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Review of  Code-Switching in Conversation

Reviewer: Laura M Callahan
Book Title: Code-Switching in Conversation
Book Author: Peter Auer
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.1872

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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

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

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

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

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

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.

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).