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USING CODE-SWITCHING TO WIELD POWER

In a study of the code-switching behaviors of two six- and seven-year-old Hungarian-English bilingual girls in a pretend-school activity, Bolonyai (2005) shows that the girls used English to gain access to the conversational floor and exert influence over each other. Both children come from first-generation Hungarian American immigrant families where the parents are bilingual, middle-class professionals who value maintaining Hungarian in their children. In Extract (6), from Bolonyai (2005: 17-18), Emma’s mother asks the girls about cats in Hungarian. English is italicized. Emma raises her hand to answer, but when Linda answers without being called upon (line 289), Emma uses English to confront Linda for taking her turn (line 290). But Linda maintains control over the floor by using strategies such as laughing, interrupting, and ignoring Emma (lines 291, 293, 295, 297, 300, 302, 306).

Notice that Emma challenges Linda’s aggressive control of the floor by switching languages. First, Emma tries to insert her contribution in Hungarian (line 294), but when she is interrupted, she tells Linda to stop in Hungarian (line 296). As Linda keeps interrupting (line 297), Emma switches to English to complain (lines 298, 303). After Mother selects Emma as next speaker, Emma starts her response in English (line 305). But just as Emma was about to switch back to Hungarian, Linda cuts in again (line 306). Then in line 307, Emma switches to English to complain to Linda yet again that it is not her turn.

Bolonyai (2005) argues that in this pretend-school activity, switching to English enables the girls to exert power and symbolic dominance over each other because they associate English with knowledge and authority. Had the girls been monolingual, they would have competed for control of the floor by using other contextualization cues such as laughing, interrupting, and louder utterances (which Linda uses extensively, in fact). The difference between bilinguals and monolinguals is that bilinguals have the additional option of switching languages, over and above these conversational resources.

Extract (6)

287 Mother: Mit esznek a cicak?

“What do kittens eat?”

  • 288 Emma: (waving her hand to be called on) Uh! [Uh!
  • 289 Linda: (blurting out) [Hot dogs! (laughing)
  • 290 Emma: It’s not your turn, Linda.
  • 291 Linda: (laughing) Hot dogs and chicken bones. (laughing)
  • 292 Emma: (bidding for the floor) Linda?
  • 293 Linda: Chicken (laughing).
  • 294 Emma: Uhm, szeretnek enni, uh, nema cat [

“Uhm, they like to eat, eh, not a cat.” [

  • 295 Linda: [(bursting into laughter)
  • 296 Emma: Ne csi [naljad!

“Don’t [do this!”

  • 297 Linda: [Fish!
  • 298 Emma: Linda?! I’m getting tired of it.
  • 299 Mother: (To Linda) Mehet?

“Could she continue?”

  • 300 Linda: (laughing resumes)
  • 301 Emma: Linda?!
  • 302 Linda: I said
  • 303 Emma: [She won’t leave me alone! She won’t let me talk!
  • 304 Mother: Jo, mondjad most mar Emma.

“All right, go ahead and say it now, Emma.”

305 Emma: That cats’ teeth can grow. And whenever they grow, they wanna

bite. So they wanna bite stuff. Oh, a cica [

“Oh, the kitty” [

306 Linda: (interrupting Emma) [Their teeth fall

out sometimes.

  • 307 Emma: Uhh! Linda?! It’s not your turn!
  • (Note: [[ shows point at which overlap occurs.)

I now turn to a discussion of code-switching in computer-mediated communication.

 
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