Learn the Function of Code Switching as a Linguistic Term

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A man and a woman are in conversation. The man has a speech bubble which contains 3 U.S. flags and 3 French flags. The definition of code-switching is superimposed above the people: "The practice of moving back and forth between two languages, or between two dialects/registers of the same language. It occurs more frequently in conversation than in writing"
In sociolinguistics, code switching is defined as the use of more than one language simultaneously in conversation.

ThoughtCo / Derek Abella

Code switching (also code-switching, CS) is the practice of moving back and forth between two languages or between two dialects or registers of the same language at one time. Code switching occurs far more often in conversation than in writing. It is also called code-mixing and style-shifting. It is studied by linguists to examine when people do it, such as under what circumstances do bilingual speakers switch from one to another, and it is studied by sociologists to determine why people do it, such as how it relates to their belonging to a group or the surrounding context of the conversation (casual, professional, etc.)

Examples and Observations

  • "Code-switching performs several functions (Zentella, 1985). First, people may use code-switching to hide fluency or memory problems in the second language (but this accounts for about only 10 percent of code switches). Second, code-switching is used to mark switching from informal situations (using native languages) to formal situations (using the second language). Third, code-switching is used to exert control, especially between parents and children. Fourth, code-switching is used to align speakers with others in specific situations (e.g., defining oneself as a member of an ethnic group). Code-switching also 'functions to announce specific identities, create certain meanings, and facilitate particular interpersonal relationships' (Johnson, 2000, p. 184)." (William B. Gudykunst, Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, 4th ed. Sage, 2004)
  • "In a relatively small Puerto Rican neighborhood in New Jersey, some members freely used code-switching styles and extreme forms of borrowing both in everyday casual talk and in more formal gatherings. Other local residents were careful to speak only Spanish with a minimum of loans on formal occasions, reserving code-switching styles for informal talk. Others again spoke mainly English, using Spanish or code-switching styles only with small children or with neighbors." (John J. Gumperz and Jenny Cook-Gumperz, "Introduction: Language and the Communication of Social Identity." "Language and Social Identity." Cambridge University Press, 1982)

African-American Vernacular English and Standard American English

  • "It is common to find references to Black speakers who code switch between AAVE [African-American Vernacular English] and SAE [Standard American English] in the presence of whites or others speaking SAE. In employment interviews (Hopper & WIlliams, 1973; Akinnaso & Ajirotutu, 1982), formal education in a range of settings (Smitherman, 2000), legal discourse (Garner & Rubin, 1986), and various other contexts, it is advantageous for Blacks to have code-switching competence. For a Black person who can switch from AAVE to SAE in the presence of others who are speaking SAE, code switching is a skill that holds benefits in relation to the way success is often measured in institutional and professional settings. However, there are more dimensions to code switching than the Black/white patterns in institutional settings." (George B. Ray, "Language and Interracial Communication in the United States: Speaking in Black and White." Peter Lang, 2009)

'A Fuzzy-Edged Concept'

  • "The tendency to reify code switching as a unitary and clearly identifiable phenomenon has been questioned by [Penelope] Gardner-Chloros (1995: 70), who prefers to view code switching as a 'fuzzy-edged concept.' For her, the conventional view of code switching implies that speakers make binary choices, operating in one code or the other at any given time, when in fact code switching overlaps with other kinds of bilingual mixture, and the boundaries between them are difficult to establish. Moreover, it is often impossible to categorize the two codes involved in code switching as discrete and isolatable." (Donald Winford, "An Introduction to Contact Linguistics." Wiley-Blackwell, 2003)

Code Switching and Language Change

  • "The role of CS, along with other symptoms of contact, in language change is still a matter of discussion. ... On the one hand, the relationship between contact and language change is now generally acknowledged: few espouse the traditional view that change follows universal, language-internal principles such as simplification, and takes place in the absence of contact with other varieties (James Milroy 1998). On the other hand, ... some researchers still downplay the role of CS in change, and contrast it with borrowing, which is seen as a form of convergence." (Penelope Gardner-Chloros, "Contact and Code-Switching." "The Handbook of Language Contact," ed. by Raymond Hickey. Blackwell, 2010)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Learn the Function of Code Switching as a Linguistic Term." ThoughtCo, Dec. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/code-switching-language-1689858. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, December 27). Learn the Function of Code Switching as a Linguistic Term. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/code-switching-language-1689858 Nordquist, Richard. "Learn the Function of Code Switching as a Linguistic Term." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/code-switching-language-1689858 (accessed March 25, 2023).