Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Role of Register in Spanish-English Codeswitching in Prose

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

The Role of Register in Spanish-English Codeswitching in Prose

Article excerpt

Does codeswitching between Spanish and English signal an inherently less formal register? A range of material examined supports this hypothesis. Codeswitching is seen less in prose, and within that framework surfaces very little in scholarly writing. It is used most often in dialogue, many times in forms meant to be representative of linguistic variation or stream-of-consciousness style utterances. In this paper the relationship between register and the presence or absence of codeswitching in both fiction and nonfiction writing is examined. In addition to literary and critical sources, data come from a survey of the writing habits and attitudes of individuals who use codeswitching in their speech. Some comparison is made to other language pairs.

1. Introduction

There has been a steady increase in the public presence of the Spanish language in the United States. A notable example was a speech delivered entirely in Spanish at the Republican party convention during the 2000 presidential campaign (Ostrom and Thomma 2000). The use of Spanish and English together, however, seems to be proscribed in all but a few contexts. Despite apparent gains in acceptance (Montes-Alcala 2000), Spanish/English codeswitching remains in disfavor in many circumstances. This paper addresses two questions: whether there exists in the United States an inverse correlation between formality level and Spanish/English codeswitching, and if so, what the prognosis is for the entrance of codeswitching into registers of which it has not previously been a part.

This paper emerged from research on two corpora, one consisting of fiction prose and the other of nonfiction. Following is a description of each corpus. It bears noting, however, that conclusions are based not only on the texts in these two collections, but also on negative evidence, that is, on an absence of data. Specifically, the scarcity of nonfiction texts containing codeswitching offers proof of a relationship between codeswitching and level of formality. Finally, while the study of written codeswitching certainly includes the representation of speech in writing, it is not limited to that aspect, because written codeswitching also occurs outside of dialogue.

2. Description of the Corpora

The fiction corpus consists of ten short stories and nine novels or novellas in which the dominant language is English, and eight short stories and three novels or novellas in which it is Spanish (see Appendix A). Texts range in length from 3 to 426 pages, and are diverse in the amount of codeswitching they contain. Four variables are constant across the corpus: each text is fiction prose containing Spanish/English codeswitching, published in the United States between 1970 and 2000. In the selection of texts, two factors were taken into account: representativeness of the larger pool of data--that is, of works of fiction containing Spanish/English codeswitching--and the overall amount and character of the codeswitching. An attempt was made to balance these two factors. In the majority of texts published in the United States containing Spanish/English codeswitching, the ratio of Spanish to English is small, the style of codeswitching predictable, and the cognitive demands on a monolingual reader of English minimal. In order to reflect what is available on the general market, several texts of this type were included in the corpus. Examples are Gary Soto's short story "Two Dreamers" (1990) and his novella Taking Sides (1991), Abraham Rodriguez's novel Spidertown (1993), and Nicholasa Mohr's short stories "The English Lesson" and "The Robbery" (1977). However, for the purposes of the syntactic analysis for which this corpus was originally gathered (Callahan 2001), it was desirable to include texts with a higher percentage of Spanish and more divergent patterns of codeswitching. Accordingly, the corpus also contains texts characterized by much denser patterns of language alternation. …

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