Code Switching Attitudes among Arabic Speakers

Introduction

The issue of code switching is one of the most relevant and widely discussed topics in linguistics, methodology and sociolinguistics. Over the past decade, many researchers have addressed this topic, and it has also provoked constructive debates. The development and expansion of interethnic and interregional contacts, intensive migration, interaction of several languages and modern integration processes have resulted in the growth of linguistic contacts (Alonso, 2011).

Moreover, since language is a dynamic system, these processes have led to an expansion of the sphere of interaction between or among language codes. The study of code switching proceeds at the junction of ethnolinguistic approaches as the intensification of this phenomenon occurs simultaneously with the development of interethnic and intercultural contacts. This topic is particularly relevant in English as a Second Language in (ESL) classroom settings in Oman. Many researchers claim that code switching enhances student learning and is employed by both teachers and learners. The current research aims to investigate the attitudes towards code-switching among Arab speakers within the context of ESL classrooms.

Background

It is important to note that codes (languages) and sub-codes (dialects, styles) constitute a social-communicative system. Their distinctive peculiarity is reflected in the fact that they are functionally distributed. This implies that speakers will use codes and sub-codes depending on the conditions of communication. In general, code switching is the transition of a speaker from one language (dialect) to another in the process of communication, depending on the setting (Abalhassan & Al-Shalawi, 2000). A speaker might resort to code switching for a number of reasons. For instance, the change of the addressee (the individual to whom the speaker’s discourse is directed).

If the new addressee does not possess one of the codes, the code that is known for both speakers should be used. In addition, in a situation when a third person joins the conversation of two bilinguals, and he or she does not own either of the codes, bilinguals will switch the code so that the third person can successfully join the conversation (Chloros, 2009). Moreover, a change in the role of the speaker or of the communication topic can affect the choice of code; this is particularly characteristic in linguistic heterogeneity.

It is crucial to consider the places or phases of the speech chain in which speakers can switch code. Depending on the factors and conditions of interaction between individuals, the switch can occur at any place and at any stage of communication. When the speaker can foresee the impact of specific factors on code switching, the phenomenon will occur within the natural boundaries of the speech stream, for example, at the end of a phrase or syntactic period.

If the factor causing the code switching appears unexpectedly, the switch will occur in the middle of the phrase (Mackey, 1957). Frequently, the process of code switching can proceed unnoticed for the speaker; in other words, it becomes automated. For instance, when speaking one language, a person can spontaneously use the elements of another language such as phraseological units, modal words, interjections or particles. However, in switching from one system to another, the speaker will use the linguistic elements in accordance with the phonetic, grammatical and other properties of these elements. The emphasis must remain that effective mechanisms of code switching provide understanding between people and ensure the ease of the process of interaction for both parties.

Oman Context

At present, the English language is one of the most common forms of communication around the world. It is a language that ensures communication and joint understanding between people coming from different countries and nations; thus, the demand for English in Oman is reasonable. It is not only an important component of the business setting, but it is also taught as a second language in all educational institutions across Oman (Heredia & Brown, 2006). Overall, English has become a form of daily communication in public places. For instance, it is spoken in hotels and health-care facilities, and various providers furnish their services in English.

It should be noted that English was adopted as a second language in educational institutions in Oman in the early 1970s. At present, the educational system of the country comprises primary, middle, secondary, vocational and tertiary levels. English is taught and mastered as a second language at all levels. In public schools, the curriculum is diversified to meet the current learning needs of students. In other words, all students have different levels of knowledge of this foreign language, and educational activities are tailored to the specific needs of each individual (Kiranmayi & Phil, 2010).

As mentioned above, the use of English as a second language in Oman is not limited to the business context. The native residents of the country use the language as a means of communication with the non-indigenous population as well as with foreigners residing in Oman. Notably, English has become a unique language that can be used by people from diverse social and cultural backgrounds (Schendl, 2015).

Literature Review

Many researchers have investigated the concept of code switching, and two major approaches have been identified: sociolinguistic and structural. According to Milroy and Muysken (1995), the core of the structural approach lies in focusing on grammatical facets. In more precise terms, this approach views the process and aspects of code switching in terms of morph-syntactic and syntactic constructions (Metila, 2011). The other approach considers this concept as an occurrence in dialogue. In other words, the essence of language variation is reflected in the way social meaning is produced and in its function (Sharaf, 2014). It is important to keep in mind that these two approaches are complementary, and the current research aims to investigate the attitudes of learners regarding both.

Isurin, Winford and Bot (2009) placed particular emphasis on people’s need for group identification, which can be reflected in their intentional shift from one language to another. The current research seeks either to confirm or invalidate this statement. According to Cantone (2007), bilingualism is the ability to converse in two languages with equal aptitude, and code switching should follow this pattern.

However, Myers-Scotton (2000) stressed that when individuals resort to code switching, frame-building occurs prior to the inclusion of any content morpheme in the case of the second language. This means that the statement made by Cantone is arguable. The students under study, in terms of the current research, are learning English as their second language; therefore, it will be important to investigate under which circumstances the first language would be preferable, and why.

From the sociolinguistic perspective, code switching might proceed as an intra-sentential and inter-sentential occurrence (Moodley, 2007). The first type of alteration, according to Bullock and Toribio (2009), proceeds in a single sentence fragment. In the case of the second type of code switching, it proceeds between different sentences (Heredia & Brown, 2006). The research aims to determine the patterns that are most frequently employed by students in schools in Oman.

Overall, most researchers have noted that code switching enhances communication (Schendl, 2015). It can be acquired by talking to peers and parents, as well as during all types of social contacts (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). Therefore, it is crucial to define the role of code switching in the context of Oman schools and investigate the way it proceeds in the case of students, as well as gathering their perceptions of this phenomenon.

Research Method and Data Collection

To be able to gather information on the attitudes, perceptions and significance of code switching in ESL classrooms, a questionnaire has been compiled and distributed among school students. As a prerequisite to conducting the research, all the details have been discussed with the staff members of the selected schools, and the content has been refined to meet the comprehension level of the learners (Flick, 2014). In addition, it was essential to receive permission for selecting participants among students. The teachers of the class under study are diverse. Both Oman-speaking bilingual teachers and non-Oman-speaking tutors are educating the students of the sample group. Therefore, it was assumed that it would be reasonable to research this particular class since its teachers have varied backgrounds.

In terms of sample size, overall, 15 students have completed the questionnaire. The participants belonged to two different classrooms. They were provided with the questionnaire found in Table 1 in the Appendix. The purpose of the questionnaire was to obtain both basic data about the lives of students (for instance, their age, place of birth and country) and their language preferences. It was created in order to determine whether the actual trends correlate with assumptions made by experts in the field.

Data Analysis

A qualitative method was used to analyse the data obtained from the students and aimed at eliciting patterns from their answers. Notably, more than half of all the questions were open-ended to ensure that individuals could express their opinions and provide details to support their answers (Flick, 2014). This enabled the researcher to obtain a wide body of evidence for further consideration. The gathered information has been sorted and grouped into categories. Furthermore, the categories have been reworked to serve as evidence.

Limitations

It should be stressed that all data have been collected solely by the researcher, and the answers were provided by the students. Therefore, the limitation of the current study is that the data were self-reported. To ensure the research results could be considered valid and reliable, theoretical triangulation was applied (Flick, 2014). The findings have been compared with and justified by the approaches suggested by experts in the field. Thus, this strategy allowed enhancing the reliability of the research and ensuring the results can be considered valid.

Research Results and Discussion

One of the main points that could be drawn from the questionnaire results is a conclusion about social stratification, in particular, a social assessment of differences (Al-Khatib, 2003). This conclusion allowed comparing the data of linguistic analysis with the appraisal and subjective perception of the language by the students themselves. To be more precise, Question 8 was included in the questionnaire to determine how often students switch from one language to another and under which circumstances. This question allowed investigating how intensely code switching has become part of routine speech behaviour in the ESL classroom and in general.

Based on the students’ answers, a trend was revealed that determined that code switching is close to the language norm (12 students of 15 would regularly switch codes in their speech), and individuals consciously turn to switching when communicating with teachers (Schendl, 2015). It is significant that when communicating with friends and family, students noticed an automatic switching from one language to another. Moreover, as a rule, students would combine the forms of the two languages in their speech.

Situational Variability

Another significant result of the survey is the penetration of English into the language preferences of students in different situations (Questions 6, 7, 10–15). The answers of individuals enabled drawing a conclusion about situational variability. It turned out that while studying in general, participating in English lessons and communicating with friends, language preferences revealed the tendency to use English or to use both English and Arabic (10 out of 15 answers). However, when reading various texts, in informal settings and when communicating with family members, students would prefer using the Arabic language (Sharaf, 2014).

Therefore, when making assumptions about students’ attitudes towards code switching, it is important to consider the influence of social and situational indicators on the choice of sociolinguistic variables (Holmes, 2013).

Lexicological-Syntactical Characteristics of Code Switching

Having analysed the received answers to Question 9, it became possible to draw particular conclusions about code switching from the point of view of its lexicological and syntactic features of functioning in the structure of the sentence or statement (Milroy & Muysken, 1995). The results showed that, as a rule, switching occurred at the level of a separate lexical unit (15 out of 15 answers). In addition, many students wrote that they could use one or more lexical units and morphemes in combination, as well as set expressions and idioms (mentioned by 11 students out of 15).

In nine cases out of 15, students use intra-sentential switching, that is, switching within the sentence, especially when communicating with friends (Bullock & Toribio, 2009). Moreover, there were cases of switching between the components of a complex sentence and at the boundaries of sentences, or inter-sentential switching (Heredia & Brown, 2006). Thus, it can be concluded that one of the most frequently used variants of code switching in the ESL classroom is switching at the level of individual lexical units. The explanation for this phenomenon might be that students seek to use the resources of the first language to quickly fill a lexical gap in the second language.

General Assumptions

Thus, analysing the answers of students, it is possible to state that the variability at the level of individual lexical units is helpful for students not only when the word in English or Arabic can be more easily remembered but also in those occurrences when it is necessary to convey information to the listener, the understanding of which can be alleviated by including special vocabulary. For example, when communicating with friends, it can be easier for students to use an English word to explain a concept or phenomenon rather than to find an explanation in Arabic. This also coincides with the assumption made by Isurin et al. (2009) that code switching can be linked to the need of individuals for group identification.

However, this is not applicable to the sense of belonging to a particular linguistic group but to solidarity with peers and their representations (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). The pattern is also applicable to English lessons; however, students would switch codes to be able to explain or clarify significant information in Arabic rather than English. In general, switching occurs at the level of individual units and at the boundaries of sentences.

It is reasonable to state that the use of L1 is inevitable in Oman schools since both students and their educators share the same first language. Therefore, it is understandable that when explaining complex structures, rules or concepts, code switching is essential, as Milroy and Muysken (1995) have also confirmed in their research. Overall, attitudes towards code switching are positive since it is a useful tool in learning and in communicating with other people in general. The capability to shift from the first language to the second in ESL classrooms creates an authentic learning atmosphere (Myers-Scotton, 2000).

The use of Arabic might encourage students and enhance their motivation and engagement since avoidance might negatively affect students’ comprehension of material. If students and teachers communicate solely in English, certain obstacles and difficulties will emerge, and the lack of knowledge at some points of the lesson (for instance, misunderstanding of concepts) might contribute to further learning gaps (Chau, 2007). This assumption also coincides with the arguments made by Cook (2001). Therefore, it is possible to state that code switching is a useful tool, and the use of L1 helps improve language learning and teaching in ESL classrooms.

Conclusion

Thus, it can be concluded that code switching is a phenomenon widely employed in ESL classrooms in Oman. In general, the ability to switch between languages helps individuals to connect better with other people. The research aimed to investigate the attitudes of learners towards code switching. It was revealed that students evaluate this phenomenon positively, and it influences their personal life apart from schooling. In terms of linguistic differentiation, attention is given to the context of communication, to which the speaker adjusts the choice of linguistic means. In general, code switching has become a way of interaction that is widely used at present, and the context makes it possible to expand the research in the framework of not only the sociolinguistic profile but also as a cultural and anthropological phenomenon.

References

Abalhassan, K. M, & Al-Shalawi, H. G. (2000). Code-switching behavior of Arab speakers of English as a second language in the United States. Intercultural Communication Studies, 10(1), 179–188.

Al-Khatib, H. (2003). Language alternation among Arabic and English youth bilinguals: Reflecting or constructing social realities? International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 6(6), 409–422.

Alonso, D. (2011). English as a second language. New York, NY: Nova Science.

Bullock, B. E., & Toribio, A. J. (2009). The Cambridge handbook of linguistic code switching. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Cantone, K. (2007). Code-switching in bilingual children. Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Chau, E. (2007). Learners’ use of their first Language in ESL classroom interactions. TESOL in Context, 16(2), 11–18.

Chloros, G. (2009). Code-switching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cook, V. (2001). Using the first language in the classroom. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 57(3), 402–423.

Flick, U. (2014). An introduction to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Heredia, R., & Brown, M. (2006). Code-switching. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Holmes, J. (2013). Introduction to sociolinguistics (4th ed.). London, UK: Routledge.

Isurin, L., Winford, D., & Bot, L. (2009). Multidisciplinary approaches to code switching. Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins.

Kiranmayi, N., & Phil, M. (2010). Code switching and code mixing in Arab students: Some implications. Language in India, 10(8), 156–167.

Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Mackey, W. F. (1957). The description of bilingualism. Journal of the Canadian Linguistic Association, 3, 45–56.

Metila, R. A. (2011). Decoding the switch: The functions of codeswitching in the classroom. Education Quarterly, 67(1), 44–61.

Milroy, L., & Muysken, P. (1995). One speaker, two languages: Cross-disciplinary perspectives on code-switching. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Moodley, V. (2007). Codeswitching in the multilingual English first language classroom. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 10(6), 707–722.

Myers-Scotton, C. (2000). Explaining the role of norms and rationality in codeswitching. Journal of Pragmatics, 32, 1259–1271.

Schendl, H. (2015). Code-switching in early English literature. Language and Literature, 24(3), 233–248.

Sharaf, A. (2014). Socio linguistic study of code switching of the Arabic language speakers on social networking. International Journal of English Linguistics, 4(6), 78–85.

Appendix

Section A: Background Information and Introduction

Your age:

Class:

The purpose of this questionnaire is to investigate your thoughts and reasons for using Arabic in English classes and your general ideas about switching from one language to another.

Section B: Questions

In multiple-choice questions, please underline or circle the option that best corresponds to what you think. In open-ended questions, feel free to write the answer in the form preferable for you (key words, short sentences, detailed response, and so on). Your answers should be based on your personal preference and view about switching between Arab and English.

N.B. Your responses will be anonymous. You can skip any of the questions below if you are reluctant to provide your answer to it. In case you have any questions, feel free to ask the investigator at any point in the questionnaire.

Table 1. Questionnaire for Students.

Question Your Answer
Country of residence
Place of birth
Sex
Are you bilingual? Yes.
No.
The number of years studying English
What is your language preference when reading?
What is your language preference when communicating at home/ school/ with your peers and other people overall? Why?
How often (in general) do you switch languages in speaking (from English to Arabic and the reverse)? Under what circumstances does this happen?
In which part of the sentence or utterance do you switch languages as a rule (in the beginning, in the middle, at the end)?
If you talk to your teachers, do you prefer English or Arabic? Why?
I use Arabic when it is hard to express myself in English. a = Never
b = Hardly ever
c = Most of the time
d= Often
e= Every time
I find it a challenge to concentrate in English classrooms when the teacher uses English only. a = Never
b = Hardly ever
c = Most of the time
d= Often
e= Every time
I use both English and Arabic when conversing with friends of the same language. a = Never
b = Hardly ever
c = Most of the time
d= Often
e= Every time
I use both English and Arabic to explain difficult words when talking with friends. a = Never
b = Hardly ever
c = Most of the time
d= Often
e= Every time
I use both English and Arabic to ensure the dialogue flows well. a = Never
b = Hardly ever
c = Most of the time
d= Often
e= Every time