Arabic-English Code-Switching Among Students with Different English


Arabic-EnglishCode-Switching Among Students with Different English LanguageProficiency Levels: Who code switch more and why?


Universityof South Florida


Theaim of this study is to investigate the purposes of Arabic- Englishcode-switching among Arab speakers of English of two different levelof proficiency: superior and intermediate, who code switch more andwhat are their reasons. Most researchers in the field of codeswitching have made their investigations using a single collection ofdata. In this study, I have developed criteria to select and separatetwo groups according to their English language proficiency levels inorder to investigate the two independently. The first sample will befrom intermediate English language students in a classroom settingand the second a sampled community residing in the United States whoall shares Arabic as their native language and English as theirsecond language. Thestudy will be conducted through two samples andone report will be produced for both studies to offer comparisonbetween the two groups. The results will show the frequency and thereasons for code switchingof the two groups. Moreover, the resultswill produce a report showing the popularity of the types of codeswitching in use among the two groups.

Bydefinition, code-switching involves using two or more languages in asingle conversation. It is a much used phenomenon by most peoplearound the world, despite its complexity and variability (Lipski,2014).Code-switching has been a topic of interest for many researchers,thus the subject has been adequately researched. The capability ofspeakers to code-switch in a single dialogue has been a key focus ofmany studies and has been thoroughly described through conversationalanalysis.

Thestudy of code-switching comprises of interactions among bilingualadults in informal contexts as well as between bilingual school goingchildren in formal contexts for instance, schools. Besides, studieshave also been carried in foreign and second language classrooms.

Currentliterature conducted on code-switching in classroom settings hasdemonstrated its different roles in relation to language functionsand social relations. For the latter, code variation was employed asa communicative resource to achieve diverse social functions. Theseinclude, expressing solidarity, lessening social distance in order tocreate relationship that result in friendships, while at the sametime negotiating diverse identities (Lipski,2014).Other studies have analyzed conversation between students and tutorsand how teachers code-switch while teaching.For the purpose of suchstudies, data is generally obtained by way of observation orinterviews. Common data sources are bilingual populations indifferent settings and from foreign language classrooms, particularlyEnglish.Languageprofessionals would be interested in learning about the functions ofcode switching in bilingual communities for classroom practices andinstruction.


Definitionof code-switching

Thedefinition of code-switching has been produced over the years by anumber of authors. Code-switching has been observed in multi-linguallocations especially institutions of higher learning. A bunch ofstudies on code-switching have been carried out in institutions oflearning where classes involving different cultural background andlanguage are involved. It is because it is a source of variedinformation and the criteria chosen for research can fit within thestudent population (Eldin, 2014). Socio-linguistics is one disciplinethat is dedicated to defining Code-switching as a tactic where codesare interchanged from one to another whether intentionally orunintentionally. The change in code can be expressed in terms of theinterchange between different languages, different dialects, orstyles for a number of reasons (Eldin, 2014). The previous definitionis suited to Eldin (2014) conducted a research on code-switchinginvolving a large volume of digital content from the internet. Theresearch gathered material from the social networking sites andanalyzed the interaction of the Arabic-English speakers. The researchfound that the reason behind code-switching over the socialnetworking sites by Arabic-English speakers was to enhancecommunication and interaction.

Earlydefinitions can be traced to Gumperz (1977) who is considered to beamong the pioneers of code-switching definitions in thesocio-linguistics circles. The definition is explained in the booktitled Discourse Strategy by John J. Gumperz. The definition statesthat code-switching is the exchange of passages of speech belongingto two different grammatical systems or subsystems such aswhenspeakers use a second language (Gumperz, 1982). The use ofcode-switching is either to repeat his message or to reply to someoneelse’s statement (Gumperz, 1982). The definition by Gumperz (1982)is strictly constrained to a conversation between people at a pointin time.

Alot of studies have also been conducted through the use ofMyers-Scotton definition of code-switching. Code-switching is the useof two or more languages in the same conversation which is usually inthe same conversational turn or sentence turn of the conversation(Myers-Scotton, 1993). The definition encompasses people who mayunderstand and speak more than two languages. The fact that thepeople can engage in a conversation using all or two the languages inthe same conversation is considered as code-switching. The reasonsfor code-switching vary with a number of factors. They are discussedin the ahead in this literature review.

Oneof the single dimensional definitions was offered by Poplack (1980).Poplack considered that the code-switching is a skill that is welldemonstrated by the bilingual people who are extremely learned andfluent in both languages. The definition by Poplack stated that‘codes-switching is a verbal skill requiring a large degree oflinguistic competence in more than one language, rather than a defectarising from insufficient knowledge of one or the other’ (Poplack1980). His study reveals the fact that the bilingual speakersintentionally participated in code-switching. Additionally, theresearch reveals that the bilingual speakers were capable ofconversing in a single language consistently if the circumstances sodemanded. It did not take into consideration the people who hadshifted from their native origins and had little knowledge of thelanguage in the foreign or adoptive locations.

Typesof code-switching

Veryearly research by Gumperz and Bloom (1972) suggested two major typesof code-switching. The two authors invented situational andmetaphorical code-switching. Situational code-switching wasinfluenced by conversational factors such as changes in the topic,participant or the setting of the conversation. Metaphoricalcode-switching was seen as a strategy to assist a conversation withfactors such as complaints, apologies, and requests. More and deeperresearch carried out by Poplack suggested three levels ofcode-switching. The three levels are tag-switching, inter-sententialand intra-sentential.


Tag-switchinginvolves inserting a tag also known as a short phrase of one languageinto an utterance that entirely belongs in theother language. It istheeasiest type of code-switching that occurs because of minimalsyntactic restrictions which do not violate syntactic rules when usedin monolingualsentences. One of the most common English is ‘I wish’is an example that is used over and over in this context.


Inter-sententialis identified by the use entire clauses or sentences from the otherlanguage. It is the type of code-switching that requires itsspeakersto be fluent in both languages in order to conform to the rules ofthe languages. The speakers take turns to switch between thelanguages in the entire conversation.


Intra-sententialcode-switching is possibly the most complex type among all threebecause it can occur at clausal, sententialor even word level.

Reasonsfor code-switching

Thereare a number of reasonsresearchers put across for the nature and thepopularity of the code-switching. Attention has been offered in thissubject area leading to a bunch of major reasons that can be citedfor the practice across the globe. In this research proposalconsideration is offered to the work by Malik (1994) who suggestedthe ten reasons for code-switching. The research by Malik involvesArab speakers of English and thus is appropriate for my research.

Thefirst reason is the lack of facility (Malik, 1994). Lack of facilityinvolves the lack of phrases or vocabulary in the language to expressideas or feelings appropriately or to continue the conversation.Sometimes the reason is also because it is a new concept and it canbe hard to express in the new language. The second reason accordingto Malik is the lack of register. The lack of register is identifiedby the fact that the both speakers in this conversation may not fullyunderstand some words or concepts and thus they rely on the secondlanguage to explain. Such is common in the context of professionalssuch as engineers and doctors.The third reason is the type of moodwhere one is in. Feelings of tiredness or anger can influence aperson to code-switch to the native language because of the lack of aclear mind. Another reason of code-switching is resulting to habitualexpressions. There are common words that are instilled in a persondepending on socializing with people such as greetings, invitations,requests and command expressions.

Anothercommon reason for using code-switching between bilingual people is toemphasize a point during a conversation. People commonly usecode-switching at the end of a sentence or a conversation to mark thetermination of the conversation or make appoint memorable. Anotherreason was provided by Di Pietro (1977) as a tactic to show identitywith a group. In the research, one of the highlights was the factthat the Italian immigrants would joke in English and deliver thepunch line in Italian. It shows that the Italians shared experiencesand identity. Malik (1994) suggests another reason as the factthat there is semantic relevance in code switching. It means that thepeople engaged in the conversation are showing or bragging to eachother about their command of both languages. Code-switching can alsobe used to address a different audience. The final reason put acrossby Malik (1994) is to attract attention. It is an immensely usedtactic in newspapers to attract a reader to the section of the paper.A non-English advertisement will attract reading by Indians.



Themarkedness theory attempts to relate particular code-switching inconversations with the position ofpeoplein the society to portray aparticular message. Social relationships of the speakers are analyzedand they give meaning to the particular code-switching involved.Gradients of markedness are seen in the choice of the codes in thatparticular conversation. Majority of people in the same community arefound to use the samecodes for switching in their conversations.

MatrixLanguage Frame Theory

Thetheory was developed by Myers-Scotton (1993) and gained support inthe academic world. The theory serves to explain the grammatical andstructural coordination between languages in the code-switchingspeech environment. It suggests that the base language is thedominant one and it is usually the frame that requires code switchesfrom the guest language to be inserted.

Furtherresearch by Myers-Scotton (2002) produced conditions for theexistence of bilingualism and code-switching. Colonization,migration, second language fluency among the educated, the prestigeassigned to an international language for example German, thenationally accepted language and the desire to know one’s languagewere cited in the report.

Inthe matrix language frame theory there are rules or constraintsto befollowed related to the sentences foundations. The constraints arethe free morpheme and the linear equivalence. The free morpheme isreadily coded because they are not connected grammatically orsyntactically in a sentence. The linear equivalence constraint on theother hand is concerned with code-switching where the grammatical andsyntactic elements overlap in a sentence.

Pastrelated studies analysis

Bahous,Nabhani, and Bacha (2014) conducted a research and wrote an articletitled ‘Code-switching in higher education in a multilingualenvironment’. In their article, Bahous, Nabhani &amp Bacha (2014)have investigated faculty and students’ perceptions regarding codeswitching in higher education. The research, which was conducted in amultilingual setting in the classrooms in an American-mediuminstitution in Lebanon, particularly aimed at exploring the when, whyas well as how the students and faculty code-switch in a classroom.The findings suggested code-switching between languages in oralcommunication is common in multilingual settings and is employed fordifferent purposes. In recent times, it has attracted much attentionand has been shown to have a negative influence in the use oflanguage and learning among students. The main weakness in this studyis that it was limited to a single university. In future, theauthor’s research methods should be used in different academiclevels ranging from elementary to university, diversities among age,gender disciplines, as well as comparisons with other academicinstitutions using other languages apart from English and Arabic.

Lipski(2014) investigated Spanish-English code-switching among low-fluencybilinguals. In the research, Lipski (2014) focused on language mixinggenerated by semi-fluent bilinguals who try to speak in a monolingualcontext in their second language. The research findings indicatedthat such a circumstance frequently led to structural interferencefrom the mainstream language. Also in low-fluency language mixing,sections generated in both languages generally do not infringesyntactic constraints. The author shows that in low-fluency languagemixing, for instance switching functional classes such as subjectpronouns, propositions or compound verbs, may actually mirror thesuperiority of one language or lexicon over the other. In determiningthe specific correlation between language dominance andnon-constituent congruent lexicalization, the study proposes thatfurther research should be conducted on low-fluency language mixingamong adults who are non-balanced bilinguals. Final findingsindicated that low-fluency language mixing among non-balancedbilinguals forced to communicate in their weaker languages maygenerate different combinations in terms of qualitative andquantitative aspects compared to code-switching that take place amongbalanced bilinguals who are fluent in their language. Furtherresearch is needed in the low fluency levels for total understanding.

Anotherresearch of focus was made by Lehti-Eklundin (2012) based on howcode-switching that is believed as a local practice, is employedduring instruction and learning of Swedish, which is a foreignlanguage. According to the study, in a foreign language classroomsetting, both the teachers and students collectively generatepractices used in languages. For instance, they communicateinstitutional identities and context into being. In particular, thestudy has focused on the practice of the preference of a particularlanguage in repair. Indeed, students are likely to maintain aseparation of labor between foreign language employed forinstitutional work and first language as a language preserved forcommunication.



Thepoint that this study is attempting to address is the gap createdwhen other researchers take a generalized approach as to why the codeswitching is adopted by people. The research seeks answers from twogroups of Arab speakers with two different level of proficiency ofEnglish. The study investigates the reasons of code switchingaccording to the speakers English language proficiency. Therefore,this research attempts to find an answer to the following question:

Arethere any differences in the usesof code-switching inthe differentlevels of proficiency among Arabic-English students?

Otherminor questions that the research will attempt at addressing include

Whatare the purposes of code switching among the low-level proficientlyArab English language speakers?

Whatare the purposes of code switching among the high-level proficientlyArab English language speakers?



Theresearch will make use of two groups of speakers for collecting data.The first group will be the intermediate-level speakers of Englishwhile the second group will comprise of people with ahigh-levelcommand of English (superior). The sample will be pickedrandomly comprising of both males and females of different ages. Theresearcher intends to use an informal setting such as a classroom orliving room to record the required data. The data should be collectedin unintentional settings where the participants are not aware of therecordings, so then they unconsciously code switch. Thus,both groupswill be able to provide the researcher with unplannedproduction oflanguage that will reflect properties that the researcher needs toanalyze.

Thechoice of the intermediate-level speakers will include a bunch ofArabic students at the university who are taking language courses.The group will include only twenty students. It will comprise ofstudents who have spent less than six months in the states and aretaking English language courses.

Thesecond data needed for this analysis will be collected from a smallgroup of Arabic community in the state. The group will comprise oftwenty people. The people chosen for this analysis will be a closeunit who has lived together or close to one another in the UnitedStates for not less than three years. The sample chosen must meet thestandards set because there is a need for accurate data to becollected.

Oncethe participants have been chosen, all participants will signaninformed consent form in order to meet the ethical of research.


Thecollection of the data will be made through a twohours session once aweek for three months for both groups. The conversation will berecorded via video and will be analyzed. The session will be aninformal setting because maximum data will be collected when thegroups are freer to converse without restrictions. Also, theresearcher does not intend to dictate the topics of discussion,rather the group will decide on its own. The data collection willinvolve twelve recorded sessions per group.


Eachvideo session will be analyzed independently by a team of threepeople. The researcher will employ the use of two othersociolinguistic experts. The team of three will provide accurateanalysis, which involves three different analyses. Each expert’sanalysis will be discussed within the session to provide a singledocumented research that is collective on the analysis. Analysiswillfocus on reasons of the use of code switching based on Malik’s.

Theresearcher intends to use the Markedness theory to explain thefindings of the research.The results of the analysis will be compiledinto different categories. The researcher intends also to show thetype of code-switching whether tag-switching, inter-sentential orintra-sentential that was common among the two groups. The analysiswill be compiled and listed based on the ten reasons ofMalik’s.Further analysis will make use of frequency distribution ofboth languages, Arabic and English, to find out which language isdominant among the twogroups.


Bahous,R. N., Nabhani, M. B. &amp Bacha, N. N. (2014). Code-switching inhigher education in a multilingual environment: a Lebaneseexploratory study. LanguageAwareness, 23(4):353-368, DOI: 10.1080/09658416.2013.828735.

DiPietro, R. (1977). Code switching as a verbal strategy amongbilinguals. In F. Eckman (Ed.), Currentthemes in linguistics: Bilingualism, experimental linguistics andlanguage typologies. Washington,DC:Hemisphere.

Gumperz,J. (1977). The Sociolinguistic Significance of ConversationalCode-switching. RELCJournal. 8(2), 1-34.

Gumperz,J. (1982). DiscourseStrategies.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lehti-Eklund,H. (2012). Code-switching to first language in repair – A resourcefor students’ problem solving in a foreign language classroom.InternationalJournal of Bilingualism,17(2) 132–152, DOI: 10.1177/1367006912441416.

Lipski,J. M. (2014). Spanish-Englishcode-switching among low-fluency bilinguals: Towards an expandedtypology.SOLS, 8(1): 23–55, doi: 10.1558/sols.v8i1.23.

Malik,L. (1994). Socio-linguistics:A study of code-switching.New Delhi, ND: Anmol Publications Pvt. Ltd.

Myers,S. C. (1983). The negotiation of identities in conversation: A theoryof markedness and code choice. Internationaljournal of the sociology of language,1983(44), 115-136.

Myers,S. C. (1989). Code switching with English: types of switching, typesof communities. WorldEnglishers,8(3), pp. 333-&shy‐346.

Poplack,S. (1980). Sometimes I’ll Start a Sentence in Spanish y Termino enEspanol: Toward a Typology of Code-switching. Linguistics,18:581-618.


Reasons for Code switching (based on Malik, 1994)


















Lack of Facility


Lack of Registral Competence


Mood of the Speaker


To Amplify and emphasize a point


Habitual Expression


Semantic Significance


To Identify with a group


To Address Different Audience


Pragmatic Reasons


To Attract the Attension


InformedConsent Form

I, theundersigned, understand the following:

  • That I am about to participate in a study entitled “Arabic-English Code-Switching Among Students with Different English Language Proficiency Levels”, which is being conducted by a USF graduate student, Faten Alqahtani and that the purpose of this research is to investigate the purposes of code switching.

  • That my participation in this study will entail video recordings of twelve sessions.

  • That my participation in this study is voluntary, and that no penalty or disadvantage will accrue to me for non-participation, nor any benefit for participation.

  • That I may withdraw from the study at any time, and may refuse to answer any question I am asked.

  • That I may participate anonymously or under a pseudonym, and will not be asked my name during the session. No record will be kept of my name if I wish to remain anonymous.

  • That even if anonymity is not important to me and I give my name to the investigator, my name will never be revealed in written or oral presentations of the study, and will never be associated publicly with any data from my interview.

  • That portions of my recording may be played in linguistics classes or conference, presentations, or transcribed in written reports, for demonstration purposes connected with linguistic analysis.

  • That additional copy of my recording videos may be made for back-up purposes.

  • That the original recording and all copies of it will be accessible only to the researcher and her team (including in presentations as mentioned above).

  • That I may contact Faten Alqahtani at [email protected] if I have any questions or concerns relating to this project or to my participation in it.

Bysigning below, I certify that I have read and understood theforegoing terms and conditions, and that I agree to participate, inaccordance with them, in the above-named study.