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Holmes Code Switching

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Code-switching is an awesome linguistic talent!

What is code-switching? What situations can code-switching be used in? What effects does code-switching have on language? These are all good questions, and ones we'll find the answers to as we move through this article.

As we start to answer these questions, we'll also be looking at linguist Janet Holmes' ideas about code-switching to put things into context.

So sit back, strap in, and get ready to learn all about the wonderful world of code-switching!

Holmes Code Switching + Multilingual + StudySmarterCode-switching allows people to switch between languages in the same interaction, Pixabay

What is Code-Switching?

Over the years, linguists have explored the concept of code-switching in different communities, looking at its triggers, effects, and users. The first mention of the term appears in Lucy Shepheard Freeland's book Language of the Sierra Miwok printed in 1951.

In the book, Freeland discusses the language use of the indigenous people of California, conveying the commonly held belief of the 40s and 50s that code-switching is an inferior or substandard linguistic feature.1 This view reflects a prescriptivist viewpoint.

A prescriptivist approach to language refers to when someone believes that there is a 'correct' and 'incorrect' way to use language. For example, someone with prescriptivist views might see double negatives ('There ain't nothing to do') as grammatically incorrect or wrong.

The opposite of a prescriptivist approach is a descriptivist approach, where someone believes that language can be used in many ways and that the different varieties of language that exist are just as rich, effective, and important as one another.

Since then, linguists have started to move away from largely prescriptivist approaches to language study and in more recent years, code-switching has gained a more positive reputation as an innovative and multi-functional use of language.

But what exactly is code-switching?

Gumperz definition of Code-Switching

John Joseph Gumperz, American linguist and academic, defined code-switching as:

'the juxtaposition within the same speech exchange of passages of speech belonging to two different grammatical systems or subsystems' (1982)2

That might sound a bit complicated so let's break it down. Gumperz' idea was that code-switching is essentially when a person changes between two different languages or language varieties within a single verbal exchange.

In other words, code-switching is the process of alternating between linguistic codes depending on the social context, within spoken discourse.

Holmes Code Switching + Social Context + StudySmarter

Code-switching is used in many different situations and for different effects, Pixabay

Difference between lexical borrowing and code-switching

Holmes notes in her book An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (2000) that code-switching is a different linguistic phenomenon from lexical borrowing. To be clear, lexical borrowing is when someone 'borrows' words from another language, often due to a lack of lexical terms in their own repertoire. Code-switching, however, is when speakers make conscious decisions about what words or phrases to use in each language that they speak.3

Code-switching is also sometimes called 'language alternation' as people alternate between different languages.

Types of Code-Switching

There are two key contextual subcategories of code-switching:

  • situational code-switching
  • metaphorical code-switching

Situational code-switching is when a bilingual or multilingual person or community switches between different languages or language varieties to fit the requirements of different social contexts.

Metaphorical code-switching is when a bilingual or multilingual person or community switches between different languages or language varieties with the purpose of discussing a subject that would normally be categorised in a different conversational context than the current one.

Holmes also defined metaphorical code-switching as 'code-switching for rhetorical reasons' as code-switching can often be used to grab the listener's attention or attempt to persuade an audience.3

As you can see, these two types of code-switching will be used in different situations. For a deeper understanding of each of these, let's look at some quick examples:

Situational code-switching examples

Let's imagine a bilingual family that speaks both English and French fluently. At the dinner table, the family is discussing an episode of Green Planet that they watched together. They begin talking about it in English as it was an English documentary:

One parent says 'David Attenborough has such a talent for giving living things a personality. I never look at trees and think of them the way he described them...' but then remembers something that happened in their day that they were suddenly reminded of, and switches to French, 'J'ai presque oublié de vous dire ce qui s'est passé aujourd'hui...' (meaning 'I almost forgot to tell you what happened today...')

These two utterances happen in the same speech exchange, by the same person, but in two different languages or 'language codes'. The two different utterances also address two different social contexts.

The English utterance serves to contribute to the family's discussion about the documentary, and the French utterance serves to signal that the speaker wants to share something about their day.

A 'language code' is simply a variety of language or a way of using language. For example, formal, standard language could be one possible language code whereas colloquial or vernacular language could be another.

Metaphorical code-switching examples

Using another hypothetical family, let's say a family from London is also having dinner together. There are two young children at the table and they begin to argue over who is going to eat the last chicken nugget.

The father then chimes in with 'Oi, why don't we chop it in half then we've got two chicken nuggets for two chicken nugget eaters, hey?' As he cuts the chicken nugget in half and gives each child a piece, he turns to his wife and says 'I have until Friday to present my input on whether or not the company should go ahead with the merger, but frankly, I'm not convinced it will be a lucrative solution.'

Again, these two utterances happened in the same speech exchange by the same person, but two different language codes were used. Although both utterances were in English, the father character still switched between two different linguistic varieties.

When addressing his young children, he uses informal colloquialisms such as 'oi' and 'hey?' as well as the child-centric term 'chicken nugget eaters', whereas when he addresses his wife and talks about work his tone and language become more formal and professional.

This shift in linguistic code signals the change of topic and facilitates the conversation turning to a new subject that required a separate conversational domain.

Different code-switching formats

Within both of these subcategories of code-switching, there are several main formats that a code-switch can fall into. These formats are as follows:

  • Intersentential code-switching: when the switch occurs outside of sentence level, or after a sentence is finished: 'I was thinking about going to the shop later. A quelle heure est la fête? (what time is the party?)'
  • Intra-sentential switching: when the switch occurs within a sentence: 'Il aime seulement reading books.' ('He only likes reading books')
  • Tag-switching: when the switch comes in the form of a tag question or phrase: 'We'll get some food on the way back, d'accord (okay)?'
  • Intra-word code-switching: when the switch happens within a single word: 'beefesque' (meaning 'beef-like/ similar to beef', where the 'esque' suffix comes from French but the root word 'beef' is English).

Reasons for code-switching

As the two examples above might have hinted at, code-switching can be used in lots of different ways. There are also many reasons why a person or community might decide to code-switch. We'll take a look at a few of these reasons now:

  • Code-switching for privacy - if several bilingual/multilingual people are having a conversation and want to say something that they'd rather keep private from others around them, code-switching to a different language provides an opportunity to continue their conversation without allowing prying ears to understand what is being said.

Holmes Code Switching + Reasons for Code-Switching + StudySmarterCode-switching is often used for privacy or to create a sense of identity or community, Pixabay

  • Code-switching to fit in - switching from one language to another, or more commonly from one linguistic variety to another, in the same language can enable speakers to present themselves as part of the group. For example, someone might switch to using more formal and standard language forms when they're in a workplace environment in order to fit in with the tone and behaviour of colleagues.
  • Code-switching to find the right word - being able to speak multiple languages is a blessing to many but it can present some difficulties if a person's fluency is not equal across all the languages they speak. Sometimes code-switching can be used to help someone find the right word to say if they couldn't think of it in the language they were previously speaking.
  • Code-switching to improve expression - sometimes there just isn't an appropriate translation for words and phrases in different languages. Code-switching can allow multilingual people to express themselves in the most effective and evocative way if there isn't a comparable translation of a phrase in the language they're speaking. Holmes (2000) comments that code-switching can be used to convey an emotion more effectively by allowing the speaker to draw vocabulary from other languages or linguistic varieties.3
  • Code-switching to express solidarity and community identity - code-switching is a powerful way of signalling to other people that you relate to them in some way. For example, George B. Ray discusses code-switching in his book Language and Interracial Communication in the United States: Speaking in Black and White (2009), commenting that in African American communities, code-switching is a key strategy for strengthening community ties. He also comments that code-switching is:

a skill that holds benefits in relation to the way success is often measured in institutional and professional settings.4

What he means by this is that code-switching amongst African American communities has always been viewed as a merely linguistic phenomenon when actually, a lot of the time, the ability to code-switch becomes a necessary skill in an often prejudiced world. In certain spheres, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is perceived to be inferior to more standard language forms.

AAVE is a language variety commonly used by some African American communities where non-standard language forms are characteristic - for example, 'yo car' instead of 'your car'). If an African American person code-switches to more standard language varieties in certain situations, they're more likely to be perceived positively by other (predominantly white) people.4

Holmes Code Switching + Community Identity + StudySmarterAAVE users often code-switch in order to be perceived more positively by non-AAVE users, PIxabay

Similarly, Janet Holmes supports this idea of using code-switching as a method for connecting with people of your own ethnicity or community, commenting that:

a speaker may. . .switch to another language as a signal of group membership and shared ethnicity within an addressee.3

We all code-switch from time to time, even if it's only in small ways. Our language use changes depending on who we're talking to and the situations we're in, and these changes can be seen as examples of code-switching.

Can you think of any times when you might have code-switched? This could be when you used words from two different languages, or simply if you changed the formality or variety of your language within a single interaction.

Holmes Code Switching - Key takeaways

  • Code-switching is most often used by bilingual or multilingual people and communities, but can also apply to switching between language varieties rather than speaking in different languages altogether.
  • There are two main types of code-switching: situational and metaphorical. Situational code-switching occurs when the code switches to suit different social contexts and metaphorical code-switching is when the switch facilitates discussing a topic that would normally fall under a different conversational domain.
  • There are four different code-switching formats: intersentential, intra-sentential, tag-switching, and intra-word switching.
  • People code-switch for many reasons including: fitting in, building a sense of solidarity with their community, improving individual expression, creating and presenting identity, and for privacy.
  • Code-switching is more nuanced than lexical borrowing as it gives speakers the choice of what words and phrases to use in different languages, whereas lexical borrowing is born from lack of choice.

References

  1. Lucy Shepheard Freeland, Language of the Sierra Miwok, 1951
  2. John Joseph Gumperz, Discourse Strategies, 1982
  3. Janet Holmes, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, 2000
  4. George B. Ray, Language and Interracial Communication in the United States: Speaking in Black and White, 2009

Holmes Code Switching

Some examples of code-switching include:

  • a multilingual person switching between languages in conversation. 
  • someone from a particular social community switching their linguistic style to match different environments or social situations (eg someone who usually speaks very casually with a lot of slang switching to more formal language during an interview).

Code-switching is when someone switches from one linguistic code (the language style they generally use) to another depending on social context or environment. 

Intersentential code-switching is when a person switches linguistic code from one sentence to another. This is most commonly found when multilingual people switch from one language in one sentence to another language in the next sentence. 

Metaphorical code-switching is when people in a multilingual community switch languages in conversation in order to give different topics the appropriate conversational weight/ to discuss topics that would normally fall within other conversational contexts. 

Code-switching is not a negative thing but can sometimes be associated with negative emotions or contexts such as feeling out of place or being anxious, where someone might code-switch in order to feel more comfortable or accepted. Code-switching is also commonly associated with trying to identify with a particular social group.

Final Holmes Code Switching Quiz

Question

Define Code-Switching.

Show answer

Answer

Code-switching is when a speaker alternates between languages or language varieties within the same speech exchange. 

Show question

Question

Who are most likely to frequently use code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

People and communities that are bilingual or multilingual are more likely to code-switch than people who only speak one language.

Show question

Question

True or False: code-switching only applies to swapping between different languages.

Show answer

Answer

False, code-switching can also refer to using different language forms within the same language (eg different levels of formality).

Show question

Question

What are the two key types of code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

  • situational code-switching
  • metaphorical code-switching

Show question

Question

What is situational code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

Situational code-switching is when the speaker switches codes to reflect different social contexts.

Show question

Question

What is metaphorical code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

Metaphorical code-switching is when the speaker switches codes in order to introduce a new topic that would ordinarily have fallen under a different conversational domain. 

Show question

Question

What are the four formats of code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

  • intersentential code-switching
  • intra-sentential code switching
  • tag-switching
  • intra-word switching

Show question

Question

What is intersentential code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

When the code switch happens at a sentence boundary/ when the switch takes place from one sentence to another. 

Show question

Question

What is intra-sentential code-switching?

Show answer

Answer

Intra-sentential code-switching is when the code switch occurs within the same sentence.

Show question

Question

What is tag-switching?

Show answer

Answer

Tag-switching is when the code switch takes the form of a tag question or tag phrase.

Show question

Question

What is intra-word switching?

Show answer

Answer

Intra-word switching is when the code switch happens within a single word. 

Show question

Question

List five reasons people might use code-switching.

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Answer

  • for privacy
  • to fit in
  • to find the right word
  • to improve expression
  • to create a sense of identity and solidarity with a community

Show question

Question

According to George B. Ray, why is code-switching important to African American communities?

Show answer

Answer

Code-switching allows members of African American communities to strengthen their collective identity and solidarity, as well as enable African American citizens to exist in a prejudiced society more easily.

Show question

Question

What is lexical borrowing?

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Answer

Lexical borrowing is when a speaker borrows words from another language because they lack the lexical terms in their own repertoire. 

Show question

Question

How is code-switching different from lexical borrowing?

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Answer

Lexical borrowing occurs due to having a limited lexical supply and is therefore a necessity, whereas code-switching gives the speaker more choices as to what words and phrases to use from what languages. 

Show question

Question

What is tag-switching?

Show answer

Answer

Tag-switching is when the code switch comes in the form of a tag question or tag phrase. 

Show question

Question

What is a 'prescriptivist approach' to language?

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Answer

A prescriptivist approach to language is when someone believes that there is a right and wrong way to use language, and that certain forms of language are inferior to others. 

Show question

Question

What is a 'descriptivist approach to language?

Show answer

Answer

A descriptivist approach to language is when someone views language as a rich and versatile resource that can be used in different ways and for different purposes without some forms being seen as inferior. The descriptivist approach appreciates the nuances and value of different linguistic forms. 

Show question

Question

Who used the term 'code-switching for rhetorical reasons' to describe metaphorical code-switching?

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Answer

Janet Holmes

Show question

Question

Which of these definitions describes intersentential code-switching?

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Answer

When the switch occurs outside of sentence level, or after a sentence is finished.

Show question

Question

Which of these definitions describes intra-sentential code-switching?

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Answer

When the switch occurs within a sentence.

Show question

Question

What does AAVE stand for?

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Answer

African American Vernacular English

Show question

Question

What kind of code switching is this an example of: ''Il aime seulement swimming in the ocean.'  

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Answer

Intra-sentential code-switching

Show question

Question

What is a language code?

Show answer

Answer

A language code is a variety of language or way of using language. 

Show question

Question

True or false: code-switching can be used as a strategy for strengthening community ties.

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Answer

True

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