CODE SWITCHING.

A friend writes:

As a meta-observation, one of the reasons I enjoy writing to you so much is that I can use my inner language — which is a mixture of Russian and English. There is something very interesting (to me) in my code switching practice: when the switch occurs in the middle of the sentence, the resulting output has to be valid in both grammars. How my brain does that is the real question — do you know any book that deals with it?

I do not, and it’s an interesting question, so I pass it along to my readership. If you know of any good articles accessible via JSTOR, they’re welcome too.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    I don’t know references offhand but I think there has been a fair amount of scholarly study about code-switching, especially Epanish-English in the US and French-English in Canada, among others. Look up “Google Scholar code-switching”.
    About JSTOR: I recently discovered that they are no longer limiting moneyless access to academics who can avail themselves of university libraries but that ordinary people can apply to subscribe too without spending huge amounts of money. However, their conditions seem to be insanely complicated. Any advice or opinions?

  2. I don’t understand what your friend means by “valid in both grammars”. Obviously the English part of the sentence will conform to English grammar and the Russian part will conform to Russian grammar, but what would it mean for the Russian part to be valid in English grammar or vice versa?

  3. (And “how my brain does that” is a question that we’re very far from being able to answer about any aspect of language, I believe.)

  4. what would it mean for the Russian part to be valid in English grammar or vice versa?
    Maybe that a “to” construction in English would have to be followed by a dative construction in Russian, that sort of thing? The details of my friend’s particular situation aren’t really important; the question is whether researchers have investigated what goes on in the brain of code-switchers, or more generally how the psychology works.
    I recently discovered that they are no longer limiting moneyless access to academics who can avail themselves of university libraries but that ordinary people can apply to subscribe too without spending huge amounts of money. However, their conditions seem to be insanely complicated.
    Here‘s their page about it; it doesn’t seem that complicated to me. Register an account and you get free access to a certain number of articles; apparently they “expect to adjust aspects of the program as needed.”

  5. Maybe that a “to” construction in English would have to be followed by a dative construction in Russian, that sort of thing?
    That would sound really weird. I think to appear grammatically palatable, one would need to keep whole clauses of sentences in one language? Sort of like avoiding situations where cases and genders jump into the middle of an English sentence, потому что на слух это покажется корявым, kind of like that. My possible explanation is that we keep the pitch / tone of separate clauses separate, and then it sounds OK.

  6. Not my field, but you want to look for papers like this one, with the title “Linguistic
    constraints on intrasentential code-switching”:
    http://discoverarchive.vanderbilt.edu/jspui/bitstream/1803/3832/1/Linguistic%20Constraints%20on%20Intrasentential%20Code-Switching–%20A%20Study%20of%20Spanish-Hebrew%20Bilingualism.pdf

  7. Code-switching is a very big field… I’ve found Carol Myers-Scotton’s work useful (short summary at http://www.myers-scotton.com/short_summaries.htm), though I’m not sure it’s what you’re looking for exactly.

  8. Eric Vinyl says:

    Not a book, but I recently ran across this, which says, “El orden de palabras inmediatamente anterior y posterior al cambio debe ser gramaticalmente posible en ambas lenguas,” and gives an example sentence that I’m not going to try and format in the comments section, then some Spanglish examples that, fascinatingly, feel ungrammatical though I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why.

  9. TR: what would it mean for the Russian part to be valid in English grammar or vice versa?
    LH: Maybe that a “to” construction in English would have to be followed by a dative construction in Russian, that sort of thing?

    Yes!

    And Lameen got the formal apparatus:

    Carol Myers-Scotton’s The Uniform Structure Principle (USP)

    “Here is the USP: A given constituent type in any language has a uniform structure and requirements of well-formedness for this constituent type must be observed whenever that constituent appears. In bilingual speech, the structures of the Matrix Language (ML) are always preferred; that is, following the ML’s structures satisfies the Uniform Structure Principle.
    Embedded Language (EL) islands, phrases from other varieties participating in the clause, are allowed if they meet EL well-formedness conditions, but also ML conditions applying to the clause as a whole (e.g. phrase placement).”
     http://www.myers-scotton.com/short_summaries.htm), 

    From self-observations, the Matrix Language for me is mostly Russian (native), and Embedded Language mostly English, but they can be switched.

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