Intra-individual variation: The Cinderella of Code-switching

Gardner-Chloros, Penelope

Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom


Intra-individual variation: The Cinderella of Code-switching

Evidence shows that when code-switching, individuals combine their languages in a variety of different ways depending on circumstances. Two aspects of this variation are explored in this paper, both relatively neglected in the CS literature:

The first reason why individuals code-switch differently in different circumstances is connected with the accommodative function of CS. Communicative competence –of which CS is a part - follows the principles of ‘Audience Design’ (Bell 1984; 2001). In plurilingual settings, audience design often means adapting to an interlocutor whose competence in the relevant varieties differs from the speaker’s. Although this has been recognized for some time, e.g. by Myers-Scotton, who has talked of CS as an exploratory choice and also as a compromise choice, overall the accommodative aspect of code-switching has received relatively little systematic attention in the literature. Moreover, the social psychological literature tends to deal with larger units of language choice rather than code-switching as an inter- and intra-sentential phenomenon (Lawson and Sachdev 2000). This is partly for methodological reasons, since the quantitative methods employed demand that there should be clear, countable categories, to which complex code-switching does not easily lend itself.

Secondly, the way in which individuals code-switch is part of the way in which they present themselves as speakers, i.e. it is part of what has been called ‘styling the self’. For example, among the many variables which have been studied, personality variables affecting the amount and type of code-switching have on the whole been omitted. It is tempting to apply the same methods to studying intra-individual variation which have been used to study non-standard v. standard forms, i.e. to correlate code-switching with a range of sociolinguistic factors including gender, generation, context, topic, etc. But as in the case of non-standard forms, CS is in fact best understood in relation to specific aspects of discourse rather than as a simple function of belonging to a sociolinguistic category. For example, no general pattern has been found as to whether women or men are more prolific code-switchers (Cheshire and Gardner-Chloros 1998) – this depends on which functions CS is fulfilling in specific contexts. The less necessary CS is for accommodation purposes, the more it is likely to be serving subtle discourse functions and to be characteristic of the individual speaker and their personality. Therefore these two aspects of individual variation in CS can be seen as complementary.

Bell, A. 1984. Language style as audience design. Language in Society 13: 145-204.

Bell, A 2001 Back in style: reworking audience design. In Eckert, P. & Rickford, D. (eds.) Style and Sociolinguistic Variation. Cambridge: CUP 139-169.

Cheshire,J.& Gardner-Chloros,P.1998 Code-switching and the Sociolinguistic Gender Pattern. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 129, Special edition on Women’s Languages in Various Parts of the World, eds. S. Ide and B. Hill, pp.5-34.

Lawson, S. & Sachdev, I. 2000 Codeswitching in Tunisia: Attitudinal and behavioural dimensions. Journal of Pragmatics 32, 1343-1361.

Session: Paper session
Code-Switching 2
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 10