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Home arrow Economics arrow Bilingualism in Schools and Society: Language, Identity, and Policy
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In this chapter, I have discussed the social and conversational aspects of codeswitching. Language purists would say that code-switching is a lazy, corrupted form of speech. However, we saw evidence that far from being a communicative deficit, code-switching is a valuable linguistic resource for bilinguals. We saw that having access to two languages, bilinguals have more ways to convey their meanings and intentions than do monolinguals. I discussed Gumperz’s influential theory on conversational code-switching, which maintains that code-switching is a communicative option available to the bilingual speaker in much the same way that switching between styles or dialects is an option for the monolingual speaker. By building up a contrast in languages, code-switching conveys the speaker’s attitudes, preferences, and emotions to other participants in the conversation. Viewed in this way, there is nothing really special about code-switching. In fact, code-switching is quite unremarkable in that it is used by bilinguals as but one of a host of contextualization strategies to communicate their meanings.

I discussed two separate developments of Gumperz’s analysis of codeswitching as an interactional resource. Myers-Scotton’s Markedness Model argues that bilingual speakers are aware of the social consequences of choosing a specific language in a particular context. According to this model, speakers who choose the marked variety in a given social circumstance do so for specific reasons such as to show authority or displeasure. The conversation analytic framework developed by Auer (1995) shows ways in which bilinguals use code-switching to structure their conversation and to negotiate the language for the interaction. His turn-by-turn analysis is useful in revealing that as the conversation proceeds, individuals carefully monitor other participants’ speech production and change their own language choice to fit their assessment of the bilingual abilities and preferences of the other participants.

We saw that bilinguals use code-switching for a variety of social purposes such as to exert power over others and to show solidarity with members of the same ethnic group. We also saw that code-switching can signal playfulness in some contexts whereas it can represent a “discourse of resistance” in others (Lee, 2004). In all of these examples, the ability to switch between languages emerges as an important communicative asset.

I also discussed negative attitudes toward code-switching in the school setting. Language mixing is generally discouraged by teachers who believe that it is distracting and robs students of the opportunity to practice the target language. However, we saw that forcing students to speak only the target language in the classroom is counterproductive because it prevents students from making connections to what they already know. Perhaps more importantly, insisting on rigidly separating two languages disregards what it means for bilingual students to live with two languages. The two languages in a bilingual’s linguistic repertoire are a lot more meshed together than what is commonly envisioned as two separate compartments in the brain. Students’ bilingual abilities, as manifested in code-switching, should be supported, promoted, and celebrated as tools for learning rather than be dismissed as a hindrance to acquiring new languages and skills.

 
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