Code-Switching Is More Than Just Language

Language is crucial to our survival because it allows us to communicate and convey our thoughts, beliefs, and opinions.  Identity and cultural influences are reflected in how we use language. Bilingual communities use several types of phenomena that make communication more meaningful and effective.  One of these phenomena is code-switching. Read on to learn about what code-switching is and the fact that code-switching is more than just language.

What is Code-Switching

Code-switching is a phenomenon that occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages.  Most often, code-switching is used when a word does not “come” to the mind of the bilingual person.  Code-switching can be used in a variety of degrees and settings, such as at home, at work, or in every day activities.

Code-switching can occur within any of the subsystems of a language – phonological (sounds), morphological/syntactic (grammar), and semantic (words and their meanings).  

For example:

Spanish/English Mixing Language Subsystem
#1 Car-o Phonological
#2 I’m run-iendo. Morphological/Syntactic
(Estoy corriendo – I’m running.)
#3 Quiero más food. Semantic
(Estoy corriendo – I’m running.)
Reasons Why People Code-Switch

Code-switching is more than just language.  People code-switch for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Socioeconomic status: Bilingual individuals from lower socioeconomic statuses tend to code-switch more because they have closer contact with English Language Learners (ELLs).  
  • Survival: When dealing with survival, code-switching can either be employed or not.  In order to survive among the in group setting, people code-switch to fit in.  However, if dealing with the outside or broader society, people refrain from code-switching, so that they can be better accepted in mainstream society.
  • Perception of Solidarity: Code-switching occurs at times when people wish to express solidarity with a certain social group.
  • Expression: Oftentimes when a person cannot express him or herself in one language, they code-switch to compensate for the language deficiency.
  • Exclusionism: Sometimes, code-switching can be utilized to exclude non-bilingual people from a conversation.
Types of Code-Switching

Code-switching can be classified into a variety of types.  The three most common types of code-switching are:

  1. Intra-Sentential: Intra-Sentential code-switching is a shift that is done in the middle of a sentence, without hesitations, interruptions, or pauses that would indicated a shift in language.  Almost always, speakers are unaware of the shift in language. For example: Tengo que ir to the mall y al supermercado.
  2. Inter-Sentential: Inter-Sentential code-switching occurs when the switch of the language is done at sentence boundaries.  This type of code-switching is mostly used between fluent bilingual speakers. For example: If I’m late to the appointment, pues, ni modo.
  3. Extra-Sentential: Extra-Sentential code-switching is the insertion of a tag phrase from one language into a sentence in the other language.  For example: I like coffee, pero, it gives me a headache.
Bilingualism and Code-Switching

Bilingualism and code-switching are not going anywhere, anytime soon.  Fortunately, The Latino Literacy Project and Lectura Books offer school administrators, educators, and parents information on how they can embrace bilingualism, and understand that code-switching is not a negative phenomenon.  Rather, code-switching is a positive phenomenon that demonstrates language competency and helps people fit into peer groups.

Code Switching Is More Than Just Language

Code-Switching Is More Than Just Language