Mixing and Switching


”Etkö voisi please auttaa tässä?”
”And then she was like, no ei se mitään.”

As language users – speakers, writers, listeners, readers – we are constantly surrounded by linguistic data, and some of the material we observe is bi- or multilingual. The examples above may not be authentic (as in ‘cited from a corpus of genuine conversation’), but they are certainly realistic (as in ‘I think I have heard something like this before, and not just once’). They exemplify code-switching, the use or two languages, dialects, language varieties or, more briefly, codes in a single communicative situation. People who know two or more languages are prone to code-switch on occasion.


The English Department offered a team-taught optional course on code-switching in the second half of the autumn semester, a unique enterprise bringing together eight teachers and researchers from the five tracks of the department. This ensured that the students were offered multiple viewpoints and approaches, ranging from written code-switching in medieval materials to multilingual practices in the EU to translations of postcolonial literature. One of the surprises offered in the lectures was that the use of students’ first language alongside their second or foreign language in the classroom also counts as code-switching, and that there are language classes in the world where the use of the first language is strictly forbidden – a feature not easily grasped by those who have learned English and other languages at Finnish schools.


The course was well received by the nearly forty students who attended the lecture series. The participants were asked to write a variety of short texts about code-switching during the course and also to report on their own multilingual communication and the language-mixing they observed around them. Many said that they had not realized until this semester that code-switching was so frequent and had so many functions, and that it was such a huge issue that the six weeks of teaching were not nearly enough for a thorough survey. Indeed, several students have already chosen code-switching topics for their BA projects to be able to carry on with koodinvaihto research.
Janne Skaffari

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