Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Code-switching

Code-switching is an interesting phenomenon in which a person who is speaking one language will mix it words or phrases in another one. Sometimes this is because the term from the other language that is "switched in" is simpler to express than the corresponding term would be in the language of the rest of the conversation. This often happens if the term is a conceptual one particular to a given language or culture. It may also occur when the speaker learned the concept only within the context of the language of the term. This doesn't occur in a case where either the speaker or the listener is monolingual; both speaker and listener need to know the term being used and its meaning; otherwise, it's not a case of code-switching -- it's just a case of using a term from another language. Code-switching occurs when there is a choice between terms for the speaker -- the language of the general conversation or another language -- and the other language is chosen, for whatever reason this may be.

One example of this occurred several years ago in my ESL 097 class. Two students were having a discussion in their native Gujarati during break. I didn't listen until I heard a term code-switched in -- which is when the conversation became interesting.

P: .......................... full-time or part-time?
B: .................................. part-time .............. full-time.
P: (looking very surprised) ..............part-time?
B: (looking completely smug) ............... *part-time*.
P: YOU SUCK!