Do you switch languages within a single sentence? Read this

Published: Updated:

“I sent you the assignment, bass read it lama tkhalsi. Please!” This is Mira Kerbage’s routine message to her friend.

In plain English, this is what she said: “I sent you my assignment. Just read it when you are done. Please!” Kerbage has just switched between English and Arabic during the conversation.

The phenomenon has come to be known as code switching – a trend catching up among students in the UAE. Here are the reasons why one would code switch consciously:

1- Sense of social status: People could be in a situation where they feel they must assert their sense of superiority over the listener, so they code switch between two or more languages.

2- To emphasize a point and persuade the listener: Individuals would suddenly switch from English to Arabic to quote someone, which attracts the attention of the listener and underlines the importance of the idea being revealed. When code switching is associated with a strong argument it enhances the speaker’s credibility and reliability.

3- To show solidarity: People code switch from English to French when conversing with French speakers to express solidarity with that social group and exclude others.

4- To discuss sensitive and taboo topics: Individuals, especially young adults, exclude their parents from a conversation by code switching to a foreign language. They do so to discuss culturally sensitive topics like cancer, sex, or lovers and to curse.

Code switching also happens at a sub-conscious level for the following reasons:

1- To express emotions: People automatically switch to the language they master to express happiness, anger or other emotions. Their brain is used to processing and delivering information in that language.

2- Using cultural expressions: ‘Mashallah, Inshallah, Yarab’ and many more are cultural expressions that people include in their conversations. Therefore, individuals alternate between languages to say these expressions. It reflects their social status, cultural background and the group they belong to.

3- Habit: Living in a dynamic culture where one must interact with multiple nationalities. Individuals end up code switching involuntarily to the extent that the phenomena becomes part of their conversational habits.