CODE SWITCHING is the alternate use of two languages (or the linguistic units in two languages) within a single stretch of discourse, a sentence or a clause.  

In sociolinguistics C.S. implies specific linguistic behavior that activates two linguistic systems without their transfer or integration. C.S. frequently occurs in multilingual speech communities, for instance in bilingual societies or individual practices as well as in the situations of stylistic multilingualism.

Studies of the speech community in a Puerto-Rican social group in New York in relation to the use of English and Spanish equivalents have shown that C.S. occurred during the transfer onto such domains as Family, Friendship, Religion, Job, Education, which means that these values dominate within a particular linguistic community [Fishman et al 2001]. The term C.S. was coined by British sociologist Basil Bernstein in his theory of social codes and was further developed in sociolinguistics and areal studies.

C.S. has been explored from the point of view of its linguistic patterns (phonetic, morphological, lexical, syntactic). General principles and the use constraints have been identified, like subcategories use constraint [Bentahila, Davies 1983], frame construal constraint [Azuma 1993], or coreference constraint [Belazi et al 1994], etc.

Shauna Poplack [Poplack 1980, 2001] singled out the following types of C.S.: 1) inter-sentential which occurs in between the sentences or the clauses in one language or another within the same conversation, e.g. in Call me se puoi. (Call me if you can); 2) intra-sentential when the shift happens within a sentence or a clause, e.g. in I am so tired! I’d like to andare a casa and go to bed. (I’d like to go home); 3) tag-switching when either a tag phrase or a word switch from one language to another, mostly is fillers or interjections, e.g. in O Dio, what’s going on? (Oh my God).

The reasons for C.S. are numerous: it may occur to clarify or emphasize a point, to enhance expressiveness and intentionality of speech, it can also be the result of excessive emotionality or linguistic tradition.


Azuma S. The Frame-Content Hypothesis in Speech Production: Evidence from Intrasentential Code Switching // Linguistics 31, 1993. – P. 1071-1093.

Belazi H.M., Rubin E.J., Toribio I.J. Code-switching and X-bar Theory: The Functional Head Constraint // Linguistic Inquiry 25 (2), 1994. – P. 221-237.

Bentahila A., Davies E. The Syntax of Arabic-French Code-Switching // Lingua 59 (4), 1983. – P. 301-330.

Meyers-Scotton C. Code-switching // The handbook of sociolinguistics / ed. F. Coulmas. – Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. – P. 217-237.

Poplack S. Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish Y TERMINO EN ESPANOL: Toward a typology of Code-switchng // Linguistics 18 (7/8), 1980. – P. 581-618.

Poplack S. Code-switching: Linguistic // International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Studies. – Elsevier Science, 2001. – P. 2062-2065.