Hello you guys!
It is Sunday afternoon here in Norway, and as some of you may know, Sunday is my “get your shit together” day. That’s when I do laundry, change my bedding, sweep the floors, color my eyebrows (because they are practically invisible otherwise), do facials… All that stuff that I never have time to do throughout the week. And I do this on Sundays because I hardly ever make plans for Sundays, and in Norway all shops are closed on Sundays with the exception of some grocery shops, gas stations, and kiosks. Today I also did a little DIY project, which I plan to write another post on later, not quite sure when that’ll be up, but I did take pictures so it’s definitely coming!
However, I wanted to take just a little bit of time writing about what it is that I actually spend my time doing. Previously, I’ve written about the fact that I am in university and that I am writing my Master’s Thesis this semester. But I haven’t really talked about what I actually write about. The answer, as you probably saw before you started reading this, is in the headline of this post, and it is “code-switching”.
So what exactly is code-switching? It’s something I’ve had to discuss in my literature review, which I am sick and tired of writing, which obviously is why I decided to blog about it instead! The easy, simple, answer, which you will find in introduction text books as well as on Google, is some variation of this:
Anyone who is in possession of more than one language has the ability to code-switch, regardless of fluency in the languages involved. I decided to write about this because I am a Norwegian person, who speaks Norwegian, but who also speaks a lot of English, due to a number of reasons: I started learning English in school when I was 6 years old, I have lived in America, I study English at university level, and my significant other is from England. So there is a lot of English going on in my life, and it is undeniable that it affects the way in which I speak and write. Obviously, it is difficult to provide an example of the way I speak, but if you heard me speak Norwegian to my friends you would hear a lot of English words and phrases, and often when I talk to my mom on the phone I struggle to find the words in Norwegian so I end up having to say them in English. But I can provide an example of my written code-switching; this happened earlier today, before my DIY project (“DIY” is also the English here, as it is an initialism (not an acronym, as the letters in an initialism are spelled out instead of pronounced as a word) and I didn’t translate it into Norwegian), in the group chat I have with my two best friends, and you can see that I switch to English towards the end of the message:
I wonder if any of my not-Norwegian readers can understand the rest of that message… let me know, will you? Hint: If it looks similar to an English word, it is probably that word.
So that’s one example of code-switching. Another can be insertion of words mid-sentence, such as the word “whatever” which many Norwegians use as well. So I’m collecting data of written code-switching (also known as CS for simplicity) from the internet and then I’m going to analyze what kind of CS can be found and what sort of identity function it could have for the person using it. The former because it is an interesting thing to research, and the latter because language and identity have always been closely connected and I didn’t want to have just one research question.
So what is it that’s so fascinating about code-switching? For me, it is the fact that many people see it as language decay, or laziness on behalf of the speaker. Many are under the impression that languages such as Norwegian (and many many others) are being cast aside because English is being favored; if you walk down a street in Norway and look in shop windows you will see “SALE” instead of “SALG” when there is a sale going on; it is used a lot in advertisement, news reports… and one thing that my grandfather reacts to, is sports commentators. He says he doesn’t understand half of what some of them say because of all the foreign words. Which of course is really sad. However, for those of us who grew up learning English in school and watching subtitled TV instead of dubbed TV, for those of us who spent our teenage years on the internet, a majority of which can arguably be said to be in English, English is a part of who we are, and many of us would struggle to go through a day in life without using a single English word at all.
Linguists, however, say that CS is not a sign of languages falling apart or one language taking over, or laziness on behalf of the speaker. Bullock and Toribo (2001) states that:
Those with interests in CS behavior range from poets to neurologists, and from parents to politicians. As should be clear, much is misunderstood about CS and those who engage in it. Thus it falls to linguists and to students of linguistics to unveil the nature of CS – its structural properties, its biological underpinnings, and its social meanings – and to communicate their findings to a broader audience (Bullock & Toribo, 2001).
So that’s basically what I want to do with my thesis. Contribute to the library of research that proves that common misconceptions about CS are wrong. I understand that it can be frustrating to those who do not understand one of the languages involved, but people have to understand that languages are dynamic, they are ever-changing, they will always lose something and gain something else. When I explained this to my grandfather, he told me a story from when he was young, and sports commentators would swear a lot, because that was completely common and nobody cared, but then a swearing ban was imposed on the media (he said, I have not fact-checked this), and they were no longer allowed to. So that was lost. And now the language of commenting has gained words and expressions from other languages. Where it will go from here is impossible to stay, but one thing is sure: languages always change. This, too, shall pass (Persian proverb).
All the research done from the 1970s until now including what I am researching might be great and important for a while, but in 100 years it might not matter at all. Kind of makes me wonder why I’m doing it in the first place. But I had to do something, and there are so many interesting things to do in this world, I just had to choose one. Life goes on. I had to do something to get my degree to move on with life and get a job and a house and pets and a family and then one day I’ll lose my job because I’ve gotten too old and I’ll lose my pets too, hopefully not my family, but you never know. And then one day I will be just another body buried in the ground. But that’s true for everyone. And it doesn’t change the fact that while you are on this Earth you might as well make the most of it and try and contribute with something meaningful; Gandhi said that whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it because nobody else will (and yes, I did get that from “Remember Me”).