Functions of codeswitching in classes of German as a foreign language

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Seidlitz, Lisa Michelle

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Codeswitching is the alternating use of two or more languages in discourse. The goal of this study was to find order in the apparent chaos of codeswitching in foreign language classes and to find patterns within the seeming random alternation of languages. This study is based on twenty hours of audio and videotaped data collected in second-year German language classes taught by graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin and compares my data with the typologies created by previous research in language alternation. I first considered Gumperz’s model, which considers language use as a function of the dynamics of interactions (Gumperz 1982). Polio and Duff’s research similarly studied micro-level functions of codeswitching in interaction; their work focused on interaction within foreign language classes in the U.S. (Polio and Duff 1994). I also considered the types of codeswitching identified by Myers-Scotton’s Markedness Model (Myers-Scotton 1987 & 1988), which consider linguistic variation to be derived from the sociological attributes of the speaker and the situation rather than from the details of specific interactional episodes. Most of the functions and types of codeswitching identified by previous research were also found in the current study; nevertheless, there was variation among teachers. Most significantly, native language seems to be the most significant variable affecting the functional distribution of languages in the classroom among the teachers I studied. The American teachers codeswitched more frequently, especially for the grammar practice, instructions, humor and praise, while Germans used overall much less English. These observed patterns suggest that there is order to the way teachers allocate their languages in the classroom. This systematicity provides support for the notion that foreign language classrooms can be considered emerging speech communities, ones which are perhaps still in the process of determining norms but which do demonstrate patterns.