Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: What happens at the boundary of a phonological code-switch?
Question: I want to embed a Japanese word into my English speech, but
I want to be faithful to the Japanese pronunciation, so I enter
a ''Japanese pronunciation mode''. Briefly, I understand this
as an example of code-switching.

For example, the Japanese word for thank you is [aɾiɡatoː]<あ
りがとう>. Now I want to say ''it is {a/an} aɾiɡatoː'', or
alternatively if [koaɾiɡatoː] was the word I would want to say ''it
is {a/an} koaɾiɡatoː''. The assumption is that I am going to be
100% prosodically and segmentally faithful to the embedded
Japanese word. To be precise, let # be the switch point. Then
English phonology imposes upon you the obligation

/a/->[an] / _V

But if you actually say [it is an aɾiɡatoː] (and this seems to be
the observed form) you didn't apply the above rule, but a rule
of the form

/a/->[an] / _#V

This seems contradictory to your intention to code switch; the
intention was for V to be under the sole purchase of
Japanese phonology, but clearly V has participated in a rule
of English phonology. I don't understand why, when under the
assumption of faithful code switching, a foreign import can
alter the host sentence.

Reply: Hi, Taylor,

As the other respondents have told you, you would be basically
making use of two different grammars in all the cases mentioned;
each of them involves presumably a bilingual speaker, and we have
been talking about (I assume) basically what are called 'balanced
bilinguals' (that is, fluent ones and either native speakers or
near-native speakers of both languages). As fluent speakers of
both languages, you have lots of options for, so to speak,
'intermingling the rules' of the two languages. Indeed, with
little distinction, I believe, between cases, native speakers of
the *borrowing* language strongly tend to 'regularize' the
borrowing to the phonology, etc. of the accepting language. In
many cases, once this is done (or even if the original phonology
is retained), the word may gain wider acceptance among at least
some monolingual speakers of the borrowing language.

This can lead to anomalous situations: for instance, as a youth,
before ever studying German, I pronounced the composer Bach's
name as [bax] (with a voiceless *velar* fricative), just as my
parents pronounced it (who were both pretty much monolingual
English speakers (well, they both spoke Yiddish, which I did not)
who had also studied French and a little of other languages. My
father also studied medicine in Vienna and Switzerland just
before WWII. In any case, I knew virtually no German (nor
Yiddish, except for a few isolated words), [x] is not a sound of
English, not even in interjections, where many systemically
unused sounds in the language can be found.

The anomaly here is that I (and many other native speakers of
English, including, I think, some who are also native speakers of
German) use *in English* the same pronunciation I do: [bax].
However, in German this is *not* the pronunciation of the name;
rather, the last consonant is a voiceless *postvelar* fricative:
[baX]. Nevertheless, some linguists (not too many any more) would
call this 'code-switching' on my part. Now, I have studied German
and my pronunciation is not totally shabby, but I would insist
that, at least when *I* pronounce this composer's name, I am
*not* code-switching (and even more obviously this was the case
when I didn't even know any German at all). Even after having
studied German and controlling the standard German pronunciation
of this name, when speaking English, I still use my (and nearly
all other native speakers') pronunciation of it. What I am saying
is that in such cases it is paradoxical to try to say that this
is code-switching. It *is* borrowing of a lexical item,
semihemidemipronunciation and all, from another language,
although, certainly in my case, indirectly. Note here that, at
least for the originaly borrower of the word, they must have
been, at least to some degree, bilingual.

I hope this has been of some help.


James L. Fidelholtz
Graduate Program in Language Sciences
Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades
Benem'erita Universidad Aut'onoma de Puebla, M'EXICO

Reply From: James L Fidelholtz      click here to access email
Date: 11-Sep-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: What happens at the boundary of a phonological code-switch?    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (11-Sep-2012)
  2. Re: What happens at the boundary of a phonological code-switch?    Geoffrey Richard Sampson     (11-Sep-2012)
  3. Re: What happens at the boundary of a phonological code-switch?    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (11-Sep-2012)
  4. Re: What happens at the boundary of a phonological code-switch?    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (13-Sep-2012)

Back to Most Recent Questions