5dez 2022
06:30 UTC

The pragmatics of Swedish-Estonian code-switching

Most of the world’s population speaks at least two or more languages (Auer 1984) which means that many daily conversations are multilingual. Multiple studies have described the structural aspects of this bilingual behaviour. This study will look at the other side of the coin and focus on the pragmatics of multilingual interactions. To exemplify some arguments, I will be using samples from the spoken conversations of Swedish Estonian teenagers.

What happens during these conversations is much more than simple word borrowing. People can also shift between entire or partial phrases in different languages, and commonly this phenomenon is referred to as code-switching (CS). Current research divides into two schools of thought: some are concerned with the grammatical aspects of this process and try to explain how we integrate one language into the other (for example, Myers-Scotton 1997, Johanson 2002); others approach from a more pragmatic point of view and study the functions and connections to different social factors of CS (for example, Gumperz 1982, Appel and Muysken 2005).

Here I will be following the latter approach on the example of Swedish Estonian teenagers. Today, around 10,000 Estonians live in Sweden (SCB). Until the late 1980s, people emigrated there due to war (Raag 2010). Nowadays, these relocations are mostly work-related (Kumer-Haukanõmm, Telve 2017). Linguists have studied the Swedish Estonian community since the 1970s, but very few of these studies focus on teenagers.

This presentation aims to explore the CS functions of Swedish-Estonian bilingual interactions. I will be presenting findings from a recent study (Korkus 2021) where I investigated the language use of five teenagers between the ages of 15-17 years. I recorded the speakers in the form of conversation groups – a less common approach for researching CS.

Around 25% of the utterances contained CS. By mapping out the patterns where language switches occurred, a total of six CS functions systematically appeared in the data. These include semantic specifications, quasi-translations, vocabulary limitations, expressiveness, wordplay, and cross-utterance language harmony. In these series of tweets, I will further clarify their occurrence patterns and characteristics.