Chapter 8

A two-step sociolinguistic analysis of code-switching and language choice: the example of a bilingual Chinese community in Britain

LI WEI, LESLEY MILROY AND PONG SIN CHING

THE EXTENSIVE LITERATURE ON bilingualism illustrates a range of (sometimes interdisciplinary) approaches to code-switching behaviour, some of which seem rather distant from the primarily social one which we shall present here. However, we would suggest that an adequate account of the social and situational context of code-switching behaviour is an important prerequisite even where the perspective of the researcher is (for example) psycholinguistic rather than social. This article attempts to develop a coherent account of the relationship between code-switching and language choice by individual speakers, and of the relation of both to the broader social, economic and political context. The exposition is presented both in general terms which emphasise its applicability to a range of bilingual situations, and with specific reference to the example of the bilingual Chinese-English-speaking community in Tyneside, north-eastern England.

It is evident from the abundant research literature that a wealth of data and analyses of code-switching behaviour from many very different communities is readily available (for a recent overview of such work, see Heller, 1988). What seems generally to be lacking is a coherent social framework within which to interpret these data and analyses. For example, Heller (1990) remarks that while John Gumperz, an important leader in the field, has always viewed code-switching as constitutive of social reality, he has perhaps been less successful in linking this interactional level with broader questions of social relations and social organisation. While Gumperz himself may not have intended to make this micro-macro link, it is important that those who develop his procedures should attempt to do so. Otherwise, insightful interactional-level analyses of data sets which cannot be

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