Code-switching involves a speaker changing languages as they talk. This post will explore some of the reasons behind why people code-switch. In addition, we will look at lexical borrowing and its use in communication
Code-switching is most commonly caused by social factors and social dimensions of pragmatics. By social factors, it is meant the who, what, where, when and why of communication. Social dimensions involve distance, status, formality, emotions, referential traits.
For example, two people from the same ethnicity may briefly switch to their language to say hello to each other before returning to English. The “what” is two people meeting each other and the use of the mother-tongue indicates high intimacy with each other.
The topic of discussion can also lead to code-switching. For example, I have commonly seen students with the same mother-tongue switch to using English when discussion academic subjects. This may be because their academic studies use the English language as a medium of instruction.
Switching can also take place for emotional reasons. For example, a person may switch languages to communicate anger such as a mother switching to the mother-tongue to scold their child.
There is a special type of code-switching called metaphorical switching. This type of switching happens when the speaker switches languages for symbolic reasons. For example, when I person agrees about something they use their mother tongue. However, when they disagree about something they may switch to English. This switching back and forth is to indicate their opinion on a matter without having to express it too directly.
Lexical borrowing is used when a person takes a word from one language to replace an unknown word in a different language. Code-switching happens at the sentence level whereas lexical borrowing happens at the individual word level.
Borrowing does not always happen because of a poor memory. Another reason for lexical borrowing is that some words do not translate into another language. This forces the speaker to borrow. For example, many langauges do not have a word for computer or internet. Therefore, these words are borrowed when speaking.
Often, people have no idea that the are code-switching or even borrowing. However, those who are conscious of it usually have a negative attitude towards it. The criticism of code-switching often involves complaints of how it destroys both languages. However, it takes a unique mastery of both languages to effectively code-switch or borrowing lexically.
Code-switching and lexical borrowing are characteristics of communication. For those who want to prescribe language, it may be frustrating to watch two languages being mixed together. However, from a descriptive perspective, this is a natural result of language interaction.