Code-Switching, Bilingualism, and Biliteracy:
A Case Study
Family Literacy Center
El Paso Community College
University of Minnesota, Duluth
The purpose of this study was to describe different aspects of codeswitching as they occurred in the teaching and learning process in a
classroom setting with youngbilingual children and their parents. The
findings indicated that code-switching, in both oral and written form,
allowed for effective communication between the parents, the children
and the instructor in a way that was natural and comfortable for all
involved. The authors propose that code-switching be viewed as part of
a whole language approach in bilingual contexts.
IntroductionCode-switching is a subject which has existed in the literature on
bilingualism since the early nineteen hundreds when Espinosa
(1917) wrote of a “speech mixture” in the speech of New Mexicans.
Since then the research in this area has focused on different aspects
of code-switching. Within the last two decades, studies have
evolved which focus on the role of code-switching in young
children developingtheir bilingualism (Fantini, 1985; Genishi,
1981; Huerta, 1980); on the social functions of code-switching
(McClure & Wentz, 1975; Poplack, 1981); on the patterns of codeswitching in the home among adults (Huerta, 1978); and among
third grade children at play and during interviews (Zentella, 1978).
More recently, educators explored code-switching in classrooms and
have found it to be effectiveas a teaching and communicative
strategy which can be used among bilingual students (Aguirre,
1988; Hudelson, 1983; Olmedo-Williams, 1983).
Bilingual Research Journal, 16:3&4, Summer/Fall 1992
The purpose of this study is to contribute to this research by
describing code-switching as it occurred within a social context that
combined school and family and that valued languageswitching as
part of the whole language approach to the acquisition of
literacy/biliteracy. Thus, this study fills a gap in the literature; it
reports on code-switching within the widespread, fast-growing,
relatively new instructional context of family literacy. Specifically,
code-switching is analyzed with respect to effective teaching,
learning, and communication strategies in a classroomcontext which
includes not only children and an instructor but parents as well.
A note about the definition of code-switching is in order before
proceeding to a description of the study. Although code-switching
may refer to different styles of speech within the same language, as
in the case of monolinguals using formal and informal speech, it is
most often used within the field of bilingualismor multilingualism to
refer to the alternate use of two or more languages in discourse. A
myriad of terms exist in the literature which describe specific
occurrences (often with different linguistic configurations) of this
type of linguistic behavior--code-mixing, code-alternation, language
switching, language mixing, language alternation, and codechanging. Given that these terms have not beenstandardized in the
literature, and that our intent is to holistically describe the use of two
languages in the classroom, we will for our present purposes use the
term “code-switching” in a global fashion to describe any kind of
language alternation. The great majority of instances of oral codeswitching in the data occurred between utterances or conversational
turns, although the worksamples revealed some instances of
intersentential (within a sentence) switching, as the reader will note.
The languages dealt with are English and Spanish.
Description of the Study
Project FIEL (Family Initiative for English Literacy) was an
intergenerational family literacy program for Limited English
Proficient families. The project was funded by Title VII Office of
Bilingual Education and...
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