Chapter 7

A conversation analytic approach to code-switching and transfer

J.C.PETER AUER


Background of this study

This chapter summarizes some main findings of an analysis of code-switching and transfer (in the following, the term language alternation is used to cover both) carried out in Constance, West Germany, 1 among the children of Italian migrant workers with a Southern Italian background. (A more detailed analysis grounded in the transcripts is given in Auer, 1981; 1983; 1984a.) The investigation was part of a larger study on the native language of Italian migrant children (Muttersprache italienischer Gastarbeiterkinder im Kontakt mit Deutsch)2 and is based on an extensive corpus of spontaneous and non-spontaneous speech used by these children interacting with each other, the field-workers, or their parents. Nineteen children between the ages of six and 16 formed the core group of this study. These children were observed to use (various varieties of) Italian and German alternately, in a number of situations. Four hundred instances of such alternations were submitted to conversation analysis; another 1,400 instances were used for quantitative-differential analysis.

In this contribution, I sketch the conversation analytic model that was developed out of the materials and that can account for the main types of interpretations that language alternation receives in the community under investigation. In addition, I briefly touch upon differential issues. Before going into details, however, some general remarks on the global linguistic and ethnographic situation of the Italian migrants in West Germany may be necessary.

The linguistic situation of the urban Italian 'communities' in Germany differs from what is known about other contexts of language contact after migration; it also differs from the linguistic situation of other ethnic groups in West Germany, such as the Turkish or the Yugoslavian communities.

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