Code switching is generally defined as the phenomenon wherein a bi- or multilingual speaker shifts from one language to another in the course of a conversation. Numan and Carter briefly define code switching as “a phenomenon of switching from one language to another in the same discourse” (2001:275). Hymes defines only code-switching as “a common term for alternative use of two or more language, varieties of a language or even speech styles. Code-switching is the practice of switching between languages or linguistic dialects. Sociologists, linguists and educators study code-switching to analyze cultural interactions and educational techniques.
Code-switching can occur for an entire conversation, within a conversation or within a speaking turn. It applies to the fluidity of primary and secondary languages among bilingual and multilingual people, as well as the movement between variations of a single language.
While putting the phenomenon of code switching in context, the functions of code switching will be introduced in various aspects. Firstly, its function in bilingual community settings will briefly be explained by giving a sample authentic conversation which will help the reader deduce ideas about its possible applications in educational contexts. Secondly, the functionality of code switching in teachers’ classroom discourse will be introduced with its aspects as: topic switch, affective functions, and repetitive functions. Thirdly, the focus will shift to students’ code switching by introducing some basic functional perspectives as: equivalence, floor holding, reiteration, and conflict control. Lastly, weak and strong sides of code switching in foreign language classrooms will be discussed with a critical approach.
Below are the types of code switching.
- Mechanical switching. It occurs unconsciously, and fills in unknown or unavailable terms in one language. This type of code-switching is also known as code-mixing. Code-mixing occurs when a speaker is momentarily unable to remember a term, but is able to recall it in a different language.
- Code-changing. It is characterized by fluent intrasentential shifts, transferring focus from one language to another. It is motivated by situational and stylistic factors, and the conscious nature of the switch between two languages is emphasized (Lipski, 1985, p. 12).
- Tag- switching. This involves the insertion of a tag in one language into an utterance that is otherwise entirely in the other language. We can see example, so he asked me for money, znas #, I had to say no, znas #. The tag here is Serbian for ‘you know’.
Code-switching may be indicative of difficulties in retrieval (access) affected by a combination of closely-related factors such as language use (i.e., how often the first-language is used) and word frequency (i.e., how much a particular word is used in the language).