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The bilinguals' invisible friends part 1: Alternation or code-switching ...


Alternation or code-switching ...


Alternation, code-switching, interference, loans, casts ... how much confusion among these terms, let’s try to make some order! For this aim, I will refer to a Canadian internationally renowned linguist, William Francis Mackey, whose essay "Description of bilingualism" is considered a starting point for all those who dedicate themselves to the study of bilingualism. For alternation it’s basically meant code-switching, which we have already talked about. But how does it happen?

The alternating use of two languages ​​depends on two factors: the function that each language assumes in a given situation and the level of knowledge of both languages ​​by the bilingual and his partner (Mackey, "Description of bilingualism").

Mackey invites us to reflect on the processes that lead to the occurrence of this phenomenon. The readiness with which bilinguals are able to change from one language to another depends on, among other things, their more or less thorough knowledge of the languages ​​in question.

Moreover, according to Mackey, there seem to be differences in the alternations between bilinguals grew up with the OPOL principle and those who have learned two languages ​​by the same person (Smith 1935). On the basis of his studies, Smith came to the conclusion that bilingual children get more confused when they hear both languages from the same person, instead of having one person as a reference for each language.

Three factors are identified as being responsible for the occurrence of alternation and its frequency: the topic of conversation, the interlocutor and the emotional aspect.

The topic

The topic of conversation refers to the principle of complementarity theorized more recently by Francois Grosjean. According to the latter, bilinguals, depending on their history and experience, will have a more or less complete knowledge of subjects in each of their languages. Some aspects of life are covered by a language, others from another, but bilinguals will hardly have the same ability to deal with the same topic in all their languages (see Grosjean, Bilingual Life and Reality, 2010).

Each language available to an individual, according to Grosjean, performs a specific function, it is as if the world was divided among a bilingual's languages ​​and only a portion of more or less large number of aspects of life sees the two (or more) languages ​​overlapping. The balanced bilingual remains a relatively rare case.

The interlocutor

Concerning the interlocutor, we have already seen in previous post that a language may be used to include or exclude someone from the conversation. Moreover, the language choice is determined by the interlocutor's language skills, which also the frequency and amplitude of the interference depend on.

The emotional aspect

The emotional aspect refers to the situation in which there is an alternation of two languages. If the bilingual is in a state of tension, anger, stress, fatigue, in short in a unbalanced emotional state, code-switching can assume major proportions.

We witness here a code-switching with two different origins: one is essentially positive, that is, when the alternation occurs to enhance the meaning of the speech or as a mean of social inclusion or recognition of a linguistic community; the other rather negative when alternation occurs in situation of unrest.

This second type of alternation creates the "mistake" in the language, which happens in an unconscious manner in the bilingual who cannot exercise control over the language he/she does not want to activate.

In the case of positive code-switching, on the contrary, the bilingual does have, albeit not always complete, influence.


The levels of alternation

Alternation may occur at various levels, from individual limited episodes (one specific lexeme) up to replace the use of minority language ​​in certain contexts which can present major difficulties.

It can assume the form of replacing a word, a concept, until a whole phrase is pronounced half in a language half in another, generally respecting the morphology of the basic language.

Finally, even a whole sentence in the second language can be introduced in a speech conducted in the basic language. When it’s the parents of bilingual children who resort to the code-switching, its frequency will be an obstacle to the development of the minority language (for example in situations as soon as the speech content becomes more complex they might want to switch to the dominant language because it is easier; nevertheless it would be important to make the effort to express all concepts, even the most difficult and less frequent ones, in the minority language) (see Doepke and post Opol)


For the interferences you’ll have to wait for the next episode;))


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