Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

El code-switching es normal, experts say

guys talking

Photo by polandeze/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A street conversation in August 2007, languages unspecified.

This afternoon I happened to catch a re-tweet of an interesting post that SpanglishBaby, a website dedicated to bilingual parenting, published a couple of months ago on code-switching. For those who don't call it code-switching, it's that thing that bilingual types, i.e. people like me, do when we're having a conversation, say, with our mother or our cousin or a close comadre or compadre in English, then inexplicably switch to our native language, then switch back.

For bilinguals, code-switching is business as usual. For monolinguals who overhear us as we're jabbering into our cell phones in the produce section at Whole Foods, asking "Should I get the organic fruta bomba?" of the person at the other end, it can be infuriating.

Code-switchers have been accused of being linguistically lazy, among other things. Not so, according to language expert François Grosjean, whose recently published book "Bilingual: Life and Reality" is highlighted in the post.  A quote from one linguist who is cited in the book: “Code-switching is a verbal skill requiring a large degree of linguistic competence in more than one language, rather than a defect arising from insufficient knowledge of one or the other."

The reasons why people code-switch are explained, among them: to express an idea best captured in one language and not the other, because the code-switched words are the only ones available for a particular term, and yes, sometimes as a way to communicate in an exclusionary manner, which, understandably, annoys those who don't understand.

In general, the author debunks "the beliefs that bilinguals who code-switch do so out of laziness or because they don't know either language well enough to stick to just one language. According to the author, code-switching is actually not easy to do," the post reads.

Thank you, SpanglishBaby. Me siento validated.