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Review of  Spanish/English Codeswitching in a Written Corpus

Reviewer: Cecilia Montes-Alcalá
Book Title: Spanish/English Codeswitching in a Written Corpus
Book Author: Laura M Callahan
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.721

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Date: Wed, 9 Mar 2005 18:56:38 -0500
From: Cecilia Montes-Alcala
Subject: Spanish/English Codeswitching in a Written Corpus

AUTHOR: Callahan, Laura
TITLE: Spanish/English Codeswitching in a Written Corpus
SERIES: Studies in Bilingualism 27
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Cecilia Montes-Alcalá, Georgia Institute of Technology


This book analyzes a written corpus of Spanish-English codeswitched data
within the Matrix Language Frame model in both syntactic and
sociolinguistic terms.

Chapter 1 discusses different criteria for distinguishing borrowing from
codeswitching (i.e. phonological adaptation, quantity, frequency,
pragmatic functions) as well as cultural and nonce borrowings. In this
chapter, Myers-Scotton's (1993) Matrix Language Frame (MLF) model is
presented. Explanations are given for the key terms of this model (i.e.
Matrix Language versus Embedded Language, Embedded versus Matrix Language
islands and constituents, etc.) Lastly, the author introduces the main
discourse and socio-pragmatic functions of codeswitching and Myers-
Scotton's (1998) Markedness Model.

Chapter 2 presents the corpus of the study. The corpus is composed of
thirty texts published in the United States in the last three decades. All
of them are fiction prose (short stories and novels/novellas) containing
Spanish-English codeswitching. There are twenty-four authors, of which
fourteen are Chicano, one is Spanish, one is Mexican, six are Puerto Rican
or Nuyorican and the remaining two are non-Latino. Each text is summarized
in terms of its thematic content and its style of codeswitching. In this
chapter the methodology of the study is also introduced and the author
explains her criteria for the classification of the material (borrowings
versus codeswitches, determination of the Matrix Language, and
clarification as to what constitutes a sentence.)

Chapter 3 offers the bulk of the analysis, that is, the three types of
tabulations taken into account in her study. The first type is the
syntactic categories (single lexical items, phrases, and clauses.) Single
nouns account for the majority of codeswitches. Here, the author also
offers counterexamples to the three main syntactic constraints most
discussed in the literature (i.e. codeswitching is considered ill-formed
between complementizer and its complement, between auxiliaries and main
verbs, between finite verbs and adjacent infinitive complements, and
between verbs and pronominal subjects or objects.) The second type of
tabulation regards the constituents of the MLF. According to the data
presented, written codeswitching does not require a separate model of
syntactic constraints but rather follows the patters reported for oral
codeswitching. Interestingly enough, the author shows how the MLF model
accounts better for the texts that conform more closely to traditional
written formats, while those texts resembling oral discourse appear to be
more deviant from the MLF model. Thus, she concludes that oral versus
written is not a crucial factor to predict the syntactic patters of
codeswitching. Finally, the third type of tabulation is discussed, the
discourse function analysis. Here, the author offers examples for some of
the eight discourse functions she used to classify her material, all of
them well documented in oral codeswitching (i.e. referential, vocatives,
expletives, quotations, commentary and repetition, set phrases, tags and
exclamations, discourse markers and directives.) Her findings indicate
that the referential function accounted for 60% of the data, followed by
vocatives, and set phrases, tags, and exclamations. She also concludes
that there is some parity between oral and written codeswitching in regard
to discourse function.

In chapter 4 historical and contemporary examples of written codeswitching
involving different languages are surveyed. From Sanskrit-Prakrit
codeswitching in Indian plays to the introduction of Náhuatl in Chicano
poetry, the author reviews the literature of written codeswitching in
poetry, drama, and fiction. Most of the previous studies offer a
sociolinguistic approach, while others look at codeswitching from a
sociopolitical perspective, and yet others look at the syntactic
constraints. In the last part of the chapter, a brief review of
codeswitching in nonfiction (magazines, advertising, newspapers, etc) as
well as in nonprint media (radio, television, popular music) is offered.

Chapter 5 analyzes "authentic" versus "artificial" written codeswitching,
the differences between the oral and the written channel, and the effects
of written codeswitching on the (bilingual or monolingual) reader.
Regarding the register, the author argues that oral and written texts do
not always signal informal and formal registers respectively. The degree
of prestige of this mode of writing is relative to the perceived norms of
the speech community. In fact, the author connects a positive attitude
towards codeswitching with popular culture and entertainment, even being a
sound marketing strategy. With regards to the thematic content of fiction
written in the United States, there appears to be a strong correlation
between codeswitching and social, political, or cultural issues related to
the Latino community. Likewise, in these works the characters (or
narrator) use this mode of speech as an ethnic marker, something that is
not available for writers who are not members of this community.

Chapter 6 takes a look at the metalinguistic references present in 83% of
the corpus. In these texts, explicit mentions are made of a character's
linguistic competence or language choice, sometimes leading to
discrimination, humiliation, and stereotypical views. The author discusses
the speakers' attitudes towards Spanish and its varieties and the
representation of nonstandard language (English or Spanish). Nonstandard
Spanish appears in 70% of the corpus and the main varieties are
Southwestern Spanish, Caribbean Spanish, and Chicano Caló. Nonstandard
English appears in 53% of the corpus in the forms of African American
Vernacular English and certain varieties of New York English. Finally,
there is some portrayal of foreigner talk depicting the speech of non-
native speakers, many times with the purpose of producing a humorous

Chapter 7 discusses the costs of codeswitching in terms of advantages and
disadvantages within a macrosociolinguistic context-the language
marketplace, in the words of Bourdieu (1977). It is argued that an author
who publishes using Spanish-English codeswitching in the United States may
not get financial gain, but may reach social and professional recognition,
though risking loss of readership. According to Minderhout (1972), that
author might also run the risk of being stigmatized by both the mainstream
English world and the language purists within his/her own speech
community. In the last part of the chapter, the balance of power between
Spanish and English in the United States is discussed. The author predicts
that as the number of Spanish speakers grows, so will their power. Despite
the low presence of Latinos in the media, by publishing works using
codeswitching these authors can challenge the power relationships between
Spanish and English, bringing Spanish into the general marketplace. Thus,
the book concludes quoting Heller, who argues that "codeswitching is a
microlevel symptom of a macrolevel change" (1988: 12)


Given that the bulk of research done on codeswitching in the last four
decades has focused on the oral production of bilinguals, this book
constitutes a valuable work and an important step within the still fully
unexplored field of written codeswitching. Although not entirely
nonexistent, research on written codeswitching has not yielded a large
amount of studies and most of them have focused on Chicano poetry.
However, codeswitching does take place in other types of texts, as
discussed by Pfaff and Chávez (1986) in their analysis of Chicano plays
and in Montes-Alcalá's (1999, 2000, 2001) research of other bilingual
(both literary and non-literary) texts. In this sense Callahan's work
constitutes a fine addition to the literature since it tackles not only
Chicano but also Puerto Rican (or Nuyorican) as well as non-Latino

Callahan effectively discusses the distinction between codeswitching and
borrowing, which has traditionally been one of the most controversial
issues. The reader is referred to Bhatia and Ritchie (1996) for further
discussion on the topic. However, the true uniqueness of this book lies in
the application of the Matrix Language Frame model to a written bilingual
corpus, something that-to my knowledge-had not been done before. Further,
a positive feature of the book is the quantity of data here presented and
its particularly thorough analysis. While most studies tend to concentrate
on one feature of this phenomenon (i.e. its syntactic constraints or its
discourse functions) Callahan's work accounts for different grammatical
and pragmatic aspects. Another very interesting and innovative element is
her analysis of metalinguistic references within the texts. Thus, as
regards the data, the book seems to be of great interest for researchers
specializing on bilingualism in general and codeswitching in particular.

Nonetheless, some facts that may complicate the reading of the book should
also be mentioned. For a novice reader not familiar with the MLF model
some of the basic key concepts that appear at the beginning (chapters 1
and 3) may seem difficult to understand, although others are explained in
depth. The same issue arises with phonetic explanations of certain sounds
and their corresponding (phonetic) symbols, especially in chapter 6. For a
reader not familiar with these, the argument may be difficult to grasp. A
further problem emerges in the visual presentation of the corpus texts and
their English translations immediately below. Sometimes, especially in the
case of longer texts, the translations get tangled with the texts
themselves making it hard to follow either the text or the translation.

Regarding the structure and presentation, it would seem natural that
chapters 4 and 5 (the ones where the literature and previous studies are
reviewed) come earlier in the book, perhaps following the introduction and
before getting to the analysis of the data, which then continues on
chapter 6 after the intermission. Additionally, the last part of chapter 4
focuses largely on oral (non print) rather than written codeswitching and
the same applies to the last chapter of the book. Some, but not all, of
the information about oral codeswitching is fairly pertinent to the

Although the corpus texts are well summarized in terms of the plot and
type of language used, there is not much information about the writers of
these texts other than their names and ethnic background. Given that most
studies of this nature contain a description of the profiles of the
subjects whose speech is being analyzed, it would have been useful to have
add some biographical data about the authors of the texts (bilingual
upbringing, languages used at home or in their community, etc.)

The proofreading and editing has been good and the number of typos is
quite low (I found only three cases.) Overall, the book makes for
stimulating and interesting read and gives a good insight into current
issues and aspects of Spanish-English codeswitching in a written corpus.


Bhatia, T., & W. Ritchie. (1996) "Bilingual Language Mixing, Universal
Grammar, and Second Language Acquisition." In T. Bhatia & W. Ritchie
(Eds), Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 627-88). San Diego,
CA: Academic Press Inc.

Bourdieu, P. (1977). L'economie des échanges linguistiques. Langue
Française, 34, 17-34.

Heller, M. (Ed.) (1988). Codeswitching: Anthropological and
Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Minderhout, D. (1972). The Entrepreneur's Use of Language. In D. M. Smith
& R. W. Shuy (Eds.), Sociolinguistics in Cross-Cultural Analysis (pp. 57-
66). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Montes-Alcalá, C. (1999). "Oral vs. Written Code-Switching Contexts in
English-Spanish Bilingual Narratives." In I. de la Cruz, et al. (Eds.), La
lingüística aplicada a finales del siglo XX. Madrid: Servicio de
Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, 1999.

Montes-Alcalá, C. (2000). "Written Code-switching: Powerful Bilingual
Images." In R. Jacobson (Ed.), Codeswitching Worldwide. Berlin: Mouton de

Montes-Alcalá, C. (2001). Two Languages, One Pen: Socio-Pragmatic
Functions In Written Spanish-English Code-Switching. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI
Dissertation Services.

Myers-Scotton, C. (1993). Duelling Languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Myers-Scotton, C. (1998). A Theoretical Introduction to the Markedness
Model. In C. Myers-Scotton (Ed.), Codes and Consequences: Choosing
Linguistic Varieties (pp. 18-38). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pfaff, C., & L. Chávez. (1986). "Spanish/ English Codeswitching: Literary
Reflections of Natural Discourse." In R. von Bardeleben, et al. (Eds.),
Missions in Conflict: Essays on US-Mexican Relations and Chicano Culture
(pp. 229-54). Tübingen: Narr.


Cecilia Montes-Alcalá received her Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics from the
University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently an Assistant
Professor of Spanish and Linguistics at the Georgia Institute of
Technology. Her teaching and research interests include sociolinguistics,
applied linguistics, bilingualism, and languages in contact. She has
published several articles about Spanish and English in contact, Spanish-
English written codeswitching, and attitudes toward oral and written