Dr. Ana de Prada Pérez, a faculty member in the University of Florida’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, used her 2014 Rothman Summer Faculty Fellowship to conduct research on bilingualism in Minorca, Spain. In particular, de Prada Pérez focused on the phenomenon of code-switching, or the ability of bilingual speakers to alternate between two languages in spoken discourse. Some of her previous research examined code-switching between English and Spanish; this project studied a different linguistic pair – Catalan and Spanish. By comparing and contrasting these two linguistic pairs through the common denominator of Spanish, she found that differences appear that suggest that formal rules of language use influence when and how code-switching occurs. Code-switching is not the devolution of language, but rather embodies linguistic flexibility and creativity.
With the support of the Rothman Summer Faculty Fellowship, de Prada Pérez traveled to Minorca and Valladolid, Spain during the summer of 2014 to study of the effects of code-switching between Spanish and Catalan in a predominantly Catalan speaking environment. Her study involved twenty-nine participants with nineteen Catalan-Spanish bilinguals from Minorca and ten Spanish monolinguals from Valladolid. She had participants read three stories: one was in Spanish and, if the participant was bilingual, the second was read in Spanish and retold in Catalan, and the third utilized code-switching between Spanish and Catalan in the original text. An important discovery of this study was that the subject of the sentence consistently took a different form when the third story, involving code-switching, was retold. Unlike English, Spanish and Catalan are null-subject languages, which means that it is not grammatically necessary for the subject to be explicitly stated. Therefore, if participants showed an increase in overt subject expression, it could not be attributed to Catalan but to code-switching itself. So when bilingual participants read and retold the third story in Spanish, they were more likely to use explicit or overt subjects in building their sentences. This is important because it shows that this increase in use of an overt subject can be attributed to code-switching and not to the language pair as Catalan did not prime them to do so.
finding suggests that code-switching is not a simple accident of speech.
Rather, the similarity between Spanish and Catalan suggests that code-switching
is governed by grammatical rules. The language pair, whether Spanish and
Catalan or English and Spanish, is not as important as the formal rules governing
code-switching. So, code-switching is, in part, a pragmatic way to engage with
languages that have similar grammatical structures. As such, code-switching is
a part of learning and adapting to a new language, as well as a refined
ability for advanced speakers. Ultimately, language is a bridge between people and
understanding code-switching as a formal part of everyday language use can encourage
more bridge building through bilingual education, and encourage the acceptance
of linguistic variety and difference as normal.
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