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Review of  The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching

Reviewer: Tyler Kimball Anderson
Book Title: The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching
Book Author: Barbara E. Bullock Almeida Jacqueline Toribio
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 21.463

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Editors: Barbara E. Bullock, Almeida Jacqueline Toribio
Title: The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2009

Tyler K. Anderson, Department of Languages, Literature, and Mass Communication,
Mesa State College.


The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching is an edited volume
consisting of an introductory chapter followed by eighteen research articles,
each dealing with a particular area related to code-switching (hereafter CS).
The chapters are centered around five major themes: 1) Conceptual and
methodological considerations in CS research, 2) Social aspects of CS, 3)
Structural implications of CS, 4) Psycholinguistics and CS, and 5) Formal models
of CS.

The book begins with Barbara E. Bullock and Almeida Jacqueline Toribio’s
“Themes in the study of code-switching” which provides a well-written
overview of CS as a research topic. The authors discuss the interest this topic
has sparked in various professions, from poets to sociolinguists to
neurolinguists. The chapter provides a working definition of CS, distinguishes
CS from other contact phenomena (i.e. borrowings), and discusses who
participates in CS, and why this phenomenon occurs.

Part one commences with “Research techniques for the study of
code-switching”, wherin Marianne Gullberg, Peter Indefrey and Pieter
Muysken provide a discussion on the methods that have been used to research CS.

The authors begin with a survey of the seminal research methodologies of the
1960s and 1970s (e.g. naturalistic data and corpus methods), and conclude by
covering various innovative methodologies in use today (e.g. neurocognitive
methods). The chapter provides references for each of the methods mentioned,
indicating the strengths and weaknesses of each technique.

The ensuing chapters in part one focus on the conceptual view of CS, the first
being Mark Sebba’s “On the notion of congruence and convergence in
code-switching”. After defining the title terms as they relate to CS, the
author posits seven factors that researchers should expect to find in any theory
dealing with the grammar of CS. These range in part from the incorporation of
syntactic and phonological limitations on CS, to the flexibility in accounting
for disparate occurrences attested in diverse language pairs and situations, to
the need to be sensitive to sociolinguistic features of individual speakers.

The fourth chapter, “Code-switching and transfer: an exploration of
similarities and differences”, deals with the notion of transfer and it
relationship to CS. The author, Jeanine Treffers-Daller, provides a comparative
overview of differing terminology used in various fields of contact linguistics
(e.g. second language acquisition compared to psycholinguistics). She calls for
a unified conceptual framework of CS, explaining that because of the
pervasiveness of CS in many fields of study, it has become important that CS
research inform and be informed by theories of language variation, second
language acquisition and speech processing models. The chapter includes a
discussion of the psycholinguistic approaches to CS, as well as a discussion of
transfer in second language acquisition.

Part one concludes with Ad Backus and Margreet Dorleijn’s “Loan
translations versus code-switching”. The authors define loan translations as
the use of any morphemes from one language that is a result of a literal
translation of a semantically equivalent expression in another language. With
this definition in mind they discuss the difficulties of determining what
constitutes a loan translation, with the hopes of distinguishing this phenomenon
from CS; however, very little of this chapter deals directly with CS itself.

Part two concentrates on the social aspects of CS. In the first chapter of the
section, Penelope Gardner-Chloros’ “Sociolinguistic factors in
code-switching”, the author selectively approaches the topic by investigating
some of the macro- and micro-level factors-including gender and origin-that
influence CS, with the purpose of showing how sociolinguistics can help inform
this linguistic phenomenon. She indicates that CS is a construct created by
speakers who combine two or more language varieties in order to convey social
realities. However, the author warns against trying to explain CS solely through
the use of sociolinguistic parameters.

In “The Conversation Analytic model of code-switching”, Joseph Gafaranga
continues the discussion of social factors by implementing a Conversation
Analysis paradigm, with the primary focus being on talk organization and CS. His
discussion includes such items as turn-taking, preference organization, and
repair. He illustrates these notions through a variety of settings and dyadic
interactions, from doctor and patient communications to exchanges between a
mother and her daughter. He shows, for example, that in a particular situation
CS may be used as a resource to select the ensuing speaker, and may also be
applied in conflict resolution.

Margreet Dorleijn and Jacomine Nortier turn to a new area of research in
sociolinguistics and CS in “Code-switching and the internet”, focusing
primarily on CS in Computer Mediated Communication. While a good portion of CS
research has focused on spontaneous speech (cf. Callahan 2004), the authors
conclude that the online communication in question is spontaneous and informal
enough to inform this type of CS research. They discuss the advantages and
disadvantages of using this model for CS investigations, and provide research
results based on the speech patterns of one speech community’s (Dutch-Moroccan
Arabic) use of CS in chat rooms.

The final chapter in this section, Ghada Khattab’s “Phonetic accommodation
in children’s code-switching”, focuses on the sociolinguistic competence in
bilingual children, specifically on their phonetic accommodation in CS
environments. The author presents data which indicate how the pronunciation of
three bilingual children varies from that of their parents, both in CS between
languages (English and Arabic), and between native and non-native varieties of

The handbook’s third part focuses on the structural implications of CS,
beginning with Barbara E. Bullock’s “Phonetic reflexes of code-switching”.
Here the author discusses the phonetic effects of CS on the two languages
involved, a topic that has received little attention in CS research. The use of
phonetics for distinguishing between CS and other contact phenomena (i.e.
lexical borrowings) is discussed in detail, and the author suggests that instead
of focusing on phonological alternations, acoustic phonetic analyses are needed
in order to uncover the subtle distinctions that may occur at CS boundaries. The
bulk of the chapter implements this type of analysis, comparing the voice onset
times of the voiced versus voiceless series of stop consonants (/b,d,g/ vs.
/p,t,k/) in Spanish and English CS in order to determine if phonetic convergence
occurs at the switch points. Based on her results, it is shown that bilinguals
produce merged VOT values in comparison to monolinguals, and that this phonetic
merger arises more often in anticipation of switching languages. The chapter
concludes by postulating a possible constraint on CS due to phonology, followed
by challenges for future research regarding the role of phonology and phonetics
in CS.

In “Code-switching between typologically distinct languages” Brian
Hok-Shing Chan continues the discussion of structural implications on CS by
treating the highly researched topic of syntactic constraints and CS. Unlike
much of the previous research dealing with this topic, this chapter focuses its
attention on CS between typologically distinct languages (i.e. VO vs. OV
languages). The chapter highlights the main controversies found in a grammatical
approach to CS, and then the author presents the results of his data. These
indicate that there is a tendency on the part of bilinguals to apply a
morpho-syntactic rule from only one of the typologically distinct languages to
all CS utterances. While not a constraint on CS, the author does see this as a
functional principle for how CS is likely to proceed between typologically
distinct languages.

The subsequent chapter, “Language mixing in bilingual children:
code-switching?”, discusses CS in multilingual children. In this study,
Natascha Müller and Katja Francesca Cantone implement the term “code-mixing”
instead of CS, given that the alternation between the languages of these
children is not yet constrained by grammars; they also point out that child
speech (including code-mixing) is generally less inhibited by external (social)
factors than adult speech (including CS). They present data which indicate that
code-mixing in children goes through a developmental shift as it begins to
approximate an adult-like system of CS. However, they also point out that
language mixing seems to be an individual choice rather than a set stage in this
developmental process.

In the final chapter of this section, David Quinto-Pozos explores
“Code-switching between sign languages”. While the majority of the CS
research on sign languages has focused on the simultaneous use of a sign
language with an auditory language, this study investigates the switching
between two distinct sign languages (American Sign Language and Mexican Sign

Part four treats the interface of psycholinguistics and CS, beginning with
Adele W. Miccio, Carol Scheffner Hammer, and Bárbara Rodríguez’s
“Code-switching and language disorders in bilingual children”. Here the
authors distinguish CS from language disorders in multilingual children, and
provide readily accessible definitions for speech pathologists, with the
objective of dispelling any misconceptions regarding the language processes
involved in CS. They note that despite the findings regarding the positive link
between bilingual proficiency and CS in adults, CS continues to be viewed
disapprovingly when used by children, and is often seen as a sign of atypical
language development. This does not mean, according to the authors, that some
children who use CS will never need intervention; some may persist in using CS
(or other language features) inappropriately, even after considerable experience
with a particular language situation would indicate its inappropriateness.

Chapter 15, “Code-switching, imperfect acquisition, and attrition”
continues the focus on children and CS. In this chapter Agnes Bolonyai compares
‘normal’ CS to CS in language erosion situations. To designate this
‘normalcy’ (or deviation from that norm) the author provides possible
evidence based on sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic and linguistic factors. The
chapter then concludes by discussing the question of whether CS itself can lead
to language erosion.

In “Code-switching and the bilingual mental lexicon”, Longxing Wei focuses
on how the bilingual lexicon constrains CS. The author posits that there is a
distinction between lemmas and lexemes, with the bilingual lexicon being
composed of lemmas which are tagged for a specific language. However, the author
does not distinguish between related concepts such as borrowings and CS, nor
does the chapter mention the role of proficiency with regards to CS in her

In the concluding chapter of this section, “Code-switching and the brain”,
Marta Kutas, Eva Moreno, and Nicole Wicha focus on how the bilingual brain
differs from the monolingual brain, and dedicate ample space to the debate of
whether the two languages of the bilingual are processed by the same regions of
the brain. Given the mere handful of studies which have begun to examine this
question, only a small section of the chapter is dedicated to how the brain
handles CS.

The final section of this book considers two formal models of CS. First, Jeff
MacSwan’s “Generative approaches to code-switching” provides a history of
the treatment of CS within generative linguistics, and specifically discusses
its implications with regards to CS research today in the Minimalist Program.
According to the author, the program provides a framework whereby CS may be
perceived in the same manner as monolingual utterances, thus dismissing the need
to postulate specific constraints to handle CS data. He argues that doing so
will allow for a greater understanding of the nature of bilingualism.

The book concludes with Carol Myers-Scotton and Janice Jake’s “A universal
model of code-switching and bilingual language processing and production”. The
chapter provides a summary of the Matrix Language Frame model, along with ideas
for furthering this model in CS studies. According to the authors, this paradigm
predicts uniformity, giving preference to the structure of only one of the
participating languages, and thus predicting the divisions of roles between
participating languages and morpheme types.


Written primarily for students and researchers with a background in CS, The
Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Code-switching covers a broad range of topics
from leading authors in the field of CS. As would be expected from a handbook,
each contribution includes ample references for the relevant area of study. Also
embedded within most chapters are proposals for future research, making this an
invaluable resource for students and working scholars. The treatment of
well-known topics (e.g. CS and sociolinguistics) as well as innovative research
projects (e.g. CS and sign languages or CS and computer mediated communication)
makes this book a must have for anyone interested in linguistic CS.

While the introduction states that the book is intended for a broad audience,
ranging from advanced undergraduates to specialists in various fields of
linguistics (p. xii), many chapters are written for audiences with ample
experience in a particular field of study. (Notable exceptions include
Gardner-Chloros’ contribution on sociolinguistic factors and CS and Miccio et
al.’s chapter on CS and language disorders in bilingual children, which are
both highly accessible to those who have had little exposure to the topics at
hand.) In spite of the target audience of each chapter, those unfamiliar with a
particular field of study should be aided by the abundant references to previous
work provided in the ‘denser’ chapters.

As might be expected, the lack of a single working definition of CS was evident
throughout the book. How one author defines the term tends to be quite different
from how another author envisions it. Possibly the loosest definition of CS is
found in Khattab’s ''Phonetic accommodations in children's code-switching'',
where any change between one variety to another in the same language is also
considered a CS. Similarly, the conceptual articles that endeavor to distinguish
CS from related phenomena (i.e. transfer, convergence, congruence, loan
translations) were principally focused on the terms at hand, with little if any
direct comparison to the theme of this handbook-CS.

These limitations aside, the breadth of topics covered in this tome, along with
the extensive references to literature on each topic, makes this volume an
essential resource for any serious researcher working on or student interested
in linguistic code-switching.

Work Cited

Callahan, Laura (2004). Spanish/English Codeswitching in a Written Corpus.
Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

About the Reviewer
Tyler K. Anderson is Assistant Professor of Spanish at Mesa State College. His research interests include language attitudes toward manifestations of contact linguistics, including the acceptability of lexical borrowing and code-switching in Spanish and English contact situations. He is currently researching the perceptions of phonetic interference in second language acquisition.

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