of this definition is that the switches of a bilingual speaker are no coincidence but an intentional act with social meaning.

Summarizing the common elements of all these definitions, CS can generally be defined as the alternate use of more than one language or language variety3 by a single speaker within a single conversation.

2.2 Structural aspects

As mentioned before, this paper focuses on the sociolinguistic and functional aspects of CS. Nevertheless, the other major approach - the grammatical or structural one - shall also be mentioned briefly.

From a structural perspective there can be differentiated between four types of switching: inter-sentential, intra-sentential, intra-word and tag switching (Winkelmann 2007, 16). While in the case of inter-sentential switching the switch occurs after a complete sentence or clause, intra-sentential switching means switching within a sentence or clause (Pelzer 2006, 72). Intra-word switching is more rare and refers to switches within a single word, e.g. at a morpheme boundary. Finally tag switching is an expression for the insertion of tags, interjections or fillers from one code into an utterance which is otherwise exclusively in the other code (Poplack 1979, 605).

2.3 Sociolinguistic approach

Unlike structural classifications, sociolinguistic approaches of CS are extremely varied and cover a whole range of different theories and models. I will therefore focus on two of the most important approaches in this aspect: the classification introduced by John Gumperz and Myers-Scotton’s markedness theory. These two models include some of the most important notions in the sociolinguistic exploration of CS.

2.3.1 Gumperz

Probably the most influential sociolinguistic approach on CS was made by John Gumperz, whose first publication about code-switching in Norway created a whole new taxonomy of the phenomenon. The following chapters shall highlight the most important results of his work: the differentiation between situational and metaphorica l switching and his functional categories of CS. Situational vs. metaphorical switching

According to Blom and Gumperz (1972) situational CS refers to a switch “where an alternation between varieties redefines a situation, being a change in governing rules” (p. 409). They describe a social situation as “a particular constellation of personnel, gathered in a particular setting during a particular span of time” (p. 424), including a range of mutual rights and obligations. Language shift occurs, when the participant’s perception of these rights and obligations changes (p. 424- 425). In general situational switching can be interpreted as switching motivated by external factors such as participants, setting or topic (Myers-Scotton, 1993, 52- 54). Blom and Gumperz’s approach is therefore closely linked to Fishman’s concept of domains which can be considered as “essentially routinized and institutionalized social activities” (Heller and Pfaff 1996, 59). For example in Paraguayan cities most people are bilingual in Spanish, the language of the colonizers, and Guaraní, the Indian indigenous language. Spanish is usually used in official settings such as work or school while Guaraní is associated with domains like family or friends (Holmes 2008, 22).4

Metaphorical switching on the other hand occurs without any changes in the external factors of the speech situation. Instead it is used to indicate a shift in the topical emphasis of the speech situation (p. 409). In his essay about conversational CS Gumperz (1982) even extended and redefined his concept of metaphorical switching, referring to it as “contextual cues” which are “equivalent to what in monolingual settings is conveyed through prosody or other synthetic or lexical processes” (p. 98). Linguists therefore tend to interpret it as a discourse strategy to draw on the connotations and the “metaphorical” world of a variety (Gardner-Chloros 2009, 107). Each code is associated with certain social meanings and concepts and the speakers use the switches as rhetorical elements to express their view of the world and to enrich the conversation (Myers-Scotton 1993, 53). In Paraguay for example business matters would be discussed in Spanish while family affairs would be handled in Guaraní. But elements of one domain often extend into other domains as the following example from Blom and Gumperz’s field work in Norway shows:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Gumperz 1972 reprinted in Holmes 2008, 37

This conversation includes a change in topic as well as a change in the role- relationship between the two interlocutors. In the first part of their conversation they speak to each other as neighbors or even friends. To show that they both are equal and belong to the same “local team” (Blom/Gumperz 1972, 424), they use Ranamål, the local variety. Suddenly Jan starts to talk about business matters, which means they no longer deal with each other as neighbors but as civil servant and member of the public. Consequently both of them instantly switch from Ranamål to Bokamål, the standard variety, which they find more appropriate for business matters.

Gumperz’s differentiation between situational and metaphorical switching has been criticized for a lack of clarity (Pride 1979, 39-40). Nevertheless, it remains the most influential classification in the sociolinguistic study of CS and is cited in almost every publication on the topic. The functions of code-switching

In his article about conversational CS Gumperz (1982) also suggests a catalogue of functions of CS (p.75-84). He names the following: quotations, addressee specification (to direct a message to one of several possible addressees), interjections, reiteration (to clarify, amplify or emphasize the message), message qualification (sentence or verb complements to qualify the message) and personalization vs. objectivization (e.g. the degree of speaker involvement or the distance from a message). The following excerpt is an example for the message qualification function:

illustration not visible in this excerpt


1 The quote, however, was from one of his earlier works in 1953

2 The concepts Matrix Language and Embedded Language will be explained in 3.4

3 In this paper, however, I refer to it exclusively as the alternate use of two different languages

4 In stable diglossic societies such as Switzerland the involved varieties are usually kept apart rather strictly. In these cases the more appropriate expression would be language choice instead of CS.

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The sociolinguistic aspects of Code-Switching
Analysis of the movie “Real women have curves”
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
ISBN (eBook)
521 KB
Code-Switching, Spanglish, Espanglish, Sociolinguistics, Sprachwechsel, Chicano English, Tex-Mex
Arbeit zitieren
Ralf Pronold (Autor:in), 2010, The sociolinguistic aspects of Code-Switching, München, GRIN Verlag,


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