“La ranita se escapó from the jar”: Code-Switching Among Dominican Mothers and Their Preschool-Aged Children Alexandra Rodríguez New York University
Acknowledgements • Dr. Gigliana Melzi • Dr. Margaret Caspe • Jamie González & other members of the Child Language Research Team
Code-Switching • Code-switching is typically defined as the alternate use of two languages in the same utterance or conversation. • Code-switching is an essential aspect of bilingualism (Cheng & Butler, 1989). • For the Latino community, this mixing of languages is commonly known as Spanglish. • A popular belief is that code-switching reflects an inadequacy in competence and knowledge of one or both languages (Dávila de Silva, 1994).
Linguistic Practice of Code-Switching • Code-switching is a ruled governed phenomenon that demonstrates advanced control of both languages (Hasbun, 2001). • Code-switching occurs at all linguistic levels, including phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic (Cheng & Butler, 1989). • Intersentential switch (i.e., at the sentence level) • Intrasentential switch (i.e., at the clause level) • Tag-switch (i.e., borrowing a tag phrase or word) • One-word switch (i.e., content words such as nouns, adjectives and verbs). • Past research has focused on examining the syntactic properties and social-pragmatic functions of code-switching.
Code-Switching in Mother-Child Discourse • Most studies on code-switching have focused on adult conversations; very little is known about this linguistic practice in the early conversations of children and their important others. • Mother-child discourse is essential for children’s language acquisition in general, and specifically for narrative development. • Parental narrative elicitation is related to children’s later narrative discourse skills (e.g., Silva-Corvalán, 2003).
Research Questions • To what extent do bilingual Dominican mothers and their 4-year-old children code-switch during a semi-structured book reading task? • What functions might code-switching serve in the joint construction of the story? • Are there demographic differences in the amount of code-switching mothers and children use?
Participants • Forty-three low-income Dominican mothers and their pre-school-aged children (25 boys and 18 girls) participated in the current study. • All but 5 mothers were born in the Dominican Republic and had emigrated to the U.S. on average 15 years ago. All children were born in the U.S. • Mothers ranged in age from 19 to 42 years (M = 31.56, SD = 5.94) and they had, on average, attended 12 years of formal school. • Children ranged in age from 46 to 58 months (M = 50.83, SD = 3.93). • Children’s language dominance was assessed using the James Language Dominance Test (1974). Approximately 50% of children were classified as Spanish dominant, 40% as fully bilingual, and 10% as mostly English dominant.
Procedure • Parents were recruited from four different Head Start sites in Manhattan to participate in a larger project. • Dyads were visited in homes and were asked to share a wordless picture book, Frog, Where Are You? (Mayer, 1969). • No time restrictions were placed on the mother-child interaction . • Conversations were audio-taped, transcribed and verified using a standardized system (MacWhinney, 2000).
Coding • Each instance of code-switching, defined as the use of both Spanish and English by the mother, child or both during one book reading interaction, was coded. • Coding captured the following three features: • Who initiated the code-switching (i.e., mother or child) • Types of code-switching (i.e., intersentential, intrasentential, discourse, tag switch or a one-word switch). • Narrative pragmatic function (i,e., reported speech, elaboration, emphasis, topic shift, mode shift, internal state, general knowledge, teaching language, social or other).
Results • Mothers code-switched between 0 and 53 times during the task (M = 9.93, SD = 10.9), and children code-switched 0 to 21 times (M = 3.5, SD = 4.56). • Two mothers and 11 children did not code-switch. • There was a significant correlation in the amount of code-switching between mother and child (r = .55, p = .01). • The most common style of switching displayed by mothers (M = 59.26, SD = 34.88) and children (M = 36.38, SD = 38.69) was the one-word switch. • The next most common type was code-switching at the discourse level for both mothers (M = 33.32, SD = 33.17) and children (M = 28.76, SD = 37.19). • For both mothers and children, code-switches were most often used for general knowledge and social function purposes.
Mean Percentages for Functions Children Mothers
Mean Percentages for Types Children Mothers
Code-Switching by Demographic Variables • No gender differences were found. • The number of years living in the United States was not significantly associated with code-switching for either mothers or children. • Level of education was positively associated with mothers’ usage of code-switching (r = .38, p = .013). • Bilinguals tended to code-switch, on average, more than dyads classified as Spanish dominant only. • Specifically, Spanish-dominant dyads were the least likely to code-switch during the book sharing task.
Discussion & Conclusions • Results show that code-switching is a common occurrence in the Dominican community of NYC and elucidates on the ways in which code-switching occurs: • During early conversations, dyads prefer to use one-word code-switches, demonstrating that the mixing of languages mostly involves borrowing of lexical items from the second language. • Mothers and children used code-switching for different purposes. Whereas mothers mostly code-switched to interject, children code-switched when talking about school-related topics. • Results corroborate findings from past studies on the trajectory of code-switching among bilinguals and show that code-switching is an advanced linguistic skill particular to the more proficient bilinguals and positively related to formal schooling. • Future research should examine how code-switching influences young children’s language and literacy development in their later academic trajectories.