Intersection of Malayalam and English in Members of the Malayalam Community in New York

Angel Shaji, Isabelle Barriere

The New York City/ Long Island area of the United States is one marked by its linguistic diversity. English and Malayalam—the official language of the Indian state of Kerala—are two widely spoken languages throughout this area. As such, English and Malayalam are in contact with each other when it comes to speech. This study aimed to collect and observe code-switching in bilinguals while speaking English and Malayalam. Code-switching, which is the use of two languages in the same utterance, was observed. Given the differences in English and Malayalam morphological structures, it was hypothesized that 1. When speaking in Malayalam, verbs are going to be the most commonly code-switched words to English (this may also include code-switching the verb mid-word in order to fit the grammatical requirements of English rather than Malayalam). 2. When speaking in English, nouns are going to be the most commonly code-switched words to Malayalam. 3. Code-switching by Malayalam-English bilingual speakers will be relatively frequent in the presence of other Malayalam-English bilinguals. Fourteen bilinguals from the New York City/ Long Island area were asked to participate in three tasks—two independently and one collectively—highlighting their usage and knowledge of English and Malayalam. The first task was to complete a preliminary survey which asks questions such as the chronological order of language acquisition, the prominence of media from either language in their childhoods, and the prominence of either language in their households are all questions addressed in this survey. Second, participants were asked to take part in a translation task in which Frog Where Are You and four other short story boards were used. Participants were tasked with translating half the book from a given English narration to Malayalam and the other half from a given Malayalam narration to English. Code-switching was the main phenomenon that was looked for in this task. Third, each participant was asked to attend a Zoom meeting with six other participants. This task asked participants to hold two conversations—one in English and one in Malayalam—both with given topics. In English, the participants were asked to talk about their last trip to India and in Malayalam, they were asked to speak about New York City. There were two Zoom conversations in total, with seven participants taking part in each. Code-switching was also noted here. The data was transcribed and analyzed, including the amount of code-switching that occured in each task and types of words that were code-switched. Hypothesis 1 was not supported since most of the words code-switched to English while speaking in Malayalam were actually nouns, although there were significant Malayalam inflections added to many of these English nouns mid-word. Hypothesis 2 was not supported because although the observed code-switching was from English to Malayalam, there was only one observed incident of this. The results of task 3 will be transcribed and analyzed to see whether or not hypothesis 3 is supported.