LINGUIST List 7.316

Thu Feb 29 1996

Sum: Code switching

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Alex HOUSEN, Sum: code switching in lyrics

Message 1: Sum: code switching in lyrics

Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 18:00:12 +0100
From: Alex HOUSEN <>
Subject: Sum: code switching in lyrics
Some time ago I asked for help in finding studies of what I called "code
switching (CS) in song lyrics".
I am particularly grateful to the following individuals for their reactions:

Richard Hudson
Susan Ervin-Tripp
Michael Meeuwis
Henk Wolf
Elizabeth Winkler
Jessica Payeras
Peter Daniels
Peter Christian
Lesley Yee
Linda Shockey
Christof Vanden Eynde
Paul Kilpatrick
Thomas Allan Knapp
Maria Casas
Bill Mak BMAKFACL.Lan.McGill.CA
Kathryn Woolard
Kevin Cohen
Edit Doron
Nkonko Kamwangamalu

The general opinion which emerges from the reactions received thus far is
that (a) discussions of CS in song lyrics are thin on the ground and (b)
current theories of CS are inadequate to account for this specific type of
CS data.

The two prominent theoretical models of CS referred to in the original
query have been presented in:

Myer-Scotton, C. 1993a. "Social Motivations for Codeswitching: Evidence
from Africa", Oxford: Claredon.
Myer-Scotton, C. 1993b. "Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure in
Codeswitching", Oxford: Claredon.
Myer-Scotton, C. 1993c. Common and uncommon ground: Social and
structural factors in codeswitching, "Language in Society", 22, 475--503.

Poplack, S. 1988. Contrasting patterns of codeswitching in two
communities, in Heller, M. (ed.), "Codeswitching: Anthropological and
Sociolinguistic Perspectives", Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 215-244.

A critical survey of these and other models and definitions of CS can be
found in:

Meeuwis, M. & Blommaert, J. 1994. "The Markedness Model and the absence of
society: Remarks on codeswitching", Multilingua, vol. 13, 4, 1994,

Many respondents referred to the work conducted by Peter Trudgill in the
early 1980s on variation in English pop songs:

Trudgill, P. 1983. "Acts of conflicting identity. The socio-linguistics of
British pop-song pronunciation", in Trudgill, P., "On Dialect - Social and
Geographical Perspectives", Oxford: Blackwell.

Trudgill, P. 1986. "Dialects in Contact", Oxford.

The following work also discusses the use of non-standard English in
popular music:
Rampton, B. 1995. "Crossing", Longman.

This work deals with what might be called "style/register/dialect switching
according to domain" (in Fishman's sense of the word) and, as such, is only
indirectly relevant to the analysis of the use of more than one language in
one and the same song text.

Peter Daniels points out that in classical music and poetry, verse with
more than one language is called "macaronic". He also raises the crucial
question whether multilingual lyrics can indeed be considered an instance
of CS given that lyrics are typically produced in advance, i.e. with
artistic forethought. (The answer to this question obviously depends on
one's definition of CS).

Kathryn Woolard suggests that a good starting point for analyzing CS in
song lyrics would be analyses of CS in other forms of mass-mediated
communication, such as J. Urla's work on "Outlaw Language" in Basque
alternative radio ("Outlaw language: Creating alternative public spheres in
Basque radio"; Pragmatics 5:2, pp.245-262.) and Woolard's own work on CS
in commercial cassettes of comedy ("Codeswitching and Comedy in Catalonia",
IPrA Papers in Pragmatics, 1,1, 1987, pp. 106-122). According to Woolard,
the mass-mediation and attenuated interaction with audience renders these
instances of code switching less amenable to Myer-Scotton's analysis.

Bill Mak from his part finds neither Poplack's nor Myer-Scotton's model
particular useful in his study (in progress) of CS in written Chinglish
Maria Casas wrote an MA thesis on the use of CS in the poem "No Language is
Neutral" by the Canadian-Caribbean poet Dionne Brand. She found
Myers-Scotton's approach useful for her specific analytic needs. Poplack's
model, however, proved insufficiently explanatory.
Nkonko Kamwangamalu's dissertation includes analyses of data drawn from
Lingala-French CS in Zairian song lyrics ("Code-mixing across languages:
Structure, Functions, and Constraints", Department of Linguistics,
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989).

Susan Ervin-Tripp suggests that the use of multilingual lyrics may be
likened to the use of CS for comical effects in, for instance, Japanese
Rakugo performances (cf. Sanches, M. Falling Words: An Analysis of a
Japanese Rakugo Performance, in Sanches, M. & Blount, B. (eds.),
"Sociocultural Dimensions of Language Use", NY: Academic Press, pp.
269-306; cf. also Kathryn Woolard's work on comedy in Catalonia cited
above). According to Ervin-Tripp, in such cases CS is part of role playing
and serves to establish a set of voices and perspectives.

Finally, some respondents provided titles of songs with multilingual
lyrics. We have added these to our data base, which we are willing to
share with anyone who is interested.

- Alex Housen (
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