Code switching of Russian-German bilinguals

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theories of Code Switching
2.1. Definition and Types of Code Switching
2.2. Poplack’s Two-Constraint Model
2.2.1. The Free Morpheme Constraint
2.2.2. The Equivalence Constraint
2.3. Myers-Scotton’s Matrix Language Frame (MLF) model

3. My Case Study
3.1. Relevant Characteristics of Russian
3.2. Method of Investigation
3.2.1. Procedure
3.2.2. Participants

4. Analysis of the Data
4.1. Inter-sentential Code Switching
4.2. Intra-sentential Code Switching
4.3. Tag Switching

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In the following pages I want to focus on the code switching of Russian-German bilinguals. The phenomenon of code switching has its origin in the research of bilingualism and code switching can be examined from different perspectives. There are grammatical or syntactic, sociolinguistic or pragmatic, conversational and psycholinguistic aspects of code switching. In which situations is code switching possible or probable? Where does code switching seem to be possible syntactically? Why do speakers code-switch? Do bilingual speakers behave in another way in different social situations?

Firstly, I will give some definitions of the term “code switching” and I will define the various types of code switching. In addition, I will concentrate on Shana Poplack’s grammatical constraints and on Carol Myers-Scotton’s Matrix and Embedded Language theory. The next chapter will deal with my case study. First of all, I will name some relevant characteristics of Russian and then the procedure of the case study will be presented. Afterwards, while analysing my collected data I will try to find similarities as well as differences with regard to Poplack’s and Myers-Scotton’s theories and I will take a look at the functions of code switching. The conclusion will comprise the main points and some suggestions for further discussion.

2. Theories of Code Switching

Up to now many researches on code switching were undertaken. As a consequence, various definitions and types of code switching can be found throughout the history of research on code switching. In this chapter I will concentrate on two of the major theories of code switching – on Poplack’s and Myers-Scotton’s code switching theories.

2.1. Definition and Types of Code Switching

Code switching is the term for different languages coming into contact with one another in a conversation. This could be a general definition for code switching. Bilingual or multilingual speakers, people who possess two or even more languages, normally tend to code-switch, that means that they change from one language to the other and use words and phrases from distinct languages.

According to Wei (2000, 16) code switching occurs “when a bilingual talks to another bilingual with the same linguistic background and changes from one language to another in the course of conversation”. Poplack (2000, 224) defines code switching as “the alternation of two languages within a single discourse, sentence or constituent”.

Because of the fact that code switching has some similarities with borrowing and code mixing I will discuss the various types of code switching to keep them apart. In the literature there are a lot of different opinions about which types exist and what they mean. Woolford (1983, 521) states that a lot of “language switches occur at sentence boundaries, but others occur in mid-sentence within a smooth stream of speech”, that means that code switching can be inter-sentential as well as intra-sentential. Inter-sentential code switching occurs when each sentence is in one language or the other. The term code mixing refers in a sense to intra-sentential code switching.

A far more important aspect is the distinction between intra-sentential code switching and borrowing. Halmari (1997, 17) refers to Poplack’s opinion that “a lexical item is not a codeswitch, if it is phonologically, morphologically and syntactically integrated into the host language”. The degree of integration plays a big role with reference to borrowing. Consequently, a word that has been integrated according to the phonology and morphology of the target language is called borrowing. Halmari (1997, 169) also mentions the fact that code switching occurs only in a bilingual conversation, whereas borrowing can be done by monolinguals, too. She also points out that borrowings are words that are used “frequently” by bilinguals and that these words are “widespread in the bilingual speech community”. (Halmari 1997, 169)

Poplack distinguishes three types of code switching: inter-sentential switching, intra-sentential switching and tag switching. Tag switching, which is also called emblematic switching, “involves the insertion of a tag in one language into an utterance which is otherwise entirely in the other language”. (Romaine 1995, 122)

2.2. Poplack’s Two-Constraint Model

In 1980 Shana Poplack examined the code switching of Spanish speakers in New York. Her research is based on the generative syntax theory and she holds the opinion that there are some universal rules for producing sentences. According to her, bilingual speakers normally obey these rules although they are switching and the result of her study was that there were only few ungrammatical utterances.

Poplack’s two grammatical constraints, the Free Morpheme Constraint and the Equivalence Constraint, deal with intra-sentential code switching because this type of code switching involves the interaction of both grammars. Nearly all inter-sentential code switching situations are grammatically correct in both languages because this type of code switching shows no morphosyntactic dependencies since it occurs at sentence boundaries.

2.2.1. The Free Morpheme Constraint

Shana Poplack defines one of her grammatical constraints, the Free Morpheme Constraint, in the following way.

Codes may be switched after any constituent in discourse provided that constituent is not a bound morpheme. [...] Included under this constraint are idiomatic expressions [...] which are considered to behave like bound morphemes in that they show a strong tendency to be uttered monolingually. (Poplack 2000, 227)

Therefore, according to this grammatical constraint, it is not possible to switch within a word, an idiom or between morphemes that belong to each other, e.g. between a stem and an affix. As a consequence, bound morphemes cannot be switched. There are only few switches allowed within idiomatic expressions.

Moreover, Poplack is of the opinion that if there is a switch between a free and a bound morpheme, then phonological integration of both morphemes is required. (Poplack in Halmari 1997, 75) In this case, for a possible and permissible switch, the free morpheme has to be phonologically integrated into the language of the bound morpheme.

2.2.2. The Equivalence Constraint

Suzanne Romaine describes Poplack’s second constraint, the Equivalence Constraint, in this way.

[It] predicts that code switches will tend to occur at points where the juxtaposition of elements from the two languages does not violate a syntactic rule of either language. That is, code-switching will tend to occur at points where the surface structures of the two languages map onto each other. This means that a language switch can take place only at boundaries common to both languages, and switching cannot occur between any two sentence elements unless they are normally ordered in the same way. (Romaine 1995, 126)

As a consequence of this, the word order immediately before and after a switch point has to be grammatically possible in both languages and the linear order of sentences in both languages has to be preserved.

Poplack also found out that her Spanish-English bilinguals have different degrees of bilingual ability. The fluent bilinguals tend to switch several times within the sentence. The more proficient a bilingual speaker is, the more intra-sentential sentences he utters. Whereas the non-fluent bilinguals, speakers with limited skills in one of the languages, have more switches between sentences and more tag switches. “Tags are freely moveable constituents which may be inserted almost anywhere in the sentence without fear of violating any grammatical rule”. (Poplack 2000, 231) Otherwise they would run the risk of uttering ungrammatical sentences.


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Code switching of Russian-German bilinguals
University of Stuttgart  (Institut für Linguistik/ Anglistik)
Code Switching
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ISBN (Book)
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Code, Russian-German, Code, Switching
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Anastasia Deibert (Author), 2007, Code switching of Russian-German bilinguals, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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