In this blog, we want to analyse the in-depth aspects and factors of code-switching and mixing of bilingual and multilingual speakers. This topic is an ongoing issue and involves many misunderstandings and conflicts among adults, primarily parents and teachers. Language switching and mixing is a powerful strategy, which requires linguistic skills and is not an indicator of language impairment. With the support of Professor Ursula Doleschal, we analysed this phenomenon and revealed the most significant information based on research.
Introducing Professor Ursula Doleschal
The professor shares an interesting language background. Prof. Doleschal grew up speaking German and her parents emphasized the importance of learning English, French, and Russian from an early age. Despite being exposed to diverse languages and environments such as Bosnian, she understood that people perceive some languages as more privileged and worth studying compared to others, which she studied later in school and at the university. In due course, Prof. Doleschal further took an interest in Italian and Latin.
For her, it was important to always communicate in those languages and due to her interests, the professor studied General Linguistics and Russian in Vienna and Moscow and conducted research about the Feminine Marking in German as well as Gender as a Grammatical and Text Linguistic Category for her Ph.D. The expert extended her expertise abroad in Prague, Ljubljana, and Naples among many other places as a German lecturer. Moreover, she became a professor of Slavic linguistics at the Slavic Department of the University of Klagenfurt and later became the president of the Austrian Association of Slavic Studies. In addition to this, Prof. Doleschal is the director of the Writing Centre at the University of Klagenfurt as well as the vice president of ”GEWISS – Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftliches Schreiben”.
Code-switching and mixing
In the majority of cases, code-switching and mixing are applied interchangeably, but sometimes also for different phenomena. When a person changes languages whilst communicating, for instance from German to English, this is usually called code-switching. Code-mixing takes place when linguistic codes are mixed on different levels, for example in the same word such as “kolorieren”, which is the combination of the English word “color” and the German suffix “ieren” for verbs.
Phenomena of Language Switching and Mixing
Being bilingual or multilingual has a long list of advantages, yet the biggest worry surrounding learning and acquiring languages is switching and mixing. Language acquisition of bilingual children is a well-studied field and multiple empirical studies revealed that children can distinguish between different languages very early in life. Furthermore, they are also able to choose the language of their communication partner and are able to avoid mixing when speaking to monolinguals. Additionally, children understand very soon which language is most significant and they may behave accordingly. Concerning the phenomenon of switching languages, the professor explained that this situation takes place because they may express something better in one language than in the other.
The particular reason for this circumstance is that children might have acquired a certain syntactic structure in one language, but not yet in the other. According to Prof. Doleschal, code-switching and mixing with regard to language acquisition is a process that disappears over time. Nonetheless, code-switching is a natural act among bilingual and multilingual communities. It is described as a way of living one’s identity, especially for the second generation of incoming people who grew up with their mother tongue and the language of the environment. In accordance with research, it has been reported that code-switching is used naturally when multilingual speakers are among themselves or when a third language is involved. It comes as no surprise that it is a common process to switch between single words, sentences, or also utterances.
To sum up, code-switching is a natural communicative process when bi- or multilingual speakers are between themselves. Among children, switching or mixing languages implies a good knowledge of all languages that a speaker uses. Code-switching is often perceived as “impure” language application, and it is often criticised and disapproved by normative linguistics, teachers along with monolingual speakers. However, Prof. Doleschal states that code-switching shows the resources multilingual speakers have and they have the potential to further develop these sources.
“Language changes and moves in a different direction evolving all the time. Where a lot of people see deterioration, I see expressive development.” – David Crystal
SIETAR Austria and The Multilingual Garden would like to express their appreciation and gratitude to Prof. Ursula Doleschal for disclosing these phenomena of code-switching and mixing of bi- and multilingual speakers.
You can find further information about Prof. Ursula Doleschal at:
Furthermore, we are grateful to Dr. Karin Martin for leading The Multilingual Garden and continually acknowledging the value of multilingualism in our society.
References and Sources:
YouTube Link to Expert Talk with Prof. Ursula Doleschal:
Information about The Multilingual Garden:
Picture of Prof. Ursula Doleschal:
Cover image link: