Semantron 23 Summer 2023


Hugo Bird

Multilingualism is a skill shared by a large proportion of our global population, with estimates suggesting that the majority of people worldwide are able to speak more than one language. As a result of this, we can see the phenomenon of code-switching, the alternation between languages during a single conversation. Code-switching is not, however, related solely to alternation of languages, but also dialects, such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), compared to Standard English (SE). The reasons for code-switching differ vastly, largely associated with the reasons as to why people have these multiple dialects or languages. We often see, for instance, use of one language for formal environments such as school or work and another for home or social life. The study of code-switching gives an insight into how dialects or languages interact with each other, how different methods of learning can produce different results in discussions, and how – especially with dialects – incidences of code-switching can show influence of social status. Switching mostly has positive outcomes, allowing for ease of communication, supporting language learning and therefore range of vocabulary and cognitive function, and allowing people to fit into social environments. However, we can also see few examples of linguists prescribing against code-switching, on the notion that it may be detrimental to ensuring mastered language fluency of both languages equally, and even that it may have a toll on mental health if constantly done. The reasons for code-switching, while many, can be broadly categorized into four different groups: to be used as a learning tool for one or more languages, to help speakers fit into a social group or formal environment, to stand out from the crowd and express their own individuality, and to communicate ideas that do not completely exist in the primary language being utilized. All of these reasons can be shown by various studies, including Mark Sebba’s investigation into students at a girls’ secondary school in Catford, in which he observed a sizeable portion of the pupil body had Caribbean parents, and would speak in Creole at home, then switch to a Cockney English dialect when speaking to friends, and switch to RP English (often described as a ‘typically British’ dialect) when in class. In these cases, students would be code-switching when in class and when talking to friends, and, if parents also speak English, in the household. In school, the reasons for code-switching would be to fit into the formal environment that is school with RP English, and then to stand out and form a separate group among their peers with the Cockney English dialect, or even among closer friends perhaps using Creole, which helps to establish a more informal, relaxed environment, and through Cockney slang or perhaps Creole phrases, students would be able to describe certain things we do not have in RP English, or use similar words that have different connotations. For example, a word of Jamaican Creole origin ‘ peng ’ in reference to a person can mean very beautiful, in a less formal way, and can be used to describe a variety of other items, such as food, to be very appealing – in a way that no other English words capture with the exact tone of informality. For children whose parents speak both English and Creole, for example, code- switching can be an indispensable method of oral language teaching. By parents’ use of code - switching between each language by the sentence, children are exposed to them equally, and contrary to popular belief, can learn each to a high standard and differentiate between them, and this often develops later in childhood into code-switching at home to practise both languages. Code-switching in


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