Code-switching as a marker of linguistic competence in bilingual children (October Entry)

Code-switching is quite the extraordinary method that is used by bilinguals when engaging in conversation with other bilinguals. It is a topic of much research, where researchers are furthering their knowledge on this phenomenon. Some studies have been made on adult’s code-switching, but the debate lies in the area of children’s code-switching and whether it affects the child’s linguistic competency. In the article, Code-switching as a marker of linguistic competence in bilingual children by Yow et.al, we follow researchers as they find answers to the question of whether code-switching affects the child’s linguistic competence. In this study, the researchers choose a total of 55 English/Mandarin bilingual children, which they evaluated during preschool activities for a total of three hours every day, the children were around the ages of 5 and 6 (Yow., et al 1). After six months, they had teachers who were efficient in both English and Mandarin evaluate the children’s language competence in both languages (Yow., et al 1). This research seeks to provide more answers, and even included the conclusions of other studies which looked to answer the question of whether code-switching affects a child’s linguistic competence.

             There have been researchers that have concluded that code-switching is a result of the child’s limited lexical grammatical and pragmatic competence in both languages, causing them to code-switch to make up for what they do not understand in one language (Yow., et al 2). One study stated that some children have lexical gaps, so they code-switch to express themselves and fill in these gaps (Yow., et al 2).  Other studies contradicted the previous studies by stating in the article that just because children code switch, this does not indicate that they cannot differentiate between both of their languages (Yow., et al 2). Instead, they are able to differentiate between both of their language systems which is why they produce the code-switching grammatically correct when they are speaking. It is also shown in the article, that numerous studies have concluded that bilingual children are more than capable of code switching according to the situation, showing their pragmatic competence (Yow., et al 3). This goes to show that code-switching does not limit a child’s ability to communicate socially, instead they know when it is appropriate to code-switch. An indicator that code-switching is not a limitation on the child’s pragmatic language abilities.  

            In the study at hand, researchers attained their language samples from preschools, where they gathered children’s spontaneous speech in order to evaluate their code-switching (Yow., et al 3). In this particular study, the students being evaluated were simultaneous bilinguals, meaning they acquired both languages in the same span of time before the age of 5 (Yow., et al 3). As the study proceeded, the researchers found that in this population, children who code-switched the most were more likely to have a vast number of Mandarin words in their repertoire, which was unique, since these bilinguals were less dominant in the Mandarin language and more dominant in the English language (Yow., et al 10). The English language competency on the other hand, did not have much to do with the number of code-switched utterances, which proves recent studies stating that language incompetency is not a result of code-switching (Yow., et al 10). Instead, code-switching is a positive method, used by the child to communicate with others effectively. Children can also be using code-switching as a means to help them strengthen the development of their weaker language (Yow., et al 10). The study concluded that code-switching is actually beneficial, and it aids in the language development of bilingual children (Yow., et al 12). Code-switching does not impose limitations, instead it helps a child advance their language development in both languages. Studies such as these provide us with the necessary information in children’s language development, especially that of bilingual children’s language development. Further understanding bilingual children and their ways of communication can help us differentiate between whether the child has a disorder or just a different means of communication, such as code-switching.  

Works Cited

YOW, W. QUIN, et al. “Code-Switching as a Marker of Linguistic Competence in Bilingual Children.” Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, vol. 21, no. 5, 2017, pp. 1075–1090., https://doi.org/10.1017/s1366728917000335.