Code Switching in Elvira

Maintaining the authenticity of Elvira’s voice requires the faithful use of her own informal vernacular in all the contexts in which it is called for. A critical aspect of this linguistic realism − in speaking with other bilinguals − is the use not only of colloquial forms of expression, but also the rapid and unconscious insertion into the English stream of speech of words, expressions, and longer segments spoken directly in Spanish. These segments retain completely their Spanish pronunciation and structure and are referred to as “code switches”.

Elvira engages in this form of language switching mostly when she speaks in Spanish although in English, too, when speaking with other bilinguals she occasionally switches to individual words or short phrases in Spanish. Thus, this limited use of code switching is also reflected in the English translation.

Code switching involves the smooth, effortless, and momentary alternation between the main language of a given conversation and the bilingual’s other language, even within a single sentence or phrase. This usage is largely limited to interactions with other bilinguals who are also co-ethnics.

The reasons for code switching in general and for particular instances of code switching are very complex and not very well established by research. Nevertheless, it is clear that switching codes is often triggered by such things as the social and cultural meanings inherent in a portion of the conversation, the expressiveness of a particular word or phrase in one of the languages, or the communication of affective functions such as annoyance, greater intimacy, or emphasis. Also, quoting a third person is often, though not always, done in the language that person used.

Particular instances of code switching, as with other forms of stylistic variation, are normally below a speaker’s level of consciousness. The bilingual speaker subconsciously decides when, where, and with whom to use it and intuitively regulates the locations and the amount of switching in the stream of speech.

Nevertheless, most bilinguals are keenly aware that they engage in this way of speaking and sometimes comment on it, often disparagingly. It is popularly conceived of as an unordered, corrupt mixture of the two languages and as the result of ignorance and illiteracy. Derogatory terms like “Spanglish” are used to describe it.

Yet, research has shown that code switching is neither unordered nor a mixture. Switches take place only at defined places in the grammars of the two languages and the alternating segments of speech retain fully the pronunciation and structures of the given segments. It is clear that code switching has its own rules and norms of usage which do not allow mixing willy-nilly as if put into a blender.