Codeswitching

Jason Kottke wonders about Bilingual conversations. The comments thread after his post is worth reading. Here is my take at his questions.

- Does the subject matter, um, matter? Are sports more "English" and politics more "Spanish"?

No, politics is more French, as is cursing apparently :-). In my technical field, I tend to use English, but I could use French although with some conscious effort and not for everything -- e.g. I dislike the French "toile" which I never use for "web".

- How much of language switching is about brevity? Maybe people base word/phrase choice on how quickly they can speak a particular phrase in a particular language.

Nothing. Unless you are referring to the ability to express yourself faster in one particular language, which then would be (for me) in a particular context or subject matter (see previous question).

- Or is it expressiveness? The "perfect phrase" for what a speaker is trying to convey to their partner might exist in only one of the two languages.

Yes, it can be. Truer with expressions.

- How do the grammars mix...if at all? Would a French speaker use English syntax when speaking French (or vice versa)?

No, that would be franglish or franglais. Syntax do not mix well. Codeswitching vocabulary is probably more frequent.

- Does code switching happen in writing as well, or is it strictly non-verbal?

Less likely, because you can afford more thinking time while writing, and can re-read and correct. I believe that codeswtiching happens mostly in verbal form because you cannot dedicate a lot of brain power to monitor your speech while expressing your thoughts.

- How fluent does a speaker have to be in both languages in order to codeswitch fluidly?

I guess the more fluent, the most fluid (ahem, I hope that is the correct form ;-).

- How much does a speaker's primary language determine language choice? Does their ability to codeswitch improve if they were bilingual from birth?

I don't know. It seems related to the previous question (being fluent), and the next one.

- Will a strong codeswitcher speak to his partner's stronger language?

The question I'm then tempted to ask, is how much codeswitching comes from a deliberate choice vs. an unconscious one?

- If one person finishes a remark in English, will her partner start her remark in English? What would prompt them to go back to the other language?

That probably cannot be generalized. I discussions with bilingual colleagues, we tend to follow a switch, but not always.

- Are some combinations of languages not amenable to codeswitching? Is Italian/Japanese codeswitching possible?

Not a clue. But I'm amazed at the huge amount of fast, almost natural codeswitching I can hear everyday in Paris between French and Arabic or African languages. That is fascinating, sometimes I can almost follow a conversation when the switching is near 50% or more French (I know this is impolite, but what can I do when two people speak out loud next to me in the subway? Get an iPod? May be.)

I'd like to add that switching between languages, for me, requires some time and energy to properly switch my thinking first. When I've successfully switched my thinking to the language I want to speak or write, I don't have to dedicate too much energy into monitoring clashes. When I'm tired, this process gets difficult or sometimes fails -- i.e. I think in French but speak in English, the worst situation (the opposite can be true) -- which then requires a significant amount of energy to correct the resulting frenglish. Additionally, and I think this is related to the power of English vs. my mother language, I have the feeling that it now takes me more efforts to avoid using English words in French than the other way around (this is related to my professional field). But I'm consciously keeping codeswitching as low or inexistent as possible, an effort that -- I hope -- is visible to the bilingual readers of my two weblogs.

Oh, and now I curse in English ;-)

1 Comment

Hola, como estais? yo estoy learning espanol y yo prefiero hablar en espanol until yo no se una palabra, entonces yo "fill in" con una palabra en ingles.

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