The Dynamics of Language Mixing in Nigerian Digital Communication

The Dynamics of Language Mixing in Nigerian Digital Communication

Rotimi Taiwo
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch011
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This chapter examines language mixing in two text-based asynchronous modes – internet forums and text messages. While the latter is limited in space, thereby encouraging the use of stylistic short forms, the former presents the participant with unlimited space for expression. This major difference affects the extent to which language mixing is practiced in the two forms of communication. Language mixing in text messages is constrained mainly by cultural factors - greetings and prayers form the bulk of indigenous language expressions embedded in English, the matrix language. Language play is another factor that motivates people to mix languages in text messages. In internet forums, language mixing manifests as a result of the apparent mutual linguistic influence that English and the Nigerian languages have on each other. Conscious and deliberate language mixing reflects most prominently the need by participants for identity construction in their discourse. Features of Nigerianisms coupled with language mixing gives the communication in both SMS and internet forum the distinct Nigerian flavor.
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The study of alternate use of two or more languages in conversation has been the focus of scholars from different linguistic related fields like sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, philosophy, anthropology and so forth. Code-switching (CS)/code-mixing (CM) and borrowing, which are major results of language contact, have been the subject of debate among researchers on Bilingualism and Contact Linguistics. While some scholars explicitly differentiate between CS and CM (Liu, 2006), others concentrate on the boundary between code switched elements and lexically borrowed ones? (Poplack (1980; Boztepe, 2003).

CM is generally seen as all cases where lexical items and grammatical features of two or more languages appear in one sentence, while CM is associated with the alternating of different languages or varieties of the same language in a single speech event (Muysken, 2000). There are two distinct but related approaches to the study of CS – Sociolinguistic and Structural. The sociolinguistic approach views CS as a discourse phenomenon and examines such issues as the discourse functions of CS and how it is used to create social meaning. The major concern of the sociolinguistic approach is the question: Why do bilinguals switch languages? (Myers-Scotton, 1993). The structural approach seeks to prove that CS is not just purely an idiosyncratic linguistic behaviour, but rather rule-governed. This approach focuses on the formulation of the syntactic constraints on where switching can occur within the sentence.

Key Terms in this Chapter

SMS (Short Message Service): A service for sending short text messages to mobile phones.

Nigerian English: The indigenenized form of English used in Nigeria. It is characterized by the use of domesticated lexical items and syntactic structures.

Nigerian Pidgin: An English-based Pidigin used in Nigeria as a lingua franca.

Internet forum: A web-based forum which is used for holding discussions. It allows people to post messages to a website where these messages can be read and commented on by other members of the community.

Language mixing: The practice of alternating between two or more languages during an instance of language use.

Thread: a list of messages posted on a discussion forum. A thread contains an original message and responses to that message.

Indigeneous languages: Mother tongues of the indigenous people

Digital Communication: A system of communication that involves the transfer of information through electronic media that work the digital system.

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