Code Switching

Image credits: grammarlycards.com
Image credits: grammarlycards.com

You are at class, discussing the new educational reforms and talking to the professor in a professional manner; you almost look like a politician. 1:00 PM. The class is over and curtains fall; habitually, you start talking to your friends in a completely different manner. Relaxed and easygoing, you turn on your loud and offstage voice – hitherto undetected by the professors. And here is your professor, who has not left the room yet, taken aback by your transformation. And that transformation is a code switching. Code switching is the alternation of languages (Poplack, 1980) as well as behaviours (Zeller, 2004). But the question here is why we switch codes? Different researchers have identified different reasons and the most common are:

  • To match the situation

The way we talk or behave in front of the employer differs dramatically from the one when with parents. Behavioural code switching is a matter of etiquette here; there is a behaviour that is appropriate at home but inappropriate in public (Zeller, 2004).

  • To show solidarity

Janet Holmes (2013) mentions in her book that, ‘a speaker may switch to another language as a signal of group membership. People from different or the same ethnic groups can use code switching to express intercommunity. For example:

Bauyrzhan: Салем (kaz. Hi), Стас! Погоняем мяч (rus. Let’s play football)!

Stas: Жооок (kaz. Nooo)! Я устал (rus. I am tired)!

Bauyrzhan: Ну, давай (rus. Come on)! Қызық будет (kaz. rus. It will be fun)!

In the example, it can be clearly found that the Bauyrzhan uses the Russian to cut through the barrier; to establish solidarity.

  • To express affection

Some feelings and attitudes are not that easy to be expressed. Speakers may switch codes to express amazement, frustration, sadness, happiness and many other feelings.

Janet Holmes (2013) says, “A language switch . . . is often used to express disapproval. So a person may code switch because they are angry.” Let me give you a good example about code-switching to express affection.

A mother calls her son “Балам, мында кел” {Son, come here!} When he does not respond quickly enough she switches to Russian: ‘Балам, ты идешь или нет!’ [Are you coming or not!] ”

In the above example, the mother used the Russian language to express her anger of the child’s behaviour.

  • To convey a thought

A perfect bon mot (a witty remark) is needed to convey the certain concepts and to come across effectively. Many people switch languages to express particular ideas, as in the case of Jennifer Monahan:

According to her story, she works in a bilingual school and code switches whenever there is a lexical gap in one of the    languages. E.g when they talk in French and mention about a smart board, she say “le smart board”. The notion of having a designated container to bring your lunch from home is foreign for the French. So they all refer to “le lunchbox”.

Learning the basis of code switching is important in terms of self control. The lessons of acceptable conduct are defined by the family and society in which one was brought up (Zeller, 2004). The decision to code switch in behaviours or languages is up to our judgement. Becoming critical thinkers, behaving according to the context and continuously growing linguistically, regardless of the language in which we prefer to do it, are the most important things here. But if Kazrunglish is a part of who you are and as long as it is appropriate, don’t worry, code-switch away!

Holmes, J. (2013). An introduction to sociolinguistics. Routledge.

Poplack, S. (1980). Sometimes i’ll start a sentence in spanish y termino en espanol: toward a typology of code-switching1. Linguistics, 18(7-8), 581-618.

Zeller, D. L. (2004). Professional Documentaion Journal. Unpublished manuscript.

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4 thoughts on “Code Switching

  1. Wow, that was interesting! I have never heard about this notion neither in russian, nor in english! But after reading your post, I realized that I often use this code switching unconsciously. Thank you, Hummingbird for information, now I will be more aware about it))

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A readable post!

    I think that our country is a perfect example where “code switching” is used so frequently. The reason is obvious: we try to be “perfect” on our multilingual policy. Although people do code switching, they may NOT to understand the process conciously. As the result, sometimes it leads to the destruction of the structural context of a language. Personally, I can’t see valuable advantages of code switching.
    In Kazakhstan it is “Kazrunglish”, in Singapore it is “Singlish”; anyway I advocate that a language must save its purity.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, @gulnurospanova, for covering the issues of code switching. This was very informative and engaging. I found the examples you used very strong and familiar. To tell the truth, I don’t belong to the proponents of code switching in colloquial speech. I perceive such amalgam as a sign of an ill-mannered behavior and disrespectful attitude to the language. Even when I see French phrases in Russian classics, I feel like those aristocrats from Tolstoy’s works were just showing off. Perhaps, to some extent when using English phrases and words in colloquial speech we look the same in the eyes of people who don’t know English. I must confess, though, I sometimes resort to code switching in my own speech. This becomes especially frequent when I study in English. Despite all my efforts to use one language purely, the words from other languages break through. Sometimes this simply сводит меня с ума!

    Liked by 1 person

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