LINGUIST List 12.1872

Sun Jul 22 2001

Review: Auer, Code Switching in Conversation

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

What follows is another discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect these discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in.

If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for discussion." (This means that the publisher has sent us a review copy.) Then contact Simin Karimi at or Terry Langendoen at


  • Laura Callahan, Auer, Code-Switching in Conversation

    Message 1: Auer, Code-Switching in Conversation

    Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2001 14:04:14 EDT
    From: Laura Callahan <>
    Subject: Auer, Code-Switching in Conversation

    Auer, Peter, ed. (1999) Code-Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity. Routledge, paperback ISBN: 0-415-21609-5, viii+355pp, $32.99.

    Reviewed by Laura Callahan, University of California at Berkeley

    Synopsis This volume is the paperback release of a collection of papers first published in 1998. It consists of an introduction, twelve papers distributed between two parts, and an index. Part I: "The 'codes' of code-switching" contains chapters 2-6, and Part II: "Conversation and beyond", chapters 7-13. In addition to the general introduction at the beginning of the book, each of the twelve articles is prefaced by a one or two page introduction from the editor.

    In Chapter One, "Introduction: 'Bilingual Conversation' revisited", editor Peter Auer gives a detailed orientation to the theoretical approach and fundamental themes that unite the papers in this volume. The title makes reference to an earlier work (Auer 1984), in which Auer proposed the application of conversation analysis to language alternation in an attempt to discover how such behavior creates interactional meaning. The key point made is that a comprehensive treatment of codeswitching must be centered on the participants in a conversation. Furthermore, the analysis must be event-specific, because "the definition of the codes used in code-switching may be an interactional achievement which is not prior to the conversation [...] but subject to negotiation between participants" (p. 15). In short, the analysis must be from the bottom up rather than from the top down. This does not preclude cross-reference to macro-sociolinguistic indexes, but such indexes alone are insufficient, and may result in an erroneous interpretation of what specific code choices mean. Likewise, a structural analysis can be useful, but only in conjunction with an interactional one. This is illustrated with data from a pair of structurally similar codes, Galizan Spanish and Galizan. Finally, Auer gives parameters for a cline perspective on what constitutes alternation between two codes as opposed to one mixed code, and again emphasizes the importance of the participants' own interpretation. If what linguists label language alternation, based on structural criteria, is not so perceived by speakers, its lack of discourse salience weakens its ability to fulfill the pragmatic functions associated with codeswitching.

    Chapter Two, by Celso Alvarez-Caccamo, begins Part I with "From 'switching code' to 'code-switching': Towards a reconceptualisation of communicative codes." Alvarez-Caccamo traces the origins of the term 'codeswitching' to information theory's 'switching code'. He argues that research based on code-as-equivalent-to-a-distinct-language departs from a false premise. Code should be seen instead as part of the ability to interpret and produce speech--not as "the speech material itself" (p. 31).

    In Chapter Three, "Code-switching and the notion of code in linguistics: Proposals for a dual focus model", Rita Franceschini studies Swiss-German/Italian codeswitching in Switzerland. She makes the important point that full competence in both languages is not an absolute prerequisite for codeswitching. This point also figures in some of the other contributors' papers.

    Chapter Four turns to Lingala/French, with "A monolectal view of code- switching: Layered code-switching among Zairians in Belgium." Michael Meeuwis and Jan Blommaert also challenge the notion that codeswitchers by definition are competent in all of the codes heard in their speech. They use the term 'monolectal' to denote a codeswitched variety that exists as an independent code. In contrast to Franceschini, they do not consider extraordinary the phenomenon of mixed code usage by speakers who might be unable to converse in the unmixed form of any of its components.

    Chapter Five returns to Switzerland, with "Discourse connectives in bilingual conversation: The case of an emerging Italian-French mixed code" by Cecilia Oesch Serra. Oesch Serra uses the complementary distribution of pragmatic functions for one French and two Italian conjunctions in the speech of Italian migrants as evidence for a mixed code. She finds usage patterns distinct from those present in either French or Italian alone.

    Chapter Six, the final article in Part I, is Yael Maschler's "On the transition from code-switching to a mixed code." Maschler likens to grammaticalization a situation similar to what Oesch Serra describes for French/Italian. In Hebrew/English speech in Israel, discourse markers from each language fulfill distinct functions and are no longer interchangeable.

    Part II begins with Chapter Seven, "The 'why' and 'how' questions in the analysis of conversational code-switching", by Li Wei. Working with Cantonese/English data from Newcastle, England, he shows how codeswitching can be used to 'bring about' higher level social meanings. In other words, community-wide values are not automatically present in individual interactions; participants have to work to make them a factor.

    In Chapter Eight, "The conversational dimension in code-switching between Italian and dialect in Sicily", Giovanna Alfonzetti demonstrates that the contrastive value of codeswitching within a specific conversation is what motivates its use, rather than a society- wide norm regulating which language is appropriate for which topic. She analyzes several examples in which codeswitching is used for such tasks as topic change, story-telling openings, and quotation. Both the direction of the switch, and, in the case of quotation, its correspondence to the language of the original utterance, are unimportant. Similar findings are reported by several of the volume's contributors.

    In Chapter Nine, "Bilingual conversation strategies in Gibraltar", Melissa G. Moyer uses a tri-level model to analyze Spanish/English codeswitching in real and fictitious conversations. In contrast to the focus in the other papers of the collection, there is some discussion of the syntactic features of switched elements.

    In Chapter Ten "Children's acquisition of code-switching for power wielding", J. N. Jorgensen finds that Turkish-speaking children in Danish schools use codeswitching to vie for dominance in conversations with peers. The direction of the switch, again, is discovered to be less important than the contrast it marks. Thus, the society-level imbalance of power between Danish and Turkish is not necessarily a factor in these youngsters' interactions.

    Mark Sebba and Tony Wootton contributed Chapter Eleven, "We, they and identity: Sequential versus identity-related explanation in code- switching." They examine the complex situation of London English and London Jamaican among British-born Caribbeans living in London, and conclude that social identity and language choice do not always coincide.

    In Chapter Twelve, "Language crossing and the redefinition of reality", Ben Rampton explores the implications of speakers' codeswitching into a language to which they have no transparent ethnic or social connection. He suggests important applications of this research to the field of second language acquisition and second language pedagogy.

    Finally, in Chapter Thirteen, "Perspectives on cultural variability of discourse and some implications for code-switching", Christopher Stroud studies Tok Pisin/Taiap codeswitching in the village of Gapun, Papua New Guinea, in a type of speech event known as the 'kros'. He relates the use of codeswitching in this genre to the notion of heteroglossia.

    Evaluation: Content The papers in this volume present fascinating and complex arguments that challenge some of the beliefs inherent to the status quo in codeswitching research. A convincing case is made for the merits of conversation analysis, a major premise of which is that individual interactions can be autonomous of macro-sociolinguistic context. While larger social indexes may be useful as points of departure, we are cautioned not to impose interpretations from without on situations that may have to be explained from within. Other essential points include: (1) codeswitching should not be approached from a perspective of deviance, (2) not all codeswitching has a functional explanation, (3) not all codeswitchers have competence in the individual languages that correspond to the varieties in their mixed code, and (4) codeswitching can be a code unto itself. The viability of, and need for, a set of universal codeswitching constraints is questioned. As Alvarez-Caccamo points out, (5) such constraints presuppose that codeswitchers possess two (or more) separate grammars, and that "'code-switched' speech results from the predictable interaction between lexical elements and grammatical rules from these languages" (p. 36). The possibility of a single unified grammar for codeswitchers, which follows from points (3) and (4) above, is not new to codeswitching research (e.g. Pandit 1986), but runs into the same problem mentioned by Alvarez-Caccamo (p. 36) for the suppositions cited in (5): it is not proven yet. This does not entail that efforts to do so should be abandoned, but rather that various approaches to this and other language contact phenomena can optimally be complementary rather than divisive.

    Two of the papers prompt comments. The first concerns Franceschini's (Ch. 3) conclusion that the codeswitching in a case she describes "can be regarded as an independent language that can be acquired directly" (p. 57). This statement is made in regard to a Swiss-German teenager who is observed engaging in Swiss-German/Italian codeswitching with second-generation Italian immigrant friends. Without doubting the possibility of Franceschini's conclusion, it is nevertheless hard to see what it is based on in this particular instance other than the speaker's non-Italian ethnicity. This speaker is described as having grown up "in a linguistically strongly mixed area of the town" and as having "had Italian friends since her school years" (p. 57). Again, without wishing to detract from the validity of Franceschini's hypothesis (i.e. direct acquisition of a mixed code), the reader wonders why this speaker could not have first learned Italian--as a separate code--in school and/or from her peers. If that scenario is unlikely, explicit mention of the circumstances that make it so would strengthen the case presented. Speakers who begin to codeswitch after acquisition of a second language are present in diverse situations of language contact. For example, Pandit (1986: 86-93) points out that there are no speakers who acquire Mixed Hindi English as their native language; there are only speakers of Hindi who learn English and later become "users" of the mixed code. Anzaldua (2000: 246) mentions Chicanos who begin to codeswitch between English and Spanish after learning Spanish as adults in a foreign language classroom.

    The second comment concerns Moyer's (Ch. 9) paper. In regard to the type of intra-sentential codeswitching found in her data from Gibraltar, she observes that this strategy is "not always present in other multilingual settings where code-switching strategies are often more restricted" (p. 224).

    While this is certainly a valid point, an important comparison is missed: to Chicano Spanish/English codeswitching in the United States. Both oral and written data bearing many similarities to those presented in Moyer's study exist (e.g. Callahan 2001; Lance 1975; Reyes 1976; Sanchez 1983)

    Evaluation: Format Editor Auer's brief introductions to each contribution provide useful summaries and draw connections to related research. Another welcome feature is the placement of references immediately following each paper, instead of in a collective bibliography for the entire volume. This arrangement is more convenient for the reader who wishes to check a source without flipping to the back of the book, as well as for the instructor who wishes to assign selected articles. The seven-page index lists items by subject, country, language, and language-pair, and is quite comprehensive. The entry for 'code-switching', for example, is one and one third columns in length.

    In conclusion, the paperback release of Code-Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity offers to scholars interested in codeswitching, pragmatics, conversation analysis, and language ideologies a versatile and accessible resource.

    References Anzaldua, Gloria. (2000) Interviews/Entrevistas. Ed. AnaLouise Keating. New York: Routledge.

    Auer, Peter. (1984) Bilingual Conversation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Callahan, Laura. (2001) "Spanish/English Codeswitching in Fiction: A Grammatical and Discourse Function Analysis." Ph.D. Dissertation. University of California at Berkeley.

    Lance, Donald M. (1975) "Spanish-English Code Switching." In Hernandez- Chavez et al., eds. El Lenguaje de los Chicanos: Regional and Social Characteristics of Language Used by Mexican Americans. Arlington, Virginia: Center for Applied Linguistics. 138-153.

    Pandit, Ira. (1986) Hindi English Code Switching, Mixed Hindi English. Dehli: Datta.

    Reyes, Rogelio. (1976) "Language mixing in Chicano bilingual speech." In J. Bowen and J. Ornstein, eds. Studies in Southwest Spanish. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House. 183-188.

    Sanchez, Rosaura. (1983) Chicano Discourse: Socio-historic Perspectives. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House Publishers.

    About the reviewer Laura Callahan received her Ph.D. in 2001 from the University of California at Berkeley. Her dissertation examined Spanish/English codeswitching in a corpus of novels and short stories published in the United States by Chicano and Puerto Rican writers. She is the author of two forthcoming articles: "Metalinguistic References in a Spanish/English Corpus" (Hispania, 2001,84-3: 417-427), and "The Matrix Language Frame Model and Spanish/English Codeswitching in Fiction" (Language & Communication, 2001, 21-4).