CODE-SWITCHING ON THE INTERNET

By and large, code-switching in online contexts has been observed to resemble face-to-face, conversational code-switching (Androutsopoulos, 2006, 2007; Danet & Herring, 2007). In a study of German-based diasporic websites frequented by members of various ethnic groups (e.g., Indian, Persian, Greek), Androutsopoulos (2006) shows that code-switching is used by the bilingual participants to contextualize a shift in topic or perspective. In the Greek forum, for instance, Androutsopoulos observes that switches to Greek in largely German discussion threads contextualized contributions as non-threatening to recipients (e.g., teasing). Conversely, when a discussion thread was in Greek, German did the contextualizing. In the joke-telling area of the Persian forum, users selected Persian to narrate the jokes but used German to comment on them. In line with Auer’s conversation analytic framework, Androutsopoulos (2006) argues that switches away from the generally expected base language (i.e., German) typically signal playfulness. When the other language is used as the base code, he notes that German is selected for comment and critique.

An Example of an English Word Embedded in a Chinese Sentence Source

FIGURE 6.1 An Example of an English Word Embedded in a Chinese Sentence Source: Su, 2003. Reproduced by permission of Wiley-Blackwell

While online code-switching is in many ways similar to language mixing in face-to-face interactions, one of the biggest differences between the two is that online communication requires writing. Code-switching on the Internet may involve switching between different orthographies, which users manipulate to produce various effects. To take an example, Su (2003) examined Taiwanese college students’ use of Chinese and English orthographies on electronic bulletin board systems (BBSs). She notes that while the main language on Taiwanese BBSs is Mandarin (which is written in standardized, traditional Chinese characters), English words or expressions sometimes appear in this Chinese-dominant environment (see Figure 6.1). But when English phrases are written in Chinese characters rather than in the Roman alphabet (see Figures 6.2 and 6.3), Su (2003) shows that it indicates playfulness on the part of the writer.

In Figures 6.2 and 6.3, the actual Chinese characters found in the BBSs are indicated by an arrow. Pinyin, a Mandarin Romanization system, indicates how the Chinese characters are read. In Figure 6.2, for example, the three Chinese characters read as “ou-mai-ga,” which approximates the English pronunciation of the phrase, “Oh, my god.” However, as the gloss shows, the phrase written in Chinese means something totally different from the original English expression. Su (2003) notes that the high-low-high-falling tone contour of the three characters mimics the English intonation of the expression, “Oh, my god.” The deletion of “d” in the final position of “god” indicates that the syllable has been phonologically adapted into Chinese, making the phrase sound as if it were produced by a Taiwanese person, rather than a native English speaker.

Similarly, in Figure 6.3, the low-high-falling tone contour of “gu-nai” resembles the intonation associated with the phrase “good night.” But again, the phrase written in Chinese characters means something entirely different from the English expression. Su (2003) contends that writing English phrases using Chinese characters

plays down the stiffness and arrogance often linked in Taiwan with the use of English, a language with international status and overt prestige, lending this alternative linguistic practice a sense of locality and congeniality while simultaneously maintaining a level of sophistication associated with English.

An Example of Stylized English Used in Taiwan-Based Electronic Bulletin Board Systems

FIGURE 6.2 An Example of Stylized English Used in Taiwan-Based Electronic Bulletin Board Systems

Source: Su, 2003. Reproduced by permission of Wiley-Blackwell

Another Example of Stylized English Used in Taiwan-Based Electronic Bulletin Board Systems

FIGURE 6.3 Another Example of Stylized English Used in Taiwan-Based Electronic Bulletin Board Systems

Source: Su, 2003. Reproduced by permission of Wiley-Blackwell

In fact, among the Taiwanese college students Su studied, Chinese rendering of English expressions was much more widely used than English itself.

Similarly, in a study of Internet Relay Chat exchanges of Cantonese-speaking university students in England, Fung & Carter (2007) show that transliterated Cantonese words or phrases inserted in an otherwise English discourse qualify the writers’ feelings. Extracts (7) and (8), taken from Fung & Carter (2007: 46), illustrate this. Cantonese is in italics.

Extract (7)

Kit: no, ‘ho ho may’

  • (very very delicious)
  • (it’s very delicious)

REL: ..........hhaha !! ok la !! need to do some work la !

(DM) (DM)

Kit: ok, cu tommorrow

Extract (8)

Ying: Bill.... ho charm ho charm ar... i just failed my java exam ... (very bad very bad DM)

(it’s very bad)

Notice that la and ar in Extracts (7) and (8) are discourse markers (DMs) in Cantonese, which are typically found at the end of utterances and are grammatically optional (i.e., their absence does not make the utterance ungrammatical). But, as Fung & Carter (2007) point out, discourse markers perform an important function of displaying the emotional status of the bilingual participants. La, for instance, is an assertive particle which expresses mutual agreement—it establishes common understanding of situations and feelings among the participants. Since it is difficult for nonCantonese speakers to decode the meanings of these and other Cantonese expressions embedded in an otherwise English text, Fung & Carter (2007) argue that code-switching helps to reinforce solidarity among the Cantonese- English bilingual users in this online environment. To understand the bilingual chat interactions, one must be familiar with the beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes of the members of this close-knit speech community, which are manifested in their language mixing behaviors and are off-limits to nonCantonese speakers.

 
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