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Code-switching during conversation? A new current or a natural tendency?

wrz 09

Code changes are relatively frequent phenomena, especially while speaking at least one foreign language. Code-switching, one of the best-known examples of code alternations, can be explained as a practice of moving between languages or language varieties in a context of a single communication act.

Code-switching refers mainly to people who can be classified as bilinguals, so those who know and use at least two languages, one being a mother tongue and another one being a second or a foreign language. However, code-switching can be also a common practice of monolinguals who switch between the varieties of one language. For instance, one can use a common language while talking to friends or at home and speak an official variety which is compulsory at work or in all institutions. What is more, this phenomenon refers to multilinguals as well, so those who know and use more than two languages.

What are the reasons for code-switching? The answer seems to be quite obvious, though, it can also be surprising as the reasons are believed to be difficult to enumerate, mainly due to the unpredictable character of code-switching occurrence. The first idea that seems to be convincing is that we would like to boast about a level of our foreign language proficiency. It is true to some extent, especially when we talk about people who know only an  elementary level of a foreign language and naively believe that they will make a positive impression on others. However, in general, code changes are practised due to make the flow of conversation faster and easier to follow. Some people use certain expressions in a foreign language so often that they have difficulties in remembering them in a mother tongue.

Is it strange? Not at all. Just think of those for whom a foreign language is a language of communication in a place of work or education, or those who have spent a long time abroad, and after their coming back, switch the known languages. A great number of emigrants often practice code changes as they cannot deal with a language of their new place of living. Code-switching is for them a natural way of speaking as they alternate the codes when problems with a single item or a whole expression occur during conversation. They treat code changes as a kind of support in situations when they want to continue a talk, though, they cannot find a proper word in a language of conversation. Sentences like “Muszę zrobić nowy research”, or the other way round, “Could you tell me where the nearest przystanek is? should not be perceived as something unusual but rather as a consequence of bi- or multilingualism.

One of the aspects that seems to be problematic is a reaction of others to sentences in which code-switching emerges. Linguistic purists are mainly displeased and correct the  sentence immediately while the majority of people accept the language changes and try to continue a talk.

Nowadays, we have to learn and be able to speak foreign languages, which is a natural result of growing industry and international relations. Code-switching can therefore be treated as a by-product of these changes and mainly the consequence of a language contact.

(ED)

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