Gauging convergence on the ground: Code-switching in the community*

Rena Torres Cacoullos, Catherine E. Travis

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Is grammatical convergence between bilinguals’ two languages inevitable and does code-switching inherently promote it? Despite the burgeoning of bilingualism studies, this question—and even what should count as code-switching—remains contentious. Cumulative scientific advances will depend on attention to the social context in which bilingual phenomena arise, proper handling of spontaneous speech data, and consideration of the probabilistic constraints underlying occurrence rates of linguistic forms. We put forward this program of study as implemented in systematic quantitative analysis of linguistic structures in the New Mexico Spanish-English Bilingual (NMSEB) corpus. This unique compilation of bilingual speech by members of the Hispanic northern New Mexican community in the United States records both borrowing and—vitally—copious multi-word code-switching. Advancing the study of bilingualism is community-based data collection and accountable analysis of the linguistic conditioning of variation in both of the languages in contact as used by the bilinguals themselves, in comparison with appropriate benchmarks, again of both languages (monolingual, or earlier, varieties). The role of code-switching in convergence is evaluated through a novel on-line measure, comparisons based on the proximity of spontaneous use of the other language. Implementation of this test of proximate code-switching confirms a disjunction between bilinguals’ phonology, which is more labile, and morpho-syntax, which is stable. Variation is conditioned by intra-linguistic contextual features, the distribution of which, however, may shift under code-switching, shaping patterns in the bilingual community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-386
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 8 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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