26.1817, Review: Applied Ling; Lang Acq; Ling Theories; Socioling; Syntax: Mohamed (2014)

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Subject: 26.1817, Review: Applied Ling; Lang Acq; Ling Theories; Socioling; Syntax: Mohamed (2014)

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Date: Mon, 06 Apr 2015 13:48:43
From: Valentina Carbonara [valentina.carbonara at gmail.com]
Subject: Code-switching

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-2485.html

AUTHOR: Baban  Mohamed
TITLE: Code-switching
SUBTITLE: A Case Study of Kurdish-German Pre-school Bilingual Children
SERIES TITLE: Series: Europäische Hochschulschriften / European University Studies / Publications Universitaires Européennes - Volume 385
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Valentina Carbonara, Università per Stranieri di Siena

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The book is an empirical study on the phenomenon of code-switching, based on
collected data from pre-school bilingual Kurdish-German children in Austria.
The research, which is a modified version of the author’s MA thesis, focuses
on both linguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives and it addresses two main
questions: how do bilingual Kurdish-German children combine the two languages,
and how do extra-linguistic factors influence code-switching? The next section
provides a brief summary of the book’s ten chapters.

In Chapter 1, the author provides a historical review of different definitions
and interpretations of bilingualism, from the stricter Bloomfield definition,
which describes bilingualism as a native-like control of both languages
(Bloomfield, 1933), but more recently scholars have formulated broader
definitions. Grosjean (2008) defined a bilingual person as an individual with
a unique linguistic and cultural configuration who has developed a
communicative competence in two languages or in a third system of mixed speech
that meets his or her everyday communicative needs. Bilingualism has been
classified according to various criteria, such as age of language acquisition
and proficiency level in both languages. By addressing the competence of the
speaker in the two languages, we can distinguish between balanced bilingualism
and semilingualism, which is the main focus of this study. Semilingualism
refers to migrants’ children having only partial knowledge of both community
and home language.

Chapter 2 introduces the key concept of the book, code-switching, providing
several definitions and classifications. Broadly defined, code-switching (CS)
is the alternating use of two languages in the same stretch of discourse by a
bilingual speaker. The author compares CS to other language contact phenomena
such as code mixing, borrowing, interference and transfer, in order to clarify
to the reader what the study counts as CS. While CS is defined as
intersentential switching from one language to another, code-mixing is defined
as an intrasentential switching (Ritchie and Bathia, 2004).  However the
author underlines the disagreement in academic literature about the
distinction between CS and code-mixing: some researchers prefer using the
definition of CS for intrasentential switch instead of code-mixing (Romaine,
1989). Borrowing refers to the introduction of a single word, or a short
phrase, from one variety and its assimilation into the grammatical system of
the other language (Gumperz, 1982); interference involves morpho-syntactic
structures from two languages, but lexical materials from only one of them
(Musyken, 2004); and transfer can be regarded as the introduction of an
unintegrated lexical unit not adapted to the phonology or grammar of the
receiving language (Auer, 2000). The chapter presents a classification of CS
into three types: tag-switching, intersentential switching and intrasentential
switching (Romaine, 1989) and it ends by focusing on this last type and
describing the processes of insertion, alternation and congruent
lexicalization involved in intrasentential code-switching (Muysken, 2000).

Chapter 3-5 establish a theoretical background in order to provide readers
some notions to interpret the outcomes of the study. The author explores the
linguistic constraints on CS. Most investigators appear to agree that
intrasentential code-switches are not distributed randomly in a sentence, but
that CS is rule-governed and subjected to syntactic constraints (Poplack,
1988). The author provides some particular and general constraints and
principles, based on word order or the morphological class of switched
material. The chapter focuses in particular on one specific theoretical model
of CS: the Matrix Language Frame Model by Myers-Scootton (1993). This model
offers a framework to identify the Matrix Language and the Embedded Language
in a sentence containing code-switching. The matrix language is the more
dominant language, which sets the grammatical frame into which morphemes from
another language can be embedded, and the embedded language is the less
dominant language, which mainly supplies lexical elements.Then the author
considers the social and psychological factors involved in CS. The author
recounts the ‘we code’ and ‘they code’ concepts of Gumperz (1982), which refer
to the ethnic language of a bilingual community and the language of the
society within which the community lives, and the Markedness model, proposed
by Myers-Scotton (1988), that provides a general theoretical explanation of
the sociolinguistic and pragmatic aspects of CS. In Chapter 5 the author
explains the term “speech community” and provides different definitions. In
early studies, this concept referred to people who shared the same language,
but, recently, sociolinguistics have emphasized social norms of the community
related to the use of language and stated that speech community can also refer
to a group of people who do not speak the same language (Romaine, 1994). 

Chapter 6 introduces the case study of the book. The data source of the study
is the Kurdish immigrant community in Austria, which is rather small compared
to the other ethnic communities in Austria.The demographics of this population
are unstable and difficult to quantify statistically, because Kurdish people
come from different Middle Eastern countries (Backus, 2004). The author
explains the main features of Kurdish language, focusing on the dialect on
which the study is based, the Sorani sub-dialect of South Kurmanji, also
called Sulaimaniya Kurdish. Since the study is on Kurdish-German CS, the
chapter describes selected linguistic aspects of Kurdish in comparison to
German, such as noun and personal pronoun inflection, verb conjugation,
negation, word order, pro-drop parameter, gender distinction, and nominal,
verbal and prepositional phrases.

Chapter 7 presents the methods of observation and the data collection process.
The subjects of the study are 12 pre-school bilingual children, aged 2 to 6,
born and raised in Austria by Kurdish parents. The type of observation applied
is tape recordings of spontaneous speech, without assigning specific topics of
conversation. The tape recordings took place in different situations, such as
the family home during daily interaction or in the playground. The corpus of
data includes five recordings of different length, from 40 minutes to 180

Chapter 8 analyses Kurdish-German intrasentential CS. Data reveal that
firstly, nouns, and then verbs, are the most frequently switched categories in
intrasentential switches. In intra-word switches the most recurrent category
is German nouns in combination with Kurdish inflectional morphemes, followed
by German verb in combination with Kurdish operator. Many other studies on CS
find that the noun is the most frequently switched category (Poplack, 1980;
Romanie, 1989; Myers-Scotton, 1993) and the data confirms this assumption,
since 55% of all the switches fall in this category. The data of this study
show the addition of Kurdish suffixes to German lexemes. This process of
Kurdish morphological affixation to German can be observed in number and
definitiveness inflection and in possessive pronoun suffixes. The author
highlights that, in this case, the German nouns cannot be regarded as borrowed
words from German into Kurdish, because these words have not been
phonologically assimilated into Kurdish; rather, the German nouns have been
embedded in the morphological inflection pattern of Kurdish. In intra-word CS,
the data reveal German lexical items in combination with the Kurdish operator
‘krdn’ –“to do”, which creates Kurdish-German compound-like verbs. Similar
bilingual compound verbs have been found in the CS literature (Appel and
Muysken, 1987), but what distinguishes these German-Kurdish compound verbs is
the behavior of the operator as an inflectional morpheme. The operator ‘krdn’
has been used with German infinitive forms and with nouns, as well as creating
productive constructions, which sometimes would be ungrammatical, even in
monolingual Kurdish. 

In Chapter 9, the data collected are discussed with respect to the main
linguistics constraints and to the Myers-Scotton’s Matrix Language Frame. In
the data of the study, 60% of all the intrasentential switches violate the
free morpheme constraint (Poplack, 2000) as switches occurred between a free
German morpheme and one or more Kurdish bound morphemes, and a great number of
switches violate the equivalence constraint, where switches occur at points
where the relative word order is not shared by the two languages. The data are
analyzed to explain which constituents are switched, and the data confirm
Joshi’s hypothesis  (1985) that closed-class items do not switch. The author
tested the Morpheme Order Principle and the System Morpheme Principle of
Myers-Scotton’s Matrix Language Frame Model, providing evidence of the
validity of these theoretical assumptions from the study data.

Chapter 10 provides analysis of functional factors on the CS data of the
study. Data show that the common codes of communication within the community
are Kurdish and German, with a slight dominance of Kurdish. In Gumperz’s
terms, Kurdish is the ‘we code’ of the first generation of speakers, namely
parents, and German is the ‘we code’ of the second generation, namely
children. The data also indicate that, since each two codes are indexical of
the speaker’s position in the right and obligation balance, speakers have two
identities and want to make two different rights and obligations sets


The book is relevant for all those interested in bilingualism and language
contact phenomena. With his research on Kurdish-German pre-school bilingual
children, Baban Mohamed has made an original contribution to the field,
considering the general lack of focus on children’s bilingualism and, in
particular, on the two languages involved in the study, Kurdish and German, a
combination which is rarely discussed in academic literature. What makes this
research innovative is the discussion of the data with respect to the main
linguistic constraints and with the hypothesis of Myers-Scotton’s Matrix
Language Frame model. The author provides a significant number of switches
which strongly violate both the universal Free Morpheme Constraints and the
Equivalence Constraint, while he presented several examples which support the
claim of universality of Myers-Scotton’s Matrix Language Frame Model.

Despite its strengths, I would make some observations about certain weaknesses
of the book. The study encompasses diverse definitions and theories about
bilingualism and code-switching from a linguistic and sociolinguistic point of
view, but the theoretical introduction would have been more relevant if the
author had provided more recent literature references. Indeed, the book is
fairly short and the addition of a more consistent account of previous
research would have made it more accessible to the reader. Chapters 4 and 5
are extremely brief and rather inadequate to sustain the subsequent
sociolinguist analysis of the data. 

The evidence offered in support of the author’s conclusions is significant,
but he should have provided more data: the corpus of samples is formed by five
recordings and, even considering the research as qualitative case study, the
book would have been more relevant if Mohamed had provided more examples to
corroborate his theories. In particular, the analysis of the functional
factors in Chapter 10 could have been more emphasized and, even if the author
himself states that the study is not devoted to sociolinguistic aspects.


Appel, Rene / Muysken, Pieter (1987) Language Contact and Bilingualism. Great
Britain: Routledge. 

Backus, Ad (2004) Turkish as an Immigrant Language in Europe, in: Bhatia, Tej
K. /Ritchie, William C. (eds.) The Handbook of Bilingualism. USA, UK,
Australia: Blackwell, 689-724.

Bloomfield, Leonard (1933) Language. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

Grosjean, F. (2008). Studying Bilinguals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gumperz, John Joseph (1982) Discourse Strategies. United Kingdom: Cambridge
University Press. 

Joshi, Aravind K. (1985) Processing of sentences with intrasentential code
switching, in: Dowty, David R. / Karttunen, Lauri / Zwickly, Arnold M. (1985)
Natural Language Parsing: Psychological, Computational, and Theoretical
Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 190-205.

Muysken, Pieter (2000) Bilingual Speech: A typology of Code-mixing. UK:
Cambridge University Press.

Musyken, Pieter (2004) Two Linguistic System in Contact: Grammar, Phonology
and Lexicon, in: Bhatia, Tej K. /Ritchie, William C. (eds.) The Handbook of
Bilingualism. Usa, UK, Australia: Blackwell, 147-168.

Myers-Scotton, Carol (1993) Social Motivations for Codeswitching: Evidence
from Africa. Unites States: Oxford University Press.

Myers-Scotton, Carol (1988) Code Switching as Indexical of Social Negotiation,
in: Heller, Monica / Fishman, Joshua A. (eds.). Codeswitching Anthropological
and Sociolinguistic Perspective. Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter, 151-186. 

Poplack, Shana (1980) Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en
espanol: Toward a typology of code-switching, Linguistics, 18, 581-618.

Poplack, Shana (1988) Contrasting patterns of code-switching in two
communities, in: Heller, Monica /Fishman, Joshua A. (eds.), Code-switching:
Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspective. Berlin, New York, Amsterdam:
Mouton de Gruyter, 215-244. 

Poplack, Shana (2000) Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en
espanol: Toward a typology of code-switching, in: Wei, Li The Bilingualism
Reader: Routledge, 221-256.

Ritchie, William C. / Bhatia, Tej K. (2004) Social and Psychological Factors
in Language Mixing. In: Bhatia, Tej K. /Ritchie, William C. (eds.) The
Handbook of Bilingualism. Usa, UK, Australia: Blackwell, 336-352.

Romaine, Suzanne (1989), Bilingualism. UK, Oxford: Blackwell. 

Romaine, Suzanne (1994) Language in Society: An Introduction to
Sociolinguistics. United States: Oxford University Press Inc.


Valentina Carbonara is a first year Ph.D. student in the Linguistic and
Teaching Italian as a Foreign Language Program at the University for
Foreigners of Siena (Italy). Her research interests include bilingualism,
bilingual education and early language learning.

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