Sociolinguistic and Educational Perspectives on Code Switching in Classrooms: What Is It, Why Do It, and then, Why Feel Bad about It?

Sociolinguistic and Educational Perspectives on Code Switching in Classrooms: What Is It, Why Do It, and then, Why Feel Bad about It?

James R. King (University of South Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8668-7.ch014
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In educational contexts, codeswitching (CS) is deployed in a binary fashion. Either CS is a productive strategy (a translanguaging, revisionists' claim), or CS is a “bad habit” signaling linguistic deficits. Some of the variance in understanding CS results from specific contexts. When a second language is used in a content classroom, the productive use of CS as a viable strategy for explication, management, and community building may also suffer from confusion. Yet, CS in language classrooms is a concern for teachers. Confusion emanates from two theoretical accounts for CS (structural and functional). For educational uses, CS suffers from this “split personality,” with resolution found in a “contact zone” account. I draw from the cross-cultural and cross-linguistic contexts of South Africa to explain notions of CS, and specifically as CS relates to literacy in some cases. The cross-cultural components play a role in explaining CS as it relates to literacy.
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In the middle of a hypothetical science or social studies lesson, a teacher may stop and rephrase to make a point more clearly. Sometimes, the clarification may take a different linguistic form, a different dialect, or, in a bilingual situation, a second language. When these conversation shifts occur within a single conversational turn, it is called code switching (Myers-Scotton, 1992; hereafter, CS). The teacher’s instructional goal that underpins a choice to change the language of teaching may be understood as increasing students’ comprehension. But the linguistic goal may be potentially more complex. When speakers shift their language of delivery within a conversational turn, there can be many motivations for doing so, and not always for the effort of increasing understanding. Much research effort and attention have been deployed in trying for linguistic understanding and modeling of what might have been going on for a speaker in momentarily shifting to a second language. This work is found in the field of linguistics, sociolinguistics and conversation analysis. Likewise, a corresponding body of work in the field of education exists to explain the deployment of CS in instructional settings. Here, CS can be unpacked as a deliberate (or sometimes, not-so-deliberate) teaching strategy, deployed to address emergent “deficits” in teachers’ linguistic competence; teachers’ perception of lack of understanding on the part of the students; as a management strategy to address inattentiveness; and as a means of creating intimacy with a language more central to students’ processing. As such, what linguists descriptively call “code switching” can also be construed as intentional teaching strategy, a practice the teacher deploys with an instructional focus in mind, and perhaps with little or no awareness of its occurrence. In contrast, more social uses of CS may be invoked to (anti)socially exclude an undesirable non-speaker in the second code; or to leverage a second language to consolidate power within an exchange. But several points converge here from fields like teaching strategies, educational discourse analysis, bilingual sociolinguistics, as well as specific conversation analysis and theory building in general linguistics. Li and Martin (2009) embrace the paradoxical nature of CS:

Codeswitching is, perhaps, the most common, unremarkable and distinctive feature of bilingual behavior. In most multilingual contexts it largely goes unnoticed and unmentioned. It would probably go unmentioned and unnoticed in classrooms as well were it not for…language policies…imbued with persistent monolingual ideologies. (p. 117)

The purpose of this chapter is to sort through and organize what is meant when one “codeswitches” or when someone else talks about instances of “codeswitching.” I begin with an historic and definitional treatment of codeswitching. I then explain how subsequent treatment of CS in various contexts reveals the futility in trying to pin down decontextualized accounts for CS. Consequently, the remainder of the chapter situates CS in more specific social contexts to instantiate its particular uses. These include linguistic accounts, CS in second language classrooms, CS in content area courses (science, social studies, math), and CS in early bilingual language learning. The chapter ends with recommendations for consideration of the “contact zone” as an alternative understanding for CS in purposefully bilingual social spaces as situated in a more globalized world.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Discourse Synthesis: Selecting, organizing, and combining information from oral and/or written source texts into a product, or synthesis text.

Contact Zone: Reconceptualizing classrooms as democratic, non-authoritarian communication spaces that honor and respect various linguistic affordances.

Functional Modeling: Accounts of CS that rely on speakers’ navigation of the communication between immediate speakers in a situated context in order to make sense of CS. Functional approaches to CS may deploy conversation analysis in order to more systematically describe the CS interactions (see Stroud, 1998 AU137: The citation "Stroud, 1998" matches multiple references. Please add letters (e.g. "Smith 2000a"), or additional authors to the citation, to uniquely match references and citations. ).

Translanguaging: Sociolinguistic practices that make use of multiple linguistic affordances in a given social context.

Structural Modeling: An explanation that treats CS data to analysis within syntax, is predictive of CS behavior, and accounts for CS within the structure of the matrix language as well as its relationship to the use of the target, or second language (see Myers-Scotton, 1993a AU138: The citation "Myers-Scotton, 1993a" matches multiple references. Please add letters (e.g. "Smith 2000a"), or additional authors to the citation, to uniquely match references and citations. ).

Intertextuality: Delineates the relationships and co-references texts have with each other. Likewise, intertextuality can be brought to bear on languages in contact, with strategies such as CS productively taking advantage of the commonality the languages share.

Codeswitching: Simultaneous use of two or more languages, dialects, or styles within a single conversational turn.

Markedness: Markedness theory in CS presumes power differentials and involves the sociolinguistic desire of the speaker to shift power, and looks for the advantages in the affordances of the “shifted to” language.

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