What Is Code-switching?

In linguistics, code-switching refers to the simultaneous and syntactically and phonologically appropriate use of more than one language. It is fairly common to hear multilingual people use elements of the different languages that they speak when conversing with others that speak the same languages. This mix may occur almost unconsciously in people who have a limited mastery of these languages, and more consciously in the case of people who are proficient in both languages and who use the word that best reflects what they wish to express for each idea.

There are different types of switching:

Inter-sentencial switching occurs outside the sentence or clause level. Example: Grandpa called. Qué paso?

Intra-sentencial switching occurs inside of the sentence or clause level. Example: I had a hard time parking mi coche esta mañana.

Tag-switching is the change in a tag phrase, word, or both, from language B to language A. Example: He’s like that, tú sabes.

Intra-word switching occurs within a word itself. Example: Traducierst du das mal bitte? In this case, the Spanish verb to translate (traducir) is used, but is conjugated according to German rules.

Given that code-switching occurs informally and unsystematically, its manifestations are practically unlimited, but we will cite some examples:

Spanglish:  is the morphosyntactic and semantic fusion of Spanish with US English. Spanglish is mainly used in the Latino communities of the US, but is also spreading to other communities in Latin America.

Portuñol: is the fusion between Portuguese and Spanish that occurs among speakers of some linguistic border zones between these languages (borders between Brazil and Spanish-speaking countries, as well as the one between Spain and Portugal).

Belgrano-Deutsch: is the fusion between German and the Spanish spoken in the neighborhood of Belgrano in the city of Buenos Aires, where a great number of German immigrants settled.

Llanito: is the fusion between British English and Andalusian Spanish spoken in Gibraltar.

Out of the examples that we’ve cited, the case of Spanglish is particularly interesting because it has become a cultural tool of integration and identity for the 39 million Hispanics that live in the US, as well as a characteristic trait of the literature written by Hispanics in North America, particularly by chicano (of Mexican origin) experimental poets and playwrights and nuyorriqueños (of Puerto Rican origin, born in New York).