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  Bilingual chalice glass   Bilingual codeswitching macht happy

Examples of codeswitching

Bahasa Malaysian/English : "Suami saya dulu slim and trim tapi sekarang plump like drum" (Before my husband was slim and trim but now he is plump like a drum)
Spanish/English: Have aqua please.
English/Welsh: Come to the table. Bwyd yn barod ( is ready)
Tagalog/English: The proceedings went smoothly, ba?
Dutch/English: Ik hebt een kop of tea, tea or something (I had a cup of tea or something)

Tok Pisin/English: Lapun man ia cam na tok, 'oh yu poor pussiket' (The old man came and said 'you poor pussycat')
Japanese/English: She wa took her a month to come home yo
Japanese/English: Reading sureba suruhodo, confuse suro yo. Demo, computer lab ni itte, article o print out shinakya (The more reading I have, the more I get confused, but I have to go to the computer lab and need to print out some articles)
Greek/English: 'Simera piga sto shopping centre gia na psaksw ena birthday present gia thn Maria'. (Today I went to the shopping centre because I wanted to buy a birthday present for Maria.)
Greek/English: 'Ego exo butterfly sto kinito mou!' (I have a butterfly logi in my mobile)
Greek/English: 'Poli orea salsa, isn't it?' (Nice sauce isn't it?)
Mandarin/English: Ni de. mobile ji hao (what's your mobile's number?)
Mandarin/English: I don't understand why people yong zhe zong ko ci gen wo shuo hua .. Duei a, it's so rude (Yes, it's so rude)
Mandarin/Cantonese: Uan sang yiao chi sha ma? (what are you going to eat tonight?) chi sai lan fa, ho m ho
Mandarin/ Taiwanese: Kuai chei! (Hurry up) Dan ji le la (Wait a minute)
Italian/English: Chi e' che lasciato l'hob acceso? (who left the hob switched on?)

Cherie je t’aime, cherie je t’adore (French)
Cherie je t’aime, cherie je t’adore (French)
My darling I love you a lot more than you know (English)
Cherie je t’aime, cherie je t’adore (French)
My darling I love you a lot more than you know (English)
Oh Mustapha, Oh Mustapha

Yen Kathalan (Tamil) my Mr Mustapha (English)
Sayang, saying (Malay) na chew sher wo ai ni (Mandarin)
Will you, will you fall in love with me? (English)
Singapore song ‘Mustapha’ Mbaye Faye

Why does codeswitching happen?

- to report what someone has said, a girl who is telling a story switches from Tok Pisin (a language of Papua New Guinea) to English to report what the man said: "Lapun man ia cam na tok, 'oh yu poor pussiket'" (The old man came and said 'you poor pussycat').

- some topics are more appropriate to one language than another. Mexican Americans for example prefer to talk about money in English rather than in Spanish - "La consulta èra eight dollars". (the visit cost $8)

- the choice of language shows the speaker's role. A Kenyan man who was serving his own sister in a shop started in their own Luiyia dialect and then switched to Swahili for the rest of the conversation to signal that he was treating her as an ordinary customer.

Types of codeswitching

1. reported speech
2. interjections
3. highlighting
4. topic switching
5 speaker’s role
6 qualifying topic
7 singling out one person
8 ignorance???

Codeswitching and language structure

84% of switches within the sentence are isolated words, say the English/Malaysian "Ana free hari ini" (Ana is free today) where English is switched to only for the item "free"

10% are phrases as in the Russian/French "Imela une femme de chambre" (She had a chambermaid)

6% are switches for whole clauses as in the German/English "Papa, wenn du das Licht ausmachst, then I'll be so lonely" (Daddy, if you put out the light, I'll be so lonely).

Poplack (1980) claims that there are two main restrictions on where switching can happen:

i) the 'free morpheme constraint'. The speaker must not switch language between a word and its endings unless the word is pronounced as if it were in the language of the ending. Thus an English/Spanish switch "runeando" is impossible because "run" is distinctively English in sound. But "flipeando" is possible because "flip" could be a Spanish word.

ii) the 'equivalence constraint'. The switch must come at a point in the sentence where it does not violate the grammar of either language. So there should be no French/English switches such as "a car americaine" or "une American voiture" as they would be wrong in both languages. It is possible however to have the French/English switch "J'ai acheté an American car" (I have bought an American car) because both English and French share the construction in which the object follows the verb.


Gardner-Chloros, P. (1992) The sociolinguistics of the Greek-Cypriot community of London. In M. Karyolemou ed., Sociolinguistique du grec et de Ia Grèce, 4 (June 1992). Plurilinguismes. CERPL Paris: Université René Descartes, 112-36.

Grosjean, F. (1989), 'Neurolinguists, beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person', Brain and Language, 36, 3-15

Grosjean, F., & Soares, C. (1986) 'Processing mixed language, some preliminary findings', in Vaid, J. (ed.) (1986), Language Processing in Bilinguals: Psycholinguistic and Neurolinguistic Perspectives, LEA

Kolers, P.A. (1966), 'Interlingual facilitation of short-term memory', JVLVB, 5, 314-319

Macnamara, J. & Kushnir, S. (1971), 'Language switching in bilinguals as function of stimulus and response uncertainty', J. Exp. Psych., 78, 208-215

Milroy, L. & Muyskens, P. (eds.) (1995). One Speaker, Two Languages. CUP

Myers-Scotton, C. (1993) Duelling languages: grammatical structure in code-switching. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Myers-Scotton, C.(1993), Social motivations for codeswitching: evidence from Africa. Clarendon

Poplack, S. (1980), 'Sometimes I'll start a sentence in English y termino en espanol', Linguistics, 18, 581-616

Romaine, S. (1989), Bilingualism, Blackwell, Oxford

Sridhar S.N., & Sridhar K.K. (1980) 'The syntax and psycholinguistics of bilingual code mixing', Can. J. Psychol., 34/4, 407- 416

Woolford, E. (1983), 'Bilingual code-switching and linguistic theory', 14, 3, Linguistic Inquiry, 520-536

Multi-competence (VC) Link

.... Such ease of code-switching would be impossible if the languages were not intimately related rather than two compartmentalised systems. To quote Woolford (1983), 'The two monolingual grammars cooperate in the production of codeswitched utterances, but none of the rules are altered in any way'. ..........There are therefore systematic access points between the two language systems in multi-competence; the two systems form one supersystem. As Sridhar & Sridhar (1980) put it, 'Not only are elements from two languages present in the same sentence, these elements are integrated into a unified syntactic structure by a complex interaction of constraints'. The very naturalness, smoothness and comprehensibility of codeswitching is evidence in favour of wholistic multi-competence. In the words of Sridhar & Sridhar (1980, p.413), 'The right approach, therefore, seems to be to avoid both the strong linguistic independence model and the merged system model in favour of an interactionist model of overlapping systems'.

One objection to this is that switching from one language to another takes time. In early research Kolers (1966) found that code-switching added about 0.3 to 0.5 seconds per switch to reading aloud, while Macnamara & Kushnir (1971) found 0.2 seconds per switch in silent reading. Sridhar and Sridhar (1980) argue that much of this increased time is an artefact of the experiments; the texts were not usually codeswitched according to the proper constraints but jumbles of two languages. Nevertheless it does not count against multi-competence if operating the constraints of the mixed language mode adds some minimal processing time to speaking. ....

Codeswitching Examples

1. English-French : Je vais faire checker ma voiture. (English ‘to check’, for verifier; is given the French infinitive marker -er to convey: I’m going to have my car checked’.)

2. English-Spanish : But I wanted to fight her con los puños, you know. (But I wanted to fight her with my fists, you know.)

3. English/French : Philip, who is staying in France, is phoning his English nanny:
Philip: Maman, quel numéro il faut faire? ('Mum, what number should I dial?')
Mother: C'est écrit sur la carte qui est devant toi. (It's written on the card in front of you.)’ (Philip dials the number)
Philip: Hello, Nanny, how are you?

4. Swedish-English : Finn is just off to school:
Mother: Har du din nyckel? (Swedish for 'Have you got your key?')
Finn: Jo, jag har den - hel, hel. ('Yes, I’ve got it, goodbye.')
Mother: Hel då ('Bye, then.')
Finn: Goodbye. ('goodbye', in English, addressed to his father this time)
Father: 'Bye, Finn.

5. French-English : Philip (6 yrs 6 mths) is explaining to his mother how to use his newly bought tube of glue: Tu dévisses le bouchon.. comme ça... et tu squirt. ('You unscrew the cap... like this, and you squirt')

6. English/Spanish : No van a bring it up in the meeting. (They're not going to bring it up in the meeting.)

7. French/English : Finn (14 yrs 10 mths): 'We've got a new maths teacher, but he isn't titulaire... our real maths teacher’s on a stage.' (Approximate translations: titulaire - a teacher who has an established post; stage - an in-service training course.)

8. French/Swedish : Emily (17 yrs 5 mths) is at table with her German friend Anne, and her parents. The common language is French.
Mother to Anne: Tu reprendras un peu de ca? ('Would you like some more?') Emily to her mother in Swedish: Jag tror inte att hon tycker om det. ('I don't think she likes it'.)

9. French/English : Philip (7 yrs) to his mother in French (in front of an English guest, urgently): Maman, j'ai envie de faire pipi. ('Mummy, I need to have a wee.')

10. Russian/French : Imela une femme de chambre. (She had a chambermaid.)

11. English/French : On est parti en hovercraft (where the English word for aeroglisseur is pronounced a la française: 'ovaircraft'). ('We went by hovercraft.')

12. Hindi/English : Maine bahut bardas kiya hai but now it's getting too much. (I have withstood a lot but..)

13. English/Spanish : So you todavia haven't decided lo que vas a hacer next week. (So you still haven't decided what you're going to do next week.)

/ant’:z/ /a:ntiya›/ (English/Panjabi)

io posso fare i cheques (I can make out the cheques)

Noch schlimmer, wenne de client recalé wurd am permis weje de panne d’essence (even worse when the learner is failed for an empty petrol tank) Alsatian/French

zéib li-ya een glas water of zo (Get for me a glass of water or so) Arabic/ Dutch

Graph showing percentage of people think codeswitching rude

Figure from VC's attitude survey

Codeswitching in Gibraltar

The daily editorial in Panorama in Gibraltar is in 'llanito', a variety that codeswitches between English and Spanish. The following gives one example. For today's version go to

Corriendo in the colours of Spain...
Bueno hija, el new Governator is going to Brussels to see al quien entrego Hong Kong to the Chinese, que te parece?
Simply que cuando venga to our Gibraltar este James Bond and I see him in Main Street le voy a decir que he needs our permission, my dear.
Claro, pero ten cuidao porque he has been un tipo Bond y ese sabe hasta los colores de los calzoncillos de tu husband.
My dear, that is no secret. They are red, white and blue - and very proud of it.
At least he is not like the outgoing Governator, El Duro, who went jogging dressed in the colours of Spain - what a pain!
What we have to be careful is that the new one no se crea que he can come here corriendo in the same colours, porque llamo a los del Voice of Gibraltar.
We have to keep our ears to the ground, porque el Patten, whom he is seeing in Brussels, ya sabes lo que hiso con lo de Hong Kong.
Mind you, why would he want to see a quien entrego a la colonia, that is what I ask myself. I would have thought he knew it all himself, for being el head of Britain's espionage por cable.
Por cable comes our voice over the telephone, y el Telephone Directory has been sold to someone or other. Oh dear, I would have thought que it should be owned by whoever owns our telephone service, that is el Governation y la firma americana, Veracomozon.
It would make greater sense, pero poquito a poquito nos vamos a quedar sin nada, if we are not careful.
A mi me da miedo, hasta el frontier queue anda tan bien, me huele a Spanish garlic.
Have no fear, nos entretenemos next year votando in the European elections and we'll think we are that important, cuando en el Mother Country la gente no votan en los euro-elections aunque le den el day off.
Oh well, if si hay an election in our Gibraltar as well, y los del Foreign Office nos meten otro referendum, nos pasamos el new year votando.
A mi mientras me den el year entero de holiday voto como sea. Bueno, let me know how the new Governator is addressed para cuando le vea in the Main Street. Ciao.
Call him Her Majesty's Secret Serviceman o algo de eso. Adio mi alma.


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