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Review of  Language Mixing and Code-Switching in Writing

Reviewer: Madhav Kafle
Book Title: Language Mixing and Code-Switching in Writing
Book Author: Mark Sebba Shahrzad Mahootian Carla Jonsson
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 24.339

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EDITORS: Sebba, Mark; Mahootian, Shahrzad; Jonsson, Carla
TITLE: Language Mixing and Code-Switching in Writing
SUBTITLE: Approaches to Mixed-Language Written Discourse
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Critical Studies in Multilingualism
PUBLISHER: Routledge
YEAR: 2012

Madhav Kafle, Department of Applied Linguistics, The Pennsylvania State University

Code-switched written texts are often regarded as the outcome of incompetence; however, this book successfully shows that code-switching is a natural practice. The book establishes theoretical and methodological frameworks for the study of various language-mixed texts, and provides sample empirical studies that try to implement the proposed frameworks. Sebba, Mahootian, and Jonsson have arranged the thirteen chapters based on three broad research methods used: corpus analysis in the early chapters, ethnography and New Literacy Studies in the middle ones, and discourse analysis in the later chapters (p. 17). Overall, the book puts forward two important arguments: 1. written multilingualism is not a deficit but a resource; 2. it is not an exception but a norm in an increasingly global linguistic landscape. The chapter summaries are as following:

1. Mark Sebba: Researching and Theorising Multilingual Texts
In his theoretical, introductory chapter, Sebba makes a strong case for new approaches to studying language mixing in writing. Assessing the (in)applicability of the three commonly used models in conversation code-switching--i.e. models by John Gumperz, Carol Myers-Scotton, and Peter Auer--, Sebba proposes that written mixed-language discourse should be studied by incorporating three key perspectives: semiotics, literacy as a social practice, and visual and spatial (multimodal) aspects of the texts (p. 2). This call is echoed by most contributors throughout the book.

2. Herbert Schendl: Literacy, Multilingualism and Code-Switching in Early English Written Texts
Schendl takes us on a tour of mediaeval texts in England. Reviewing mixing in literary and non-literary texts and reminding us that written code-switching dates back at least as far as the eighth century, he argues that mixed texts can “not be dismissed as ‘linguistic accidents’ or products of writers and scribes with limited linguistic competence” (p. 29). Exploring pragmatic functions of code-switching in old English royal charters and medieval English sermons, he also calls for an interdisciplinary approach to create a comprehensive understanding of the patterns, functions, and perceptions of code-switching.

3. Päivi Pahta and Arja Nurmi: Multilingual Practices in Women’s English Correspondence 1400-1800
Despite an “allegedly monolingual nature” (p. 44) of medieval texts, Pahta and Nurmi trace foreign elements in a corpus of women’s correspondence between 1400 and 1800. They find that, just like today, women’s code-switching in medieval texts is textually and discursively motivated, even though at times it can constitute just bits and pieces of the mixed languages. Pahta and Nurmi argue that women in early and late modern England employed multilingual resources more or less in the same way many women do today. For example, issues such as identity and literacy of the writer and of the audience as well as intertextual and genre specific conventions such as use of quotations and the opening and endings of letters determined the place and frequency of code-switching. Though the mixing was mainly done by higher class women in the period under study, given the limited educational opportunities and frequent ridicule aimed at educated women, code-switching by these women opens an important avenue for understanding how they used their repertoire.

4. Cecilia Montes-Alcalá: Code-Switching in U.S. Latino Novels
With an underlying hypothesis that the principles of conversational code-switching can also be applied in writing, Montes-Alcalá studies a corpus of nine novels by Chicano, Cuban-American, and Nuyoricans writers. Based on her data analysis, she develops taxonomy of functions of code-switching, which consists lexical need, clarification, stylistic, idiomatic expressions, emphasis, quotation, and triggered switches. Then, she explores whether code-switching in the novels represents an authentic or artificial function. She concludes that code-switching in novels may be not just purely rhetorical but also authentic, i.e. represent everyday linguistic practices.

5. Mark Sebba: Writing Switching in British Creole
This chapter was originally published in Martin-Jones and Jones (2000). In it, Sebba assesses the role of language policy and planning for situations when two languages are similar in orthography but different in speaking, as in the case of Standard English and British Creole. In such cases, it is often challenging to figure out which codes belong to which language in writing. One of the suggested solutions is using phonemic orthography; however, “very few writers who use Creole have shown any interest in using” it (p. 97). Sebba agrees with the suggestions provided by some scholars of using a phonemic orthography to see the nuanced differences between Standard English and British Creole; however, he worries that adopting a new orthography might be problematic not only for readers but also writers. He concludes that the way writers are using Creole currently, i.e. via respellings, may be the best option since it is already established to an extent.

6. Samu Kytölä: Multilingual Web Discussion Forums: Theoretical, Practical and Methodological Issues
As the title suggests, Kytölä discusses theoretical, practical, and methodological concerns regarding researching multilingual web discussion forums, a continually transforming genre. He deals with various aspects of conducting web research, including whether to use online or offline ethnography (or both) and whether to study the language mixed texts or the people who do that. Focusing on what he calls discourse organization in the web forums, he talks about the issue of framing, i.e., the way players present their names, locations, headings, messages and so on. Kytölä argues that such multiple layers raise the issue of the applicability of canonical code-switching principles in current language mixing in the web.

7. Carmen Lee and David Barton: Multilingual Texts on Web 2.0: The Case of
Lee and Barton set out to explore multilingual writing on the web by not just prioritizing the texts, but by adopting multi-method and multimodal approaches (p.128). Such approaches, they contend, deal with both texts and the practices of the writers. While researching the Flickr, Lee and Barton use mixed method approach for getting the insider knowledge, i.e. the knowledge of technological affordances and the social practices in Flickr. To that end, they study user profiles, titles, descriptions, tags, and comments in and assess visual-verbal relationship. Lee and Barton conclude that various mediating factors such as interestingness of the theme, locality of the content, and understanding of the audience by the authors do play a central role in utilizing the multilingual resources. While the multilingual practices keep changing over time and across venues, Lee and Barton show that Flickr users’ practices are as dynamic and as ever-changing as any kind of everyday literacy practices (Barton & Hamilton, 1998).

8. Kristin Vold Lexander: Analyzing Multilingual Text-Messaging in Senegal: An Approach for the Study of Mixed Language SMS
According to Lexander, we should study language mixing beyond the textual level. For that purpose, ethnography, photography, and perspectives and attitudes of the writers about the way they use language are essential. She implements that approach for researching multilingual SMS and goes on to highlight the functions of such SMSs: managing relationship, construction of identities, and use of visual dimensions. Lexander emphasizes that mixing various codes/languages in the SMS can index multiple components including ethnicity, and politeness. She also points out that multilinguals in Senegal use various orthographic forms for the same words because the standard is not strictly followed in public use of Wolof as well.

9. Aïssatou Mbodj-Pouye and Cécile Van den Avenne: Vernacular Literacy Practices in Present-day Mali: Combining Ethnography and Textual Analysis to Understand Multilingual Texts
Mbodj-Pouye and Van den Avenne study language mixing in two corpora of grassroots texts, in what they call village corpus and letters sent to the radio. The village corpus is composed of all kinds of writing used in the villagers’ daily lives including shopping lists and personal notes. These writings show linguistic heterogeneity, linguistic and cultural translation, (e.g. dates in two different systems), and use of the same repeated words in two languages. However, for the authors, this phenomenon shows linguistic reflexivity at work not the lack of competence. Thus, like other authors, Mbodj-Pouye and Van den Avenne urge us to see mixing as use of multilingual resource because people usually choose different languages for some reason but not owing to lack of competence. The authors also suggest that at least two levels of analysis are essential: structural, which deals with the syntax of code-switching, and discoursal, which takes into account the textual unit or meaning units. 10. Shahrzad Mahootian: Repertoires and Resources: Accounting for Code-mixing in the Media

Using four Spanish-English and one Afghan-American texts, Mahootian opines that the existence of mixed codes in the US mainstream media is indicative of the slow and gradual presence and acceptability of various marginal ethnic groups. While her study of scripted performances, a short story, a bilingual life style magazine, and a novel might not be fully representative, Mahootian says that it is at least reflective of the fact that there is language change due to the increasing contact of people, imbalance of power, and visibility of minority. The mixing phenomena in the media, according to Mahootian, fulfill at least three symbolic functions: a political statement of defiance, a shift in social status and power, and a means to promote visibility and transnational identities.

11. Carla Jonsson: Making Silenced Voices Heard: Code-Switching in Multilingual Literary Texts in Sweden
Jonsson makes a case for two minority languages, Sami and Meankieli, in Sweden, a so-called monolingual country. Based on her analysis of the mixing of minority languages in two novels and author interviews, she argues that both local and global functions of code-switching are achieved there. Whereas local functions include conversational and explanatory cues and metaphorical connotations, global functions refer to decentering Swedish and increasing legitimacy of mixed practices. Jonsson also discusses how an international language such as English can get preference over a heritage language worldwide. However, Jonssson also explores how identities can be constructed and reconstructed in the global linguistic market.

12. Sirpa Leppänen: Linguistic and Generic Hybridity in Web Writing: The Case of Fan Fiction
Leppänen argues that both linguistic and discursive heteroglossia are semiotic resources used by multilinguals as in the case of Finnish-English fan fiction. The mixing of codes is complementary and is done for specific reasons including indexicality; the mixing not only helps a group to align with other similar groups but also to distinguish itself from the groups undesired. For Leppänen too, mixing is not haphazard, and often can be morphologically and orthographically integrated with the dominant language. In terms of methodology as well, she maintains that we need a multidisciplinary approach that explains how language practices are recontextualized and used translocally as in the case of fan fiction.

13. Philipp Angermeyer: Bilingualism Meets Digraphia: Script Alternation and Hybridity in Russian-American Writing and Beyond
Angermeyer describes the function of creativity in a situation where there is both similarity and difference in the script system, as in Russian and English. Such scripts create bivalency and raise interesting issues about the language boundaries. Taking sample data from migrant and diaspora communities in New York, Angermeyer explores the rationales for script and language choice. Since digraphia can either facilitate or be a barrier owing to the uneven distribution of linguistic resources in the audience, the mixing depends on whether the target audience is single or parallel. When the codes are integrated morphologically, one interesting scenario is that bilinguals might think that such mixed forms belong to their own language. Additionally, mixing might also be motivated by creativity such as found in personalized license plates. Angermeyer contends that language contact, such as of Russian and English, leads to a “re-evaluation and reinterpretation of linguistic forms even in the absence of overt contact phenomena” (p. 269).

This book is a laudable collection of articles in terms of showcasing viable methodologies for researching multilingualism in general, and written language mixing in particular. As the chapters in the collection show, language mixing and code-switching was/is a common practice whether we explore Early English correspondences or present day web discussion forums. In that light, the book rightly argues that the phenomenon of linguistic heterogeneity is a natural practice. Researching such instances can be done by implementing the theoretical and methodological frameworks presented in this book.

Most of the contributors in the volume strive for establishing an integrated perspective of multilingualism which sees language as a multimodal semiotic practice (p. 130) rather than only a psychological and cognitive tool of expression. Unlike many traditional studies of code-switching, which tend to see it as a deficiency of the users, the current volume presents such linguistic hybridity in the positive light by arguing for an inclusion of literacy practice and semiotic perspectives while conducting research. Additionally, treatment of a wide variety of data including quite short SMS texts to profoundly long literary pieces and texts with generic and scriptual hybridity provides solid empirical models for the novice researchers interested in this field.

Despite such richness, however, the book could have even wider appeal had it also included some samples from language teaching settings (see for example Losey, 2009). The volume also seems oblivious to many other related concepts that are used to refer to similar language mixing practices. For example, translanguaging (Garcia, 2009, p. 45), code-meshing (Canagarajah, 2006; Young, 2004), continua of biliteracy (Hornberger, 2003), and metrolingualism (Pennycook, 2010) are some of the terms that more or less refer to the dynamic language mixing practices of multilinguals. The collection would have been more coherent if there was more coordination among the contributors; currently, theoretical and methodological argument across multiple chapters sounds rather repetitive at times and do rarely refer to each other. However, this is not to belittle the contribution the volume makes in researching language-mixed artifacts as well as phenomena of mixing.

The collection as a whole validates the act of language (including codes, genres, scripts, and modes) mixing, even in writing, and emphasizes collaboration across disciplines for getting a comprehensive understanding of increasing linguistic hybridity all around. Overall, the book is a great resource for anyone interested in studying multilingual semiotic practices in the written medium.

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (1998). Local literacies: Reading and writing in one community. New York: Routledge.

Canagarajah, A.S. (2006) The place of world Englishes in composition: pluralization continued. College Composition and Communication 57(4): 586–619.

Garcia, O. (2009). Bilingual education in the 21st century: A global perspective. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hornberger, N.H. (2003). Continua of biliteracy: An ecological framework for educational policy, research, and practice in multilingual settings. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Losey, K.M. (2009). Written codeswitching in the classroom: Can research resolve the tensions? International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 12(2), 213-230.

Martin-Jones, M., & Jones, K. (2000). Multilingual literacies: Reading and writing different worlds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a local practice. New York: Routledge.

Young, V.A. (2004). Your average nigga. College Composition and Communication, 55(4), 693-715.

Madhav Kafle is a doctoral candidate in Applied Linguistics at The Pennsylvania State University. He has taught English in rural Nepal and currently teaches academic writing at Penn State. His research interests include multilingual writing, global spread of English, and critical pedagogy.

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