In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Code-switching and Multilingualism

  • Introduction
  • Collected Volumes
  • Foundational Concepts of Code-mixing
  • Syncretism and Hybridity
  • Multilingualism and Identity
  • Gender and Multilingualism
  • Multilingual Socialization and Education
  • Multilingualism and Globalization
  • Superdiversity

Anthropology Code-switching and Multilingualism
Jenanne K. Ferguson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0182


One of the central discussions in studies of multilingual communities and societies has been how to classify and understand patterns of code-switching or code-mixing—using two or more codes or language varieties within an exchange. Code-switching does not only happen between two different recognized languages but may happen between dialects, registers, or styles of one ‘language,’ however, it has been studied primarily within bi- or multilingual contexts. The terms “code-mixing” and “code-switching” (also written as “codemixing” and “codeswitching”) may be used at times as catch-all terms for any kind of linguistic alternations, whereas other scholars make a distinction between them. As Muysken 2000 (cited under Typologies and Meanings) notes, some separate them by denoting that switching happens intersententially (at the sentence or clause boundary), while mixing occurs intrasententially (within the sentence or clause). In other words, code-mixing may involve a greater degree of mixing than code-switching, which is thereby conceived of as a more discrete shift. In this entry, I endeavor to use what authors themselves use, and highlight where some make key distinctions in the phenomena. While many of the general overviews listed here present mixing and switching from a variety of analytical angles, they do not provide more than a cursory discussion of the grammatical, psycholinguistic, and cognitive aspects of code-mixing; these are part of an approach located within the field of linguistics. Due to the differing historical patterns of the development of the anthropology and its component subfields, we find both sociolinguists and linguistic anthropologists conducting research that foregrounds the social—or sociolinguistic—meanings of code-switching/code-mixing. This entry aims to foreground this approach to code-switching and code-mixing and assumes that these linguistic alternations are socially indexical to some extent. Thus, the most attention is paid to how switching and mixing are shaped by speakers’ diverse language ideologies and may also possess multiple functions in a given interaction, rather than to grammatical constraints and consequences of mixing. Closely linked to investigations of code-mixing and switching are broader theorizations of what multilingualism means and how it should be approached or studied ethnographically. While the first sections of this entry discuss codemixing-related phenomena and debates, the later sections deal with recent ethnographies and approaches to understanding multilingual societies in the context of mobility and globalization.

Collected Volumes

The following entries are included as excellent overall introductions, or as sources for finding a number of other key articles by authors mentioned elsewhere in this article, as in Wei 2007. They span approximately thirty years of research in the field and help trace the evolution of the various approaches detailed in the following sections of this entry: Typologies and Meanings, Syncretism and Hybridity. Heller 1988 is a classic introduction to an anthropological approach to understanding code-switching, and Heller 2007 presents numerous analytical and thematic innovations from more recent research. Auer 1998 focuses on studies using the sociolinguistically situated Conversational Analysis model, while Milroy and Muysken 1995 present a selection of articles using approaches from different disciplines. Bhatia and Ritchie 2012 and Martin-Jones and Martin 2014 are both handbooks presenting a variety of topics related to multilingualism in light of increasing globalization and include discussions of code-switching and related kinds of language alternation as well as other topics and theories relevant from anthropological and sociolinguistic perspectives. One volume—Martin-Jones and Martin 2014—is specifically dedicated to various ethnographic methods and frameworks for studying multilingualism itself.

  • Auer, Peter, ed. 1998. Code-switching in conversation: Language, interaction and identity. London: Routledge.

    A well-curated volume that engages with a number of key topics in its twelve chapters. The first section involves contributions that seek to theoretically broaden the field and include the defining of “code,” the distinction of types of code-switching, and the creation of typological frameworks, among others. The second half of the book is dedicated to ethnographically informed case studies that lend support to Auer’s Conversation Analysis framework for understanding bilingual interactions.

  • Auer, Peter, ed. 2007. Style and social identities: Alternative approaches to linguistic heterogeneity. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

    An excellent complement to the section Multilingualism and Identity in this entry, this collection looks at the use of multiple languages—as well as multiple styles or varieties of one language—in conversation and interaction in a vast array of social groups. Ethnographically rich and focused on various genres of interaction, including online written communication.

  • Bhatia, Tej K., and William C. Ritchie, eds. 2012. The handbook of bilingualism and multilingualism. Malden, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

    This multi-authored compendium provides a comprehensive overview of multilingualism and includes both neurological and psychological aspects of the subject as well as social approaches. Along with a section in Part 2 by the editors covering the social and psychological factors in language mixing, the most relevant parts for anthropologists would be Part 3, “Societal Bilingualism/Multilingualism and its Effects,” which also covers language contact and endangerment, and Part 4, a collection of case studies from around the world.

  • Eastman, Carole, ed. 1992. Codeswitching. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

    Another early collection that focuses primarily on code-switching as linked to situations of urban linguistic contact, which is detailed in Eastman’s introduction. While individual chapters range from Danish-American songs to comparisons of Belgian and Canadian situations (for the latter see also Heller 1992 in Multilingualism and Identity) to Mandarin preschool talk, a whole subsection on African settings makes this collection particularly valuable for researchers working multilingualism on that continent.

  • Heller, Monica, ed. 1988. Codeswitching: Anthropological and sociolinguistic perspectives. Contributions to the Sociology of Language 48. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    One of the first anthologies dedicated to social approaches to studying the phenomenon, this collection of invited papers contains early work by Heller herself along with Auer, Myers-Scotton, Poplack, and Woolard, among others. An excellent selection of influential pieces that capture the state of the field at the time; the focus on function ties together many strains of influence from the preceding two decades of research. Many of the chapters are cited in other sections of this entry.

  • Heller, Monica, ed. 2007. Bilingualism: A social approach. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Another well-curated collection by Heller that came out nearly two decades after her 1988 volume. The contributions are primarily by linguistic anthropologists and cover a diverse set of topics from critical methodological and theoretical perspectives. Of particular note are the chapters engaging with bilingualism as an ideological product of the nation-state (and beyond), and analyzing the colonial and postcolonial links to how it has been researched and conceptualized in the past.

  • Martin-Jones, Marilyn, and Deirdre Martin. 2014. Researching multilingualism: Critical and ethnographic perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.

    An excellent collection for both new and experienced scholars in the field, each of the five parts of this book engage some cutting-edge approaches and methodologies for investigating various settings and elements of multilingualism: trajectories over time, online multilingualism, reflexive approaches, multiple scales of investigation, and collaborative projects with communities.

  • Martin-Jones, Marilyn, Adrian Blackledge, and Angela Creese, eds. 2012. The Routledge handbook of multilingualism. New York and London: Routledge.

    An immense and comprehensive five-part compendium of over thirty articles, focusing on both the broader social and historical discourses of multilingualism and the specifics of multilingualism in education (see Multilingual Socialization and Education for more detail) and other institutional settings. The section entitled “Situated Practices, Lived Realities” in particular contains a number of brief but essential introductions to sub-topics covered in this entry, such as “Code-switching,” “Heteroglossia,” and “Crossing.”

  • Milroy, Leslie, and Pieter Muysken. 1995. One speaker, two languages: Crossdisciplinary perspectives on code-switching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620867

    The interdisciplinary nature of this collection is a strength, as it brings together linguistic, sociolinguistic, and cognitive perspectives together with those that are more ethnographic or anthropological. Contains numerous articles by scholars cited throughout the sections of this article (e.g., Heller, Poplack, Myers-Scotton, Muysken, among others) as it traces developments and innovations in the field at the time.

  • Wei, Li, ed. 2007. The bilingualism reader. New York and London: Routledge.

    Another collection of classic articles on multiple aspects and approaches to multilingualism. Parts 1 and 2 cover the sociolinguistic (social) and linguistic dimensions of bilingualism, respectively, examining both grammatical and social models as well as the intersecting themes of identity and ideology. Each part includes an introduction and a “postscript” by authors reflecting back on their piece. A final chapter by Wei on the methodologies of studying bilingualism is a useful read for beginning researchers.

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