Code-Switching Between English and the Cyber Language through Computer-Mediated Communication: Discussion of Integrating Code-Switching in ESL Classroom
Nadia Nsir and Entisar Elsherif, Libya
Nadia Nsir is a faculty member at University of Tripoli, Libya. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Language, Literacy and Technology at Washington State University. Her research interests include the role of social media in ELT in Libya and the role of social media in sociopolitical changes in Libya. She is also interested in the critical discourse analysis of Libyan adolescents’ cyber-language. E-mail: email@example.com
Entisar Elsherif is a faculty member at University of Tripoli, Libya. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in Composition & TESOL at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include Second Language Teacher Education, Peace education, L2 Writing, Ecocomposition, and Plagiarism. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Code-switching: historical overview
A new type of code-switching: Code-switching in Computer-Mediated Communication
Code-switching in e-discourse functions in teaching ESL
Communication through the Internet has become increasingly important in many people’s lives. People of different ages with different backgrounds and fields of study or work use the Internet regularly. Students and adolescents in general find using these forms of communication fascinating and they cope quickly with using them and the way they use them. Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC) varied ways, such as chatting on-line through the messenger, by joining Facebook, or by exchanging emails represent today’s preferable, fast and widely used means of communication.
These ways of CMC sometimes involve grammatical and spelling correction functions. Even if these correction functions are not available, mistakes are accepted and do not inhibit users from communication. Moreover, on writing emails, messages and Facebook info, users only tend to use simple informal vocabulary and the abbreviations and acronyms of the cyber language, such as C U l8r = see you later; BRB= be right back; msg= message; c%l= cool; r u ok= are you Ok? Such abbreviations and acronyms of the cyber language are common and regarded as being “cool” (see Crystal, 2001, p.91for a list). Emoticons and smileys are also used to express the mood of the writer or while exchanging phrases to express ideas.
The ease and the fast pace of these abbreviations, smileys, and emoticons made them become widely spread between CMC users, especially adolescents, forming a new kind of English, which is typical to the Internet. Cyber language indicates the way adolescents and other users are motivated and coping with this language since immediate communication especially in on-line chatting necessitates the usage of a fast intelligible form of writing that is amusing to its users at the same time.
ESL students who use technology to communicate and relate to the world may find this code-switching between English and the Cyber language a communicative strategy that supports their learning of English. This paper discusses code-switching in general and code-switching in Computer-Mediated Communication ways. It presents the way email and online chatting are used to teach English as a second Language and reviews research on both code-switching and some Computer-Mediated communication ways relating them to promoting ESL classrooms. It is assumed that by using Computer-Mediated Communication ways, such as the messenger, the emails and the Facebook, students and adolescents can be motivated to learn English as a second language because they are reading and writing at the same time and usually in a fast pace. Besides, they are exposed to new vocabulary and chunks of English they need to understand and use to communicate and relate to the Internet world. It is also surprising the ease and speed they learn the new agreed upon abbreviations and acronyms of the Cyber language through writing and reading emails, messages and Facebook profiles and comments.
Code-Switching is defined as the use of more than one language in the course of a single communicative episode (Heller, 1988). Heller argues that code-switching can be seen a recourse for indexing situationally-salient aspects of context in speakers attempts to accomplish interactional goals. In her argument Heller analyzes code-switching in speaking as a way of communication. While code switching in Computer-Mediated Communication ways occurs in a truly unique form of communication since interaction is text-based, it can be nearly as rapid as spoken language, and can take place between two people, from one person to many people or from many people to many people independently from time and place (Warschauer, 1999, p.5). However, whether this code switching is in speaking form or through the computer-mediated communication, it still has the same features of indexing situationally-salient aspects of context and in fulfilling certain interactional goals.
Code switching was focused on in bilingual research where sociolinguists determined many linguistic factors that thought to influence speaker’s choice of language in conversation as: topic, setting, relationship between interlocutors, community norms and values, and societal, political and ideological developments (Lei Wei, 1999). First, Gumperz (1972) differentiated between situational and metaphorical code-switching. Situational switching was triggered by a change in the situation in order to maintain the appropriateness of the conversation. On the other hand, metaphorical switching referred to changes in the speaker’s language choice within the same situation (p.156). Moreover, in his book Bilingual Conversation, Auer (1984a) made a change in the studies of code-switching. He argued that situational code-switching should be interpreted in relation to the language choice itself in the preceding and following turns by the participants themselves, “whatever language a participant chooses for the organization of his/her turn, or for an utterance which is part of the turn, the choice exerts an influence on subsequent language choices by the same or other speakers” (p. 5).
Furthermore, Susan Gal (1979) and other researchers stated that code-switching can be classified into two different types: (1) unmarked language choice, in which the language used is one that would be expected in the context, and (2) marked choice, in which the language used is the one would not normally be expected. Marked choice may function as an attempt to redefine aspects of context. Also, Myers-Scotten (1993) distinguishes four code-switching patterns classified according to the ‘markedness model of conversational code-switching’, which was developed from the idea of marked and unmarked language choice:
- Code-switching as a series of unmarked choices between different languages, in which aspects of the context such as a change in topic or a change in the person addressed make a different language variety more appropriate;
- Code-switching itself as an unmarked choice when the use of both languages together, rather than any particular switch, is meaningful. This code-switching itself becomes meaningful for making salient simultaneously two or more positively evaluated identities- speakers’ index theses identities for themselves;
- Code-switching as a marked choice, when it does not conform to expected patterns. Marked switching may be used to increase social distance or to express anger or authority;
- And code-switching as an explanatory choice, when the unmarked choice is uncertain e.g. when little is known about an interlocutor’s social identity or when there is a clash of norms.
Likewise, Li Wei (1998) discussed three types of code-switching. These three types included (1) switching between conversational turns when one speaker uses one language and the other uses another language in interaction between speakers with different levels of ability and/or attitudes towards the two languages; (2) switching within a speaking turn but at sentence boundaries; and (3) intra-sentential code-switching, which is switching between constituents in a sentence.
Crystal (2001) discusses the effect of the Internet on language in his book “language and the Internet”. Crystal mentions that Internet provides an increasing range of services and enables unprecedented numbers of people to be in touch with each other through electronic email, discussion groups, and the provision of digital ‘pages’ on any topic. He applies the term cyberspace to the world of information present or possible in digital form. Crystal focuses in his book on the way in which the nature of the electronic medium along with the Internet’s global scale and intensity of use is having an effect on language in general (2001). He discusses the way in which language usage on the Internet is becoming so different from our linguistic behavior that it is so-called “electronic revolution”- in this paper we chose to call it Cyber language.
Cyber language is a variety of English mainly written though electronic communications such as in emails and chatgroups, which is not entirely homogenous to be a single variety. There is a kind of shared abbreviations and form of language or variety used in the emails and the chatgroups, although there could be some idiosyncrasy and individuality in writing these forms of electronic-discourse (e-discourse). Some researchers who studied the kind of language used in different e-discourses with its different varieties like Lynn Cherny, Boyd and Jeutonne Brewer state that this language can be considered as a register.
This cyber language or register is recognized by its users as distinctive and requires some persistent knowledge of its style and newly formulated abbreviations and chunks. It found its way to be predictable, reliable and familiar and has the privilege to be motivating to adolescents and even older users to learn. It has different names such as ‘Netspeak’, ‘Netlish’, ‘Weblish”, ‘Internet language’, ‘cyberspeak’, ‘electronic discourse’, ‘electronic language’ and ‘computer- mediated communication’ (CMC).
Switching from English to cyber language and vice versa makes a special difference in meaning and personal expression and intentions for those communicating online. This kind of code- switching also represents linguistic solidarity and community intimacy for the chatgroups and functions as a bridge for the fantasy of using the cyber language.
This switching occurs consciously in the first place and while it plays a role in the communication, it also enhances the Internet users abilities to learn and examine the phrases and vocabulary to use. These phrases may differ in the written form from the ordinary written English, but they are still read as English phrases and expressions.
In relation to the new form of discourse called CMC (Computer-Mediated Communication), teens and even adults adore writing in cyber language to chat on-line with friends through the messenger and even to write emails. The way they write is somehow well known worldwide and that can motivate them learn English as a second Language as they are reading and writing at the same time and usually in a fast pace. It is also surprising how students and adolescents find the abbreviations and emoticons easy to use and how fast they learn learn new abbreviations and emoticons.
One might ask: Why is the Cyber language useful to teach English for those chatgroups and e-mailers? Cyber language is characterized as the simple and informal language, which is speech like, and involves grammatical mistakes because of the time constraints (Yates, 1996). Abbreviations and acronyms of the cyber language are common, for example: IMO = in my opinion and; F2F= face- to- face. These abbreviations are associated with certain everyday phrases and chunks on English.
Furthermore, Emoticons and smileys are also used to express the mood of the writer or in exchanging phrases between chatgroups and a written statement is normally appears to interpret the emoticon or smileys mainly adjectives. There also the commands and options such as paste, save, search and so on which are used in combination with using the computer mediated communication which enrich the vocabulary of the Internet user. Students of ESL who use this kind of communication are engaged in theses e-discourses and may find this switching between English and the Cyber language easy and amazing in their online communication.
In addition to the function of code-switching named as topic switch, the phenomenon also carries affective functions that serve for expression of emotions. In this respect, code-switching is used by the teacher in order to build solidarity and intimate relations with the students. In this sense, one may speak off the contribution of code-switching for creating a supportive language environment in the classroom. As mentioned before, this is not always a conscious process on the part of the teacher.
Fotos (2004) discusses how an email-exchange can be an important communicative activity for L2 classrooms that increases students’ motivation to study English, and promotes significant English proficiency. Fotos also presents some guidelines for ESL teachers to set up and evaluate an email exchange project. Fotos (2004) classifies Computer-Mediated Communication into two types; synchronous communication, such as on-line chatting, and asynchronous communication, like E-mail. Fotos chose the email for the article because it possesses discourse features that combine both the spoken and the written forms of communication (p110). Moreover, Baron (2000) considers the email similar to contact languages as creoles and pidgins and holing their main features such as it emerged abruptly; it emerged from new social circumstances i.e. computer technology; it has bilingual users i.e. speech and writing; it has a continuous widening range of users and uses; and it is still evolving (p 257). Likewise, Warschauer (1990) states that an email, with its characteristics, is a promoting new form of literacy and communication at a global level with a significant cognitive impact.
Communication between learners while interacting in groups in the classroom enhances cooperative learning. In the same pattern, the email yields interactive discourse between people even if they are in different locations. So using the email and the online chatting creates and supports a new knowledge in the target language used for this kind of communication.
In ESL classrooms written English, which is transactional in conveying information, is dominant rather than speech which is more speaker oriented and interactional and even the authentic speech-like material used utilizes conventions of written English. Researchers suggested that email is a new discourse genre (Fotos, 2004, p113). Another advantage of using the email is that the learners when replying to the emails or messages of chatting they can expand their knowledge by borrowing from the previous utterance, and extend their linguistic development.
Many teachers, who are in favor of the applications of communicative techniques in the language-teaching environment, oppose any form of native language use during classroom instruction. On contrary, supporters of the use of native language in the form of code-switching, suggest that it could be an effective strategy in various aspects. Following the ideas of these two parties, some weak and strong sides of the use of code-switching in foreign language classroom settings will be mentioned with a critical perspective.
Cook (2002:333) handles the subject matter considering multilingual classrooms by saying that the application of code-switching in classes which do not share the same native language may create problems, as some of the students, though few in number, will somehow be neglected. So, at this point it may be suggested that if code-switching will be applied in instruction, students should share the same native language. Another point to consider in this respect is the competence of the teacher in students’ native language, which also plays a vital role, if positive contributions of code-switching are expected. A further discussion is put forward by Eldridge (1996), as he suggests, “the learners have no guarantee that their audience will share knowledge of their mother tongue” (p. 309). This perspective concerns the interaction of students with native speakers of the target language, as mutual intelligibility may not be possible if the learner switches his language during communication.
In supporting the existence of code-switching in language classrooms, Skiba (1997) suggests that in the circumstances where code switching is used due to an inability of expression, it serves for continuity in speech instead of presenting interference in language. In this respect, code-switching stands to be a supporting element in communication of information and in social interaction; therefore serves for communicative purposes in the way that it is used as a tool for transference of meaning. All these in general lead to the idea that the use of code-switching somehow builds a bridge from known to unknown and may be considered as an important element in language teaching when used efficiently.
It is believed that ESF teachers should utilize code-switching in the ideal way involving the Email and online chatting since they both support interactive discourse and encourage knowledge in the target language. Moreover the kind of code-switching attached to them is amazing and receives great interest among young and teen learners. Code-switching can be utilized by the teacher in order to build solidarity and intimate relations with the students. In this sense, instead of asking for a writing task, the teacher can exchange informal emails with the students so that they get the chance to learn vocabulary and practice writing and communicative situations with the teacher. Code-switching can be stimulated in these emails in order to create a supportive learning environment.
Auer, P (1999). Code Switching in Conversation: Language, interaction and Identity. Routledge.
Cook, V. 2002. Portraits of the L2 User. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters
Crystal , D (2001). Language and the Internet. Cambridge University Press
Fotos, S. (2004). Writing as Talking: E-Mail Exchange for Promoting Proficiency and Motivation in the Foreign Language Classroom. In S. Fotos and C.M. Browne. New Perspective on CALL for Second Language Classroom (p. 109-129). Lawrence Erldaum associates.
Sert, O. The Functions of Code Switching in ELT Classrooms. The internet TESL Journal. http://iteslj.org/Articles/Sert-CodeSwitching.html
Swann, J. (2000). Language Choice and Code- Switching: In R. Mesthrie, R., J.Swann, A. Deumert, and W. L. Leap, Introducing Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh University Press, 148- 183.
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