Investigations in language contact: code-switching


The aim of Prof. Dr. López’s visit is to join forces with Dr. Parafita in a collaborative research project on the linguistic nature of code-switching – which could be defined as the seamless integration of ingredients from two languages in one speech act by a bilingual individual.

Code-switching is of central importance in contemporary linguistic theory because it provides crucial evidence to test hypotheses regarding e.g., syntactic dependencies, morphological structure, etc. Additionally, code-switching phenomena present a scientific problem on its own right. Contrary to popular belief, code-switching is as rule-governed as any other linguistic behaviour. Briefly put, bilingual code-switchers report that there exist what we call Switch Acceptance Points (SAP) and Switch Rejection Points (SRP) – boundaries in the speech signal that allow or disallow code-switching. Remarkably, these boundaries reappear consistently across speakers and even across language pairs. Finding out what these boundaries are and explaining why they even exist is a concern among linguists who specialize in bilingualism.

Dr. Parafita and Prof. Dr. López have been working on code-switching for some time now and they have collaborated on a project that yielded a journal publication (see Stadthagen et al 2018). In particular, they have separately been working on the topics of noun phrase structure and code-switching with different databases and different methods. Our research has matured and now it is ready for a collaborative project that will test the predictions of current hypotheses regarding SAP/SRP within the noun phrase. Previous studies have made far-reaching claims regarding alternative theories of code-switching basing themselves on noun phrase switches without properly controlling for alternative explanations. We propose two studies that together will place our understanding of the phenomenon on firmer footing. The first study consists of building a corpus of natural speech data and inspecting it for instances of code-switching within the noun phrase. The second study consists of two experimental tasks designed to extract acceptability judgments from bilingual code-switchers. The subjects of both studies will be Dutch-Papiamentu bilinguals living in the Netherlands.

The Center for Linguistics at Leiden University has recently founded a Heritage Language Laboratory headed by Dr. Parafita, Dr. Tat and Prof. Dr. Grijzenhout. It will be beneficial for the new lab to learn from Prof. D. López’s experience with his Bilingualism Research Laboratory in Chicago, which he has directed successfully for 10 years and has yielded eight dissertations mostly on Spanish-English bilingualism in the USA. We are looking forward to compare and contrast our experiences studying heritage speakers of these different societies and learn from the exchange.





Dr. M.C. Parafita Couto

Verbonden aan

Universiteit Leiden, Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL)


01/02/2020 tot 30/05/2020