Code switching
By Hebe Adventures

Code switching designates the alternation between several linguistic codes (languages, dialects or language registers) within the same and unique speech or utterance, or even within a sentence, most often where the syntaxes of the two codes line up (Codic DGCP). One speaks of code switching only when it is produced by multilinguals fluent in their languages.

Otherwise it is a lexical borrowing, which does not mark the real desire for change, but rather a lack of competence in the language or an insufficiency of the language itself, and which is considered as belonging to the language who "borrowed" it. In other rarer cases, the alternation becomes systematic and creates a mixed language, such as Méchif, or supplants the official language, such as Taglish (en) (Tagalog and English) or Portuñol (Portuguese and Spanish).

It is often thought that code switching in bilinguals (and multilinguals) is the result of poor language proficiency on their part or confusion, an inability to express themselves in one language at a time. However, it is a choice (often unconscious) and an intentional and significant discursive process, as demonstrated by many disciplines that have questioned the motivations behind code-switching. An American study (2015) set out to gather and summarize the factors identified by these different disciplines: they confront them in an experiment to identify which factors have the greatest influence on code-switching:

  1. The socio-cultural approach puts forward a contextual factor: code-switching can be used to build an identity, to associate with a group or a community or to refer to common values. Thus the type of participants present during a conversation can influence the use of code switching which, in this case, results from a choice made by the speaker.

  1. The psycholinguistic approach sees code switching as an automatic phenomenon where the word is expressed in the language that first comes to the speaker's mind. This can be motivated by three factors:

The accessibility of the word: ie a short or frequently used word will be preferred, even if it requires a change of language. For example, if a speaker speaks in French, but the equivalent of a French word is shorter/more frequent in English, it is possible that he code-switches to express this word in English rather than in French. . Most often, these are nouns (and verbs).

The lexical context: a “trigger word” (eg proper nouns, bilingual homophones, etc.) can cause, following it, the transition (more or less long) to another language and therefore lead to the code switching. Also, lexical cohesion plays a role: if, for example, a word was pronounced in English in a conversation in French, it will tend, during subsequent occurrences, to be expressed again in English. Finally, code-switching is less likely to occur in expressions, that is, in cases where a group of words in a language are intrinsically linked.

The syntactic context: most often code-switching occurs between syntactic units and not within them. However, the greater the distance between the first and the last word of a syntactic unit, the more this unit becomes susceptible to undergoing a code-switch within it.

Show off or claim: the limits of code switching

Code switching is also a social phenomenon. It allows you to show that you have mastered several languages and thus obtain greater consideration from others. In the professional environment, it can also have its effect. A German business leader, for example, may quite deliberately punctuate her speech with English terms in order to convey the idea that she is internationally oriented and that she has already worked her way around the world.

Finally, code switching is sometimes used to express solidarity with a group. One can thus mix a minority language with the official language in order to signify one's belonging to a region (whereas one would prefer to put aside one's dialect at work in order to better integrate).

Live the alternation!

"Why do you speak English all the time, "Your level in German is not good enough? “, “Think for a second, you will eventually find the right word! »… This is the kind of criticism to which those who practice code switching are exposed. Indeed, striving to keep a certain coherence in the language in which one expresses oneself, to speak correctly in order to learn, to show that one is able to make the difference between two languages, are all proofs of requirement .

We are even convinced that code switching often involves a touch of laziness, even a slight laxity. Finding the right phrase or choosing the correct grammatical form sometimes takes extra effort. We can then have the reflex to switch in the middle of a sentence, which amounts to choosing the facility rather than the difficulty. But in the end, is it so serious?

Using a language that the interlocutor could not understand obviously makes no sense, except that of excluding it. However, most polyglots feel the need to use several languages at the same time. It is one of the side effects of multilingualism and is even part of the identity of these people. So mach weiter, let's keep doing code-switching!

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