Code-Switching Research Paper

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Date Submitted: 03/06/2010 07:58 PM

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Code-Switching is Child’s Play

As infants, human beings generally possess the natural ability to learn any language on earth. Due to geographical location or parental lineage, many are expected to learn two or more languages simultaneously, as they develop from infants into young children. A father may use one language with his child, while the mother uses another and possibly, there is yet a different language used at school. While the mastery of two or more languages is in progress, a normal, developmental process called code-switching occurs. Code-switching (CS) is the phenomenon of alternating between two or more languages during spoken conversation. In very young children, the terms code-mixing or language-mixing are also commonly used, as they are acquiring two or more new languages, simultaneously, without having mastered either one. The duration and frequency varies for individuals, often lasting for a period of years, and according to Genesee, (1989 as cited in Barron-Hauwaert, 2004) until the child possesses a more proficient knowledge of general language.

Prior to the 1980s, CS was thought to be the result of below average language skills, but today it is reported in almost all case studies regarding bilingual speakers (Meisal,1994, as cited in Barron-Hauwaert, 2004). Studies have shown that there are significant differences in the way bilingual children use language, depending on the circumstances. CS would vary when conversing with parents, siblings, friends and teachers. While the sibling to sibling code-switching has not yet been widely studied, there are several studies pertaining to parents and children, teachers and students and between friends and peers. As the population of today’s world evolves and transitions to new and various locations, it is in the best interests of educators, linguists, parents and school policy-makers to be aware of ongoing research about this phenomenon.

When children are in a relaxed environment,...