By, Oorja and Makarand (Mak)
Most Indians are multilingual. We comfortably speak at least three languages. In fact, we also switch between them as we speak. But then, we do not follow that practice in writing. As technical writers, we ‘stick to the language and style.’
While working on an academic project recently, we realized that this switching of language is a natural phenomenon and can lead to some interesting pieces of works. In fact, code-switching is very fundamental to cultures and is the melting-pot leading to different language transformations.
There is an elaborate study done on code-switching and a terminology exists for using it. Here is a short article that captures the crux of it.
What is Code-switching?
Code-switching is defined as alternating between two or more languages or language varieties within the same scenario. For code-switching to happen, and become successful; both speakers must be fluent in both languages involved, and the conversation should be consistent with the syntax of either language. This means that the grammar and structure of both languages needs to be followed at the same time.
Code-switching occurs due to a number of reasons. These reasons arise out of different cultures in different ways.
Causes of Code-switching
The first cause is the Diminished Language Proficiency. When speaking in one language, the speaker finds that he/she does not know how to say certain words in that language. For the purpose of those few words, he/she changes the language. It has been found that code-switching occurs more when speaking in one’s first language rather than second. Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? The reason is – in today’s world, the education of many bilinguals takes place in their second language. So while they are still fluent speakers of their first language, their command of the second language is stronger and more formal.
For instance, a native Marathi speaker studying at an English-medium school/college will transition more from Marathi to English than from English to Marathi.
The second cause is a social factor playing a significant role in code-switching called the Communication Accommodation Theory. It refers to the attempt of either minimizing or maximizing the social differences between the speaker and the other person.
Related to this is the idea of emphasizing the in-group and the out-group when speaking. In the following example, there is a clear break in language:
Hum angrezi seekhte hain, so why can’t they learn Hindi?
हम अंग्रेजीसिखते है, so why can’t they learn हिंदी?
[We learn English; so why can’t they learn Hindi?]
This break occurs right in the middle of the sentence, at the point where the subject changes from “हम” (us), to “they”. The shift in language thus accentuates the difference that the speaker is emphasizing. Here, the Hindi speakers are the in-group, who are stressing on the difference between them and the out-group, who are the English speakers.
The third cause, Diglossia, is defined as the situation wherein two related languages or language varieties are used by the same community. One of these languages is used for everyday interactions, while the other language is used in formal settings. Essentially, some topics are simply better suited to one language than the other.
Code-switching can be organized into four different types.
- Tag switching
In this case, the code-switching happens outside the sentence or clause level. One clause is in one language and the second clause is in another language. For example,
Sometimes, I start a sentence in English et je la finis en français.
[Sometimes, I start a sentence in English and I finish it in French.]
In contrast to the first one, this means code-switching occurs within the same sentence of the clause. It is probably the most common type, so the examples are many.
I like to eat चावल [chawal].
[I like to eat rice.]
This one is actually quite rare. The following example is a true story.
I will come and get उद्या’sकपडे [udya’s kapde].
[I will come and get tomorrow’s clothes (clothes to wear tomorrow).]
In Marathi, a suffix “चे[che]” is added after the noun to signify possession(उद्याचे). However, this is not the case in English. An apostrophe with an “s” is added instead. In this sentence, the speaker combined these two languages, ending up in the same word, उद्या’s, containing elements of two different languages.
It is simply changing the language of a tag phrase or word at the end of a sentence.
These shoes are so nice, haina [है ना]?
[These shoes are so nice, aren’t they?]
The phrase ‘है ना‘ is commonly attached at the end of a sentence in Hindi, but here it is attached to the end of an English sentence.
Cultural Effects of Code-switching
The phenomenon of code-switching is so powerful that it actually leads to inclusion of words in another language. For example, we use स्टेशन [Station] and टेबल [Table] so much in Indian languages, that we have forgotten the original words. We even modify those words as per the grammar rules of the other language. For example, plural of टेबल in Marathi is टेबले [instead of English – tables].
The word “Sir” is so ingrained in our culture that we use it in place of “teacher.” The authors found this word in a ‘Learn Kannada’ book spelled as “Ssaar”and it claimed it to be a Kannada word.
Code-switching is entering written communication as well. The advertising industry uses it successfully to attract the native language speakers to their brand. As a result, the brands have got established and our spoken language has undergone a permanent change.
Hindi-English – “Yeh Dil Mange More” – used by Pepsi
English-Kannada – “Simply talk madi” – used by a telecom company
Interestingly, the advertising industry does not use the native script (For example, देवनागरी[Devanagiri]) for the language. They use Latin characters. In the above example, they used “Yeh Dil Mange” instead of “ये दिल मांगे”.
Code-switching has also been popular in the entertainment industry, especially movies. Who can forget the legendary Tamil song by Dhanush “Why this kolaveri kolaveri kolaveri di [Why this murderous rage, this murderous rage, this murderous rage]”. The song created a world-record in social media and had a permanent influence on the industry. The song has changed the music industry by setting new trends (in many ways, not limited to code-switching).
An extensive and consistent use of code-switching over a period of time may result in Pidgins and Creoles.
Pidgin is an impromptu construction of sentences from two languages used to communicate between two groups (traders bargaining in the market). It often uses words (Lexicon) from one language and the structure (Grammar rules) from another.
Creole is when a completely new language is developed from a mixture of different languages.
Sounds interesting? Here are some links to look at – we used many of them as a reference!
About the Authors
Oorja is a Year-12 International Baccalaureate student at the American International School in Abu Dhabi. Along with science and math, she has a passion for languages and has worked on this article as a part of her internship at Technowrites. She can be reached at OorjaMajgaonkar@gmail.com.
Makarand Pandit (Mak) is managing director of Technowrites Pvt. Ltd. He is the president (2016) and founder member of the STC India Chapter. Mak is a technical writer, instructional designer, and a trainer. Mak is an electronics engineer and post graduate in marketing management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.