The Dual Functions of Code-Switching in Cantonese-English Bilingual Children's Conversations with Parents

Ruowei Yang, Xing Zhang


Adopting the approach of Conversational Analysis, this study investigates the functions of Code-Switching (CS) by young Cantonese-English bilingual children in their conversations with parents at home, focusing on how CS could be employed as a conversational strategy to move the interactions between children and parents forward. In addition, it can present an opportunity to facilitate the language acquisition of children. The database comprises 54 hours of audio recordings of the daily conversations of four preschool children with their parents or caretakers at home. All audio clips are transcribed using a Conversation Analysis (CA) method, and cases of CS are analyzed qualitatively in different sequential locations. In this study, two functions related to the CS of children are proposed and discussed: one is the conversation-related function, when children, as conversation participants, use CS to interact with an adult; and the other is the learning-related function, when children, as language learners, acquire linguistic and pragmatic knowledge of the language, including phonology, syntactic structure, semantic information, or pragmatic usage regarding certain linguistic items. This study also provides some insights into the communicative ability of children and the development of bilingualism, which may have some pedagogical implications for the teaching of language to young learners.


code-switching; conversational analysis; repair; language acquisition; linguistic knowledge; pragmatic knowledge

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