Code-Switching and Code-Mixing – What You Need to Know

We know that Code-Swapping and Code-Mixing are typical processes for people who speak more than one language or more than one dialect. However, we often hear people describe speakers who use two languages or two dialects together as “confused,” or “they don’t know either of the languages well.” That is not fully true. In most cases, it is quite the opposite as these speakers are using two languages together, and they do so very effectively.

What are code-switching and code-mixing?

The term code-mixing is often used interchangeably with code-switching. But there are subtle differences between the two. In fact, some linguists argue that code-mixing is actually just a subset of code-switching.

In general, code-mixing involves mixing words or phrases from different languages together within the same sentence. For example, you might say something like: “Hi, kamu bawa breakfast apa?”. This sentence is actually in Indonesian and the speaker mixes the English word breakfast instead of “bekal” or “sarapan“.

However, if you say: “Hi, good morning, guys. Sarapan, yuk?”, this would be considered code-switching instead code-mixing because it switches from using English to Indonesian. This is similar to how we switch from speaking English to another language during a conversation.

Where does the term of code-switching come from?

The word “code-switch” came into existence in the early 20th century, when linguists began studying how people learn languages. In particular, they wanted to know whether children could learn multiple languages simultaneously.

They found that most children did indeed speak several languages alternately, but they didn’t necessarily understand each of those languages equally well. To figure it out, neuroscientists looked at brain activity while children listened to stories read in different languages. What they discovered was that children’s brains switched back and forth between processing information in two languages.

This led to the discovery that adults do something similar when speaking to someone else. When you’re talking to someone in a second language, your brain switches back and forth between processing what you’re saying in English and what you’re saying in Spanish.

Code-switching as alternation in a multilingual conversation

Code switching is a common practice among bilingual people. When you speak English and Spanish, you might switch between the two languages without realizing it. For instance, you are speaking English while simultaneously saying a construction in Spanish. This type of code switching happens naturally because we’re always thinking about what we want to say next, and sometimes we don’t know exactly how to express ourselves in another language.

Using elements of more than one langauge when conversing in a maner that is consistent with the syntactical, morphological, and phonological features of each language or dialect being used. For example, someone speaking English could say something like, “You look good today,” and then immediately follow up with, “Yo también te quiero.” In this case, the person is alternating between English and Spanish, but the way he uses those two languages is consistent with the syntax and grammar of each language.

The term code-switching refers to the fact that the speaker uses two languages simultaneously. She might speak English and French, for instance, and switch between the two languages without noticing she does so. In a multilingual society, people often switch between different languages while speaking to each other. This happens naturally in conversations, especially between friends or family members, but also in situations where you want to emphasize something important.

The Indonesian English “Jaksel-style”

Notable code-switching between Indonesian and English has become trending in everyday speech in Indonesia. The style is not unusual, especially for someone living in South Jakarta who speaks English at work and Indonesian at home, resulting in the so-called Bahasa Jaksel (South Jakarta language).

Indonesian tend to say “bingung”, people in Bandung tend to say “bingung euy”, people in Bekasi tend to say “bingung bat dah” while people in South Jakarta (Jaksel) tend to add more words and mix it with English words; “probably gue tu yang kek confuse gimana ya, yang kek skeptical gitu gak sih, ya which gue masih enter sandman gitu, yang behind, pokoknya don’t look back in anger gitu2 lah.

How it threatens the local language?

It thus threatens the local language as nowadays kids or youths find the Indoglish expressions as jokes since they think that using them as jokes will improve good interaction and communication among them. Eventually, they used Indoglish expressions as a prestige.

There are actually many reasons why people who are exposed to multiple languages or language varieties use code-switching, code-mixing, and code-meshing. Some of those reasons include:

  • To maintain fluency in both languages
  • To avoid being perceived as monolingual
  • To make it easier to communicate across cultures
  • To help children learn how to speak and understand different languages
  • To reduce cognitive load
  • To increase social status

Why do we mix languages?

Why does someone learn another language? Is it because they want to travel abroad? Or maybe they are interested in learning about other cultures? But what happens when you mix languages? Do you just pick up some words here and there? Or do you really understand the grammar and syntax of the language?

In my opinion, it is important to know how to mix languages. I speak Indonesian at home and learn English and French at school. Although I am fluent in those languages, I still mix them sometimes.

I always try to keep in mind the following rule: If the other person speaks less than three languages, I usually choose the language that he/she knows best. This makes sense because most people don’t know many languages, and therefore it is easier for them to communicate with those who speak the same language. However, if the person mixes several languages, I prefer to choose the language that he or she uses the most.

Sometimes, ideas are better expressed in one language than another. Peña and colleagues (2002), in her studies found that children had difficulty naming foods that did not exist in their native countries. They also found that there were differences among cultures in terms of what kinds of foods children named. For instance, Mexican children tended to name fruits, vegetables, and grains while American children tended to name meats and dairy products.

In addition, some foods were easier to name than others. Foods that were easy to name included those that were familiar to children such as pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, spaghetti, and French fries. In contrast, foods that were difficult to name included things like ketchup, mustard, pickles, ice cream, and coffee. These findings suggest that children learn about foods differently depending on where they come from.

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