Situational code-switching

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Situational code-switching is the tendency in a bilingual or multilingual community to use different languages or language varieties in different social situations, or to switch varieties in order to mark a change in situation.

Situational and metaphorical code-switching were first described by John J. Gumperz and Jan-Petter Blom. Their paper, "Social meaning in linguistic structures", was the first to suggest this division.[1] Gumperz and Dell Hymes describe the difference between the two in the introduction to the volume in which "Social meaning in linguistic structures" appeared.

An important distinction is made from situational switching, where alternation between varieties redefines a situation, being a change in governing norms, and metaphorical switching, where alternation enriches a situation, allowing for allusion to more than one social relationship within the situation.[2]

In the decades since Blom and Gumperz's work first appeared, significant advances have been made in the analysis of code-switching.


An example of situational code-switching can be seen in this telephone conversation between two friends. The speaker is talking about recent political events, and the language she uses is Standard Italian. When she decides to change topics, though, she marks this change by switching to Sicilian. (Standard Italian is shown in ordinary type. Sicilian is in italics.)

Io mai l'ho vista una campagna elettorale così. Neppure nel quarantotto, che era il dopoguerra, che c'erano... che c'erano proprio umori tremendi. Mai si era verificato. N'autra cosa t'ai'a cchièdirti, Giovanna.[3]
(I've never seen an electoral campaign like this. Not even in 1948, in the post-war period, when there were... when there were tremendous emotions. It never happened. I've got something else to ask you, Giovanna.)

A change in topic is an example of a changed situation that may be marked by code-switching. The speaker in this example switches from Standard Italian to the local language, marking the new situation with a different language.


  1. ^ Blom, Jan-Petter; Gumperz, John J. (1972), "Social Meaning in Linguistic Structures: Code Switching in Northern Norway", in J. J. Gumperz and D. Hymes, Directions in Sociolinguistics, New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston 
  2. ^ Gumperz, John Joseph; Hymes, Dell H. (1986), Directions in Sociolinguistics: The Ethnography of Communication, Oxford: Basil Blackwell 
  3. ^ Alfonzetti, Giovanna (2002). "Italian-dialect code-switching in Sicily". In P. Auer. Code-Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity. Taylor & Francis. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-203-01788-3.