Codeswitching Among Preschool English-Malay Bilinguals

Lorraine Anne De Silva

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 1997


    Codeswitching is an important aspect of bilinguals since it may be used as a conversational enhancer when speakers share the same linguistic repertoire. In everyday conversations, Malay speakers in Singapore display a great tendancy to codeswitch. The occurrence of these codeswitches are so frequent that they may even go unnoticed. Since codeswitching does occur in everyday conversations, this study was done to examine codeswitching in the oral conversations of English-Malay preschool bilinguals. The main aim of this study was to examine when as well as why codeswitches occurred, in the home as well as the kindergarten.

    Researchers have proposed two ways of perceiving codeswitching. It may be viewed as a natural conversation enhancer or alternatively, as an agent which pollutes a language. While both views are legitimate, this paper is geared in the direction that codeswitches serve to enhance conversation. However, a bilingual should have three levels of language use: English monolingualism, Malay monolingualism as well as a mixed variety, to function optimally in society. While I am proposing that codeswitching is a positive strategy, I wish to add that it's appropriate use is important for it to have a legitimate role within the speech community.

    In doing this study, I found that these preschool children have a compartmentalised language system. This is very interesting because these children codeswitched in the home domain with ease and fluency while speaking to a family member of caregiver. However, in the classroom, during formal discussions, they generally refrained from codeswitching.

    Lastly, I wish to stress that this paper attempts to crave a legitimate niche for codeswitching within the speech continuum as well as the conversations of bilinguals.