Alternation of languages
By Hebe Adventures

The fact of alternating several languages within the same conversation or within the same turn can be described as linguistic alternation (or code alternation), a possible translation of "code switching" or allowing to encompass the phenomena that relate to it.

If the term code switching appeared in the middle of the 20th century to refer to the consecutive use of several languages by interlocutors, it was the article by Jan-Petter Blom and John Gumperz in 1972, studying the uses of two varieties ( the Bokmål standard and the regional Ranamål in a small village in Norway), who is generally credited with being the founder of work in this area. They isolate not only cases of situational switching (when a communication situation is associated with a variety, for example in school the use of the standard variety), but also cases of metaphorical switching.

Later renamed conversational switching by Gumperz, these cases of linguistic alternation concern, within the same situation, the passage from one language to another. At school, for example, the teacher may use the regional variety to encourage discussion among the pupils, whereas he largely employs the standard variety.

Two major types of approaches to linguistic alternation and bilingual speech have developed over the past forty years. One of their motivations was to demonstrate that linguistic alternation, long considered an incomplete skill in the languages involved, responded to precise rules and functions. Different typologies have been proposed, linked to a different use each time of the terms “linguistic alternation”, “mixing”, “insertion”, “code switching” or “code-mixing”, which makes any unified presentation difficult.

Grammatical approaches, embodied by authors such as Shana Poplack or Pieter Muysken, aim to determine the linguistic structure of bilingual productions. If the English-Spanish language pair was extensively described at the beginning, the work then focused on typologically varied language pairs, largely European in contact with languages resulting from migrations. Different models have been proposed to predict the correct formation of alternations and the linguistic constraints weighing on them.

One area that has been particularly studied has been that of intraphrastic alternation, occurring within an utterance, for example between the article and the noun. The equivalence constraint, taking into account the rules specific to each language and in particular its word order, is one of the answers to the question of knowing where alternations are possible or impossible (Poplack, 1988). Another model, making it possible to account for the insertion of lexical elements in a language producing grammatical elements, remains that of the matrix language proposed by Carol Myers-Scotton in 1993, although its generalization for more ample examples and the corpus annotation has been particularly criticized.

Pragmatic or interactional approaches, for their part, focus on the role and social meanings of linguistic alternation. Following Gumperz, who identified functions like interjection, quotation, call to the interlocutor, etc. like so much contextual information given by linguistic alternation, successive works have proposed lists of communicative functions or social motivations for code switching.

The study of the sequential organization of the interaction then made it possible to account for phenomena such as negotiation on the choice of language appropriate to the conversation, or such as alignment or non-alignment with the way of speaking initiated by the interlocutor (Auer, 1995). In contrast, Peter Auer proposes, when the norm of interaction is alternation, to name mixing these bilingual dialects. These sometimes have names, such as Spanglish, but speakers can still distinguish the languages present and also express themselves in one or the other language if necessary: unlike fused lects where, according to the author, the speakers no longer distinguish the source languages, which then gives rise to mixed languages such as Michif or Media Lengua. Auer thus envisions a continuum, from code witching, via mixing, to fused lects.

If the works have largely evoked the identity function of these bilingual dialects, in particular among adolescents, their social or political functions have also been highlighted. Monica Heller (1992) has shown, for example, that code switching can be a political strategy making it possible to go beyond the boundaries induced by the practice of each of the languages identifying the groups present. For dominated groups, it can be a means of resistance or of redefining the value of languages in the language market.

Ben Rampton's work in the 1990s and 2000s on the phenomena of crossing - this code switching in linguistic varieties associated with ethnic groups by people who are not members of them - made it possible to question the notions of linguistic community related to ethnic divisions and racial stratifications within a peer group. These practices give adolescents, in particular, the possibility of creating a common group identity (that of the middle class in British society) by dissociating themselves from that of their parents and the stereotypes assigned to them (Rampton, 1995).

Over the past ten years, the general criticism that has been leveled at studies on linguistic alternation and hybridity is that they presuppose the prior separation of the “codes” concerned before showing how they alternate or combine. The different approaches are based on the identification of languages in contact in generally bilingual, rarely plurilingual corpora and for which very concrete questions of plurilingual transcription and annotation arise (Léglise, 2018). Alternative terms have been proposed to better take into account the multilingual productions of social actors who combine different available resources.

If the notions of (poly) languaging or translanguaging have been chosen in English to better situate themselves on the side of the use of resources by social actors as beings of language (Jørgensen et al., 2011), the The expression "intrinsically heterogeneous language practices" has long been used in French to evoke the language activity of pluri-stylistic or plurilingual social actors rather than their languages.

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