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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Code-switching: linguistic choices across language boundaries


In order to resume. Resume the – what is the word? What the wrong word?

Samuel Beckett, Ill Seen, Ill Said

The speech which had started off one hundred percent in Ibo was now fifty-fifty. But his audience still seemed highly impressed. They liked good Ibo, but they also admired English.

Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease

Whereas in the first part of the book we focused on linguistic choices concerning features of expressions and lower-level units of a language system, this part deals with higher-level choices in language-contact situations. In previous chapters it has become apparent how variation and choice render the notion that a language is a homogeneous, clearly delimited system untenable – be it as a naïve idea or a theoretical abstraction. Taking the notion of language as a social fact seriously forces us to reckon with variation in space and time, across social strata and determined by the speakers' sex and age, and to see in it not deviation or imperfection, but an essential prerequisite of using language to construct society.

So far, however, it was understood that we were dealing with choices among the varieties of one language. Only occasionally have we touched on linguistic choices that traverse the boundaries of a language. In chapter 6 we saw that stylistic diversity can be accomplished by incorporating elements of one language into another, and that politeness, a social variable, can determine the choice of a register or style.

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Further reading
Auer, Peter (ed.) 1998. Code-Switching in Conversation. Language, Interaction and Identity. London and New York: Routledge.
Jacobson, Rodolfo (ed.) 1998a. Codeswitching Worldwide. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Jacobson, Rodolfo 2001. Language alternation: the third kind of codeswitching mechanism. In Jacobson, Rodolfo (ed.), Codeswitching Worldwide II. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 59–72.
Milroy, Leslie and Muysken, Pieter (eds.) 1995. One Speaker, Two Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Muysken, Pieter. 2000. Bilingual Speech: A Typology of Code-mixing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1993a. Social Motivations for Codeswitching: Evidence from Africa. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1993b. Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure in Codeswitching. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Treffers-Daller, Jeanine. 1994. Mixing Two Languages: French-Dutch Contact in a Comparative Perspective. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.