A comparison of frequencies and patterns of codeswitching in Spanish-English bilingual children at high and low risk for specific language impairment
Theories of bilingual language production suggest that codeswitching is either a characteristic of limited language or a productive characteristic suggesting enhanced executive control and language proficiency. Since codeswitching patterns of typically developing and language impaired bilingual children are not thoroughly understood, utterances with codeswitches may be disregarded during language evaluations. Codeswitching frequency and types of codeswitches were analyzed in language samples of 12 bilingual children at high and 12 at low risk for specific language impairment (SLI). Results indicated that the frequency of codeswitching was similar for both risk groups in Spanish, but not in English. In English, the high risk group codeswitched significantly more than the typically developing group (18.76% vs 7.20%, p<.05). The types of codeswitches most often produced also differed by language and risk group. In Spanish, single-word lexical codeswitches were preferred significantly more than syntactical or lexical-syntactical, but no differences were found between risk groups. In English, syntactical codeswitches were preferred significantly more than lexical or lexical- syntactical. That the children at high risk for SLI codeswitched more in their second language and that their patterns were similar to the typically developing group might suggest that codeswitching in bilingual children with SLI might be used as a productive strategy to fill in linguistic ‘gaps’ and that codeswitching should be recognized and given credit for in language evaluations.