Thursday, March 23, 2006

Code-switching, Lost-style.

No spoilers here.

Those of you who watch Lost know that two of the main characters are native speakers of Korean. Last night's episode featured several scenes between two bilingual speakers of Korean and English, in which the context ostensibly featured one of them tutoring the other in English. Throughout the scenes, there were several code switches from one language to another both within and between speakers.

Real code-switching situations are incredibly cool, because speakers manage to respect the phono-morpho-syntactic rules of both languages while moving from one to another. Code-switching provides one of the best arguments around for Universal Grammar. But there's this thing about code-switching on TV or in movies (and Lost happened to make me think about it, but it isn't the only example): Fictionalized media code-switching typically only presents a very restricted subset of real code-switching behavior.

Media code-switchers follow the same rules as real-life code-switchers, except that media code-switchers are far less impressive, because they only ever seem to code switch at full on sentence boundaries. Not even utterance boundaries most of the time, but really truly syntactic sentence boundaries. Compare against real life code-switchers making language switches at all kinds of linguistically meaningful transition points.

I'm interested in recent cases of media code-switching that depict the behavior in its full array, if anyone knows of any.


Blogger this charming man said...

friends of mine from is native spanish speaking, dad is brazilian, so native portugese speaker. each had two kids from previous marriages, and kids came in bi-lingual and quickly became tri-lingual. i've heard these kids in one sentence use any 2 or 3 of spanish, portugese and english. the kids are 7-13 years of age. the couple then also had their own chld (now about 2) who is spoken to in all 3 languages all the time and the last time i saw her she had the baby vocab in each language, though i don't think she was switching. i'm sure she'll be a mega-code switcher when that cognitive stage happens.

also, my current roommate speaks gujarati, and i've heard her in mid-sentence switch from english to gujarati.

3:43 PM  

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