Code-Switching in Three Language Situations

Code-Switching in Three Language Situations

To explore the mechanisms by which code-switching conveys meaning and their relationship to grammar and the speaker’s and listener’s social presuppositions in more detail, code-switched passages, isolated from a number of conversational exchanges, were examined. Examples derived mainly from three linguistically and socially distinct situations.

The first is an Austrian village of farmers and laborers located along the Austrian-Yugoslavian border. The population here has a history of one hundred and fifty to two hundred years of bilingualism. Speakers use Slovenian at home but they are educated in German and live in close proximity to German-speaking villages and shopping centers. German is the exclusive language of most business and work relations. The second group consists of Indian college students from urban Delhi. All students are native speakers of Hindi who have had all their secondary education in English. Some members of the group are teachers of English, some have published poems and short stories in Hindi. In situation three participants are members of a group of Chicano college students and urban professionals who were bom in the United States and are largely of economically deprived backgrounds. They speak Chicano Spanish at home, especially at home with their elders, but speak English in many of their work and friendship relations. The conversations studied were recorded for the most part by participants themselves and interpretations of meanings in each case were checked with participants and with others of similar social and linguistic background.

Knowledge of cultural values and social factors affecting language use are a necessary starting point for any study of code-switching, but, as we have argued above, this information is only one of the factors which enter into the speaker’s interpretation process. When interviewed about their language usage, speakers in all three situations readily identify Slovenian, Hindi and Spanish respectively as the ’we’ code, suitable with kin and close friends. German and English serve as ’they’ codes to be used with outsiders or for special types of formal discourse. Beyond this, however, opinions about language usage norms vary and can be interpreted and understood only in relation to the background conditions that shape each language situation.

The Austrian village is part of that area of Slovenia which in the elections held shortly after the first world war voted to remain with Austria, rather than become part of the newly-formed Yugoslavian State. Slovenian speakers, although numerically in the majority in their own villages, were largely marginal farmers and landless laborers, who until the end of the nineteenth. century had been looked down upon and effectively excluded from commerce and urban middle class occupations. In modern Austria ethnic minorities have been legally emancipated and their linguistic rights are protected by law. This policy was only briefly reversed under the German occupation during the second world war, when Slovenians were officially declared to be of German descent. They were forbidden to speak Slovenian and any- one caught using it was subject to denunciation or arrest. At present Slovenian instruction is again available where the demand is sufficient to warrant it.

Since the second world war, with the advent of tourism as a major source of income and with the growth of the timber industry, the economic differential between German- and Solovenian-speakers has largely disappeared and with it ethnic prejudice is also waning. The norms of language usage, however, continue to reflect the history of inter-ethnic relations. For all practical purposes German is accepted by all as the only official and literary language. All village residents agree, for example, that it is impolite or even crude to speak Slovenian in the presence of German-speakers, be they foreigners or German-speaking residents. So strong is the injunction against speaking Slovenian in mixed company that tourists can live in the village for weeks without knowing that any language except German is spoken. Furthermore, although Slovenian continues to be spoken in most homes and is positively valued as a sign of village in-group solidarity, young people are encouraged to learn ’proper German’ lest they have difficulty in school or employment.

In urban North India, English has since the nineteenth century been the main symbol of urbanization and Western technology. Until quite recently secondary and higher education were almost entirely in English. Hindi is a literary language with a written tradition going back to the Middle Ages. Hindi literature has flourished during the last decades; poetry, novels and short stories have been widely read since Indian independence. Furthermore, Hindi has become the official language of administration and has replaced English as an important medium for business in much of North India. There has been a great deal of effort by language reformers and government planners to replace English altogether. Yet English continues to be widely used, especially in those metropolitan centers where large sectors of the population come from non-Hindi-speaking areas.

By the time they go to college most students in these larger cities have a functional reading and speaking knowledge of English and use it along with Hindi. The use of English in informal conversations is deplored by many critics, who see the tendency to use foreign loan words and to ’mix languages’ as a threat to the purity of Hindi and a threat to the preservation of traditional values. Yet among students and young intellectuals of the type recorded here, knowledge of English serves as a mark of sophistication. The individuals in question pride themselves on their knowledge of modem Hindi literature and on their sense of Hindi and their use of English in everyday talk.

Related post: Sociolinguistics: Substrates and borrowing

Speakers of Chicano Spanish in California are in part descendants of Mexican immigrants to the Southwestern United States who came as farm laborers or industrial workers, and in part descendants of indigenous Spanish- speaking populations. They tend to live in ethnically segregated Spanish neighborhoods where Spanish-speaking natives of the United States intermingle with recently arrived monolinguals. Until quite recently they ranked lowest among Californian ethnic minorities in income or education. Middle class occupations were not open to those individuals who retained obvious signs of ethnic distinctness. Spanish-speakers who entered the middle class felt obliged to assimilate to middle class American culture and this meant giving up one’s ties to one’s Spanish-speaking background.

As elsewhere in the case of minority language settlements, residents of Spanish-speaking neighborhoods have developed their own dialect of Spanish. This language has many features in common with the dialects of Mexican farmers. It has also incorporated some of the features of Calb, the slang of urban youth groups, and incorporates large numbers of borrowings from English. Residents of Mexico tend to use the term pocho to Tefer both to the Americans of Mexican descent and – in a derogatory sense – to the urban dialect the latter speak. As we pointed out before, with the recent awakening of ethnic consciousness the terms pocho, calb and chicano have been adopted as symbols of the’ newly-found self pride. Urban professionals and intellectuals consciously affirm their tie to their low income ethnic brothers and symbolize this by deliberate adoption of pocho speech along with English and literary Spanish.

All three societies represent situations of change, characterized by both inter-and intra-group diversity of aspirations and standards of evaluation. This is reflected (a) by the symbolic associations of the respective ’we’ and ’they’ codes and (b) by the lack of general agreement about the linguistic realizations of these codes. In abstract, purely grammatical terms the linguistic repertoires are perhaps most easily described as dialect continua in which the gap between the extremes is bridged by intermediate varieties, marked by various degrees of grammatical convergence borrowing and code-switching.

However, as the discrepancy between self-report and recorded texts suggests, members do not attempt to establish explicit relations between usage and grammatical facts. When members talk about language, the term language serves as a metaphor for talk about interpersonal relations, political values and behavioral etiquette. Yet, on the other hand, members also use criteria of linguistic appropriateness to judge others and make inferences based on what they say. These latter judgments are always context-bound and depend on conventions governing appropriate co-occurrences between context and contextualization cues, which are difficult to state in the abstract. Yet since in any one context members can agree on what is meant, examination of the relevant conversational processes can elucidate the underlying bases for this agreement.

Code-Switching in Three Language Situations

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