31 August 2009

Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista on code-switching

In the August 29 issue of the newspaper Manila Bulletin, linguist Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista summarizes current linguistic theory about code-switching:

"There was a time, some 40 years ago, when Taglish [Tagalog + English] was frowned upon. This was because Taglish was associated with a speaker’s inability to use either Tagalog or English in complete discourse. It was a sign of lack of proficiency in one of the two languages. This can be called 'deficiency-driven code switching.' ...

"But the more common kind of code switching now can be called 'proficiency-driven code switching.' This is the kind used by people who are proficient in both languages and who code-switch for purposes of communicative efficiency. I believe that bilinguals (and most Filipinos are bilingual, even trilingual) have the strategic competence to 'calculate,' in a sense, which language would provide the most expressive, most concise way of saying something. This kind of strategic competence is currently very evident in texting [SMS] – the texter can choose between English, Tagalog, or Taglish to state the message in the fastest, easiest way possible."

As it has always done, literature leads the way in the uses of language. Multilingual literary texts are written by writers proficient, not deficient in language skills. The general population (those using SMS) are reaping the benefits of the efforts of literary writers (admittedly and necessarily, a small percentage of the world's population) to break down the barriers between languages and to harness the best qualities of every language in the service of effective and pleasurable communication. Linguists explore universes of discourse where literary writers and critics have gone before.


  1. Hi - It was interesting to read about this here. I very much agree with Bautista's view that:
    "bilingualism is a resource, and the switching between languages is an additional resource". This is the exact conclusion we came to in our paper:
    "(2000) P Gardner-Chloros, R Charles, J Cheshire. 'Parallel patterns? A comparison of monolingual speech and bilingual codeswitching discourse.' in Journal of Pragmatics, Volume 32, Issue 9, August 2000, Pages 1305-1341"
    which examines English-Punjabi code-switching.

  2. The English language itself has gone through multilingual enhancement through the centuries. It is an obvious conclusion that the more languages adopted by a root language could only lead to a husbanding of more linguistic resources.

    Through literary use, these "adoptions" may contribute to the precision of the expressive tools in any given language, assuming that the use would have been accepted by the users of the language. Until then, "adoptions" remain isolated as suggestions of other cultures, other voices.

    Multilingual criticism through linguistic hermeneutics has championed the expansion of literary resources. The more languages used by a community, the wider its resources for the eexpression of world views, phenomenon, and various realities.

    Should multilingualism then be encouraged through a people's literature? If cosmopolitan world views would contribute to an authentic human hegemony, why not? The effort of governments to legislate the adoption of a single predominant language for its literature and commerce has prospered, but at what expense? Would the dying of other languages and other cultures be good for universal peace and development?



  3. It's appealing to think that having an additional language might provide an extra resource for communication efficiency. However, we did a study comparing bilingual texting to monolingual texting and found no difference in the lengths of messages (i.e., efficiency). And, if anything, bilinguals produced less efficient messages. The paper is in the process of being prepared for a journal, but the slides are available at http://www.csudh.edu/psych/Sandra%20Benitez%20The%20Effect%20of%20Bilingualism%20on%20Text%20Messaging%20Efficiency%20--%20WPA%204-11-2008.pps