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Bilingual Speakers: Is Code Switching Bad?

2018 words - 8 pages

In various societies, people use several different languages in conversations between their friends, family and peers. Especially in Singapore, it is not an unfamiliar phenomenon to hear two or more bilingual speakers speaking and code switching between the language English and Chinese, English and Malay, English and Tamil or even Standard English and Singaporean English to each other in a natural and effortless manner. In this line, I have mechanistically relate speech varieties with “codes” and despite having a vast variety of definitions to choose from for code switching; I have decided to use Heller’s definition. Heller (1988) defines code switching as the alternating between two or more languages in a single sentence or conversation. During this phenomenon, it is common for individuals to fluently use more than one language in a course of a single communication episode. When this happens, bilinguals are not coached in how to code switch, but instead, they rely on unconscious linguistic understanding in differentiating between what are tolerable and intolerable code switching usages. According to Auer (1989), factors such as cultural interaction, intercultural marriage, education, and colonization are some influences for code switching. Moreover, speakers may choose to alternate from one code to another, either to distinguish oneself, to show commonality with a social group, to discuss a certain topic, join in social happenstances, to impress and influence the audience or to express feelings and affections (Crystal, 1987). However, there has been a misconception in many people’s perception, that “code switching is bad”, “code switching creates confusion” and that “code switching will result in a language deficit where individuals would not be fluent in either languages”. Nevertheless, contrary to popular beliefs, this paper aims to change the perception of others to the idea that code switching is, in fact, good and that it has been a prominent part of Singaporean society in both past and present, bringing people of different cultures and generation closer together.
Although many parents believe that code switching results in language delay, or a language deficit in a child’s upbringing, there is no scientific support that proves the notion of code switching lead to delays or impairment of language acquisition (De Houwer, 1999). In fact, according to Skiba’s research in 1997, code switching has been proven to benefit a person. Through his research, the code switching individual is said to have a larger and wider selection of vocabulary, lexical terms, and phrases that allows them to switch codes freely in different contexts and for different reasons to express themselves without boundaries. Thus, demonstrating linguistic creativity and sophistication (Auer, 1997), as well as indicating a sign of mastery in both languages (King & Fogle, 2006), to form a tolerable code switching use. An example of this, mentioned by Lee (2003) would be the...

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