Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Structural Patterns and Strategies of Codeswitching in Igbo-English Bilingual Discourse

Academic journal article Studies in African Linguistics

Structural Patterns and Strategies of Codeswitching in Igbo-English Bilingual Discourse

Article excerpt


Codeswitching refers to the use of elements belonging to more than one language, consciously or unconsciously, by speakers who have two (or more) languages in their repertoires when speaking with other speakers who are bilingual in the same languages. Codeswitching is attested in the speech of bilinguals all over the world. Codeswitching research has progressed under three main perspectives: the psycholinguistic perspective focuses on the altering of the human internal mechanism as the basis for the coding and decoding of speech in two forms; the sociolinguistic perspective has as emphasis the social and psychological motivations for codeswitching; the grammatical or structural perspective interprets codeswitching as a phenomenon subject to grammatical rules and constraints.

The present study is based on the speech of speakers who are bilingual in English and Igbo, a West Benue-Congo language of south-east Nigeria. Codeswitching among Igbo-English bilinguals is generally associated with educated speakers, especially those of the younger generation. Previous studies on Igbo-English codeswitching have mainly adopted a sociolinguistic perspective, highlighting its functions as a conscious discourse strategy (Nwoye, 2003), the motivations for its use by bilinguals (Obiamalu & Mbagwu, 2008) and its contribution to the status of Igbo as a "seriously endangered language" (Azuonye, 2003). A grammatical perspective is adopted in Uduma (2010), in which some structural aspects of Igbo-English codeswitching are considered. However, the structural patterns observable in Igbo-English bilingual discourse have not been explored in light of the typology of codeswitching established in the literature. This study fills that gap by identifying the structural patterns and strategies of Igbo-English codeswitching within the typology of codeswitching patterns, and outlining the distinguishing features of the patterns.

The rest of the paper is structured as follows: Section 2 reviews the literature on codeswitching and notes the implications of certain assumptions for the Igbo-English language pair. It also defines terms used in the paper. Section 3 presents the methodology of data collection and the theoretical framework adopted in the study. Section 4 and Section 5, respectively, focus on the alternational and insertional patterns of codeswitching in the Igbo-English language pair. Section 6 gives a description of the matrix language in Igbo-English insertional codeswitching by examining structures in which an Igbo clausal frame forces morphological integration of English verbs. Section 7 demonstrates that insertion and alternation can be distinguished in peripheral switching by the criterion of morphological integration, and Section 8 concludes the paper.

2.Review of Literature on Codeswitching: Implications for the Igbo-English language pair

Studies on the structure of codeswitching generally distinguish two phenomena in the way bilinguals combine elements of the languages in their repertoire. Sometimes the linguistic units of the two languages are found "across sentence boundaries within the same speech events", and at other times "within the same sentence and speech event" (Bokamba, 1989, p. 278). The following are examples of the two phenomena from Lingala-French codeswitching (Bokamba, 1989, p. 279):

(1) Na-ke-i Kimwenza. Je reviens dans une heure.

'I am gone to Kimwenza. I will return in an hour.'

(2) Mobali na yó a-téléphon-àkè yo deux fois par jour.

'Your husband calls you twice per day.'

In (1) the speaker switches intersententially from Lingala to French, while in (2) material from both languages are found in the same clause. The two phenomena are distinguished by the fact that in (1) the grammatical systems of the languages remain discrete, while in (2) the grammatical systems of the two languages interact.

Various terms have been proposed in the literature to capture the distinction between the two phenomena, the commonest being the use of the term "codeswitching" (or code-switching or code switching) for the phenomenon represented by (1) and "code-mixing" (or code mixing) for the phenomenon represented by (2) (e. …

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