Codeswitching: An Alternative Approach to Traditional Communication Methods for Reaching Multilinguals in the Global Marketplace

Codeswitching: An Alternative Approach to Traditional Communication Methods for Reaching Multilinguals in the Global Marketplace

Melissa M. Bishop (University of New Hampshire, USA) and Mark Peterson (University of Wyoming, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1793-1.ch045
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The purpose of this chapter is to overview the topic of language codeswitching—which refers essentially to the alternation between two languages in communication by bilinguals. The history of codeswitching, motivations for codeswitching, and the use of codeswitching in the media and in advertising are discussed. Further, the appropriateness of using this language style to reach consumers in advertising is also examined in light of language attitudes and general attitudes toward the practice. Greater understanding of how to employ bilingual advertising (such as codeswitching) among an increasingly interconnected world still remains of interest to international and cross-cultural advertisers.
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Regarding language in advertising, international and cross-cultural advertisers continue to struggle to find the best language medium through which to reach their target audiences. Levitt’s (1983) classic position implies employing a single language in advertising, citing that companies should ignore superficial regional and national differences, treating the world as one homogenous marketplace. More recently, however, the prevailing perspective concerning advertising standardization is that decisions be made on a country-to-country basis (Kanso & Nelson, 2002). Standardization versus localization decisions are usually made in each particular situation with a cost-benefit analysis (Onkvisit & Shaw, 1987), since it is expensive to target every ethnic group within a region with an individualized campaign. In particular, Onkivist and Shaw (1987) define the standardized approach as the use of uniform messages without modification of headings, illustrations or body copy—except for translation. A more extreme example of standardization is when no local language translation is made in any part of the ad (Gerritsen et al., 2010). This rather “extreme” standardization is done not only to save on costs but because the advertisers believe that the entire world can be approached with the same concept and language (Gerritsen et al., 2010).

In contrast, if a localized approach is taken for a language decision, most advertisers would translate the ad entirely into the target country’s primary language (with possible exceptions of brand names or slogans). However, another alternative would be to use language codeswitching, which refers (in general) to the practice of alternating between two languages.

Codeswitching is becoming more common as the people grow increasingly bilingual (trilingual, etc.), as it is easier to gain access to media in other languages due to the spread of technology and technological advances in general. This practice is especially growing among the younger generations, as switching between two languages (especially one that has higher status associated with it) may be seen as vogue and modern. Furthermore, codeswitching has been observed in many media communication vehicles (Khosravizadeh & Bagheri Sanjareh, 2011; Chavez, 2002; Si, 2011; Wei-Yu Chen, 2006; Cárdenas-Claros & Isharyanti, 2009; Ustinova, 2006; Dimova, 2012) and its use appears to be increasing.

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