When Code-Switching Goes Wrong

The 21st century is the century of digital world. People from all around the world can now easily communicate with each other through computer-mediated communication or CMC. However, a new challenge arises. Those who want to connect with others from the other side of the world through CMC must be able to at least speak the lingua franca, i.e. English. This makes people, whose native language is not English, bilingual. The bilingualism then affects the users’ daily lives; they start to mix or switch languages. Such phenomenon is renown as code-switching or CS. Many people think that switching codes shows intelligence, and that the code switchers are smart and educated. Nevertheless, when people code-switch too often without observing who they are talking to and what the situation is, it actually shows the opposite. They seem to be ignorant and look unintelligent.

Bilinguals who code-switch far too frequently are depicted as ignorant. It shows that the switchers lack knowledge or vocabularies of the other language they are using. It might seem okay at first; but when they code-switch as regularly as they speak, they actually indicate their not-so-good language proficiency of the other code. This is in line with Heredia and Altarriba (2001) who mention that bilinguals tend to compensate their lack of language proficiency by changing words or vocabularies of their second language with their first language vocabularies (p. 165). The lack of language proficiency is exemplified from this illustration: people who speak Indonesian as their main language often use the word ‘upload’ as the term of transferring data to a larger computer system and ‘download’ to refer to copy data from one computer system to another system or disk. Those two terms have actually been translated into Indonesian as ‘unggah’ and ‘unduh’. The two terms have also been lexicographically written in the Great Dictionary of Indonesian Language (KBBI). However, there are not many Indonesians who are familiar with such terms and still opt to use the English terms.

Intellectuality of bilinguals who code-switch can be shown from the way they code-switch. It can be clearly seen from the appropriateness of code-switching. For example, when someone says, “It surprises me kalo ternyata hidup di Malaysia itu murah,” it indicates that that person is aware of grammatical and appropriateness of both English and Indonesian. On the contrary, there are times when code-switch actually shows that the person who does it is unintelligent, and simply wants to show his/her social status as ‘classy’. This is supported by Rihane who says that “speakers tend to use different languages to imply a certain social status or to distinguish themselves from other social classes” (p. 6). People want to boast by switching languages, but there are times when they do not pay attention to the appropriateness of code-switching. For instance, the sentence “Kenapa sih lately people who’s close to me banyak komentarin kalo my skin get dark? Bisa ga sih kalo ngomongnya jangan physic terus?” indicates that the speaker is unaware of the proper use of English language. The speaker does not use suitable Indonesian, either. Even though the speaker may try to show his/her social class, it actually points out his/her flaws in both English and Indonesian. That kind of case is apparently supported by Hammink (2000) who pointed out that people tend to consider code-switching as a less prestigious form, incorrect, poor language, or a consequence of incomplete mastery of the two languages (in Pollard, 2002, p. 3).

All in all, code-switching is a process of altering two languages that can be done either consciously or unconsciously. If the code-switching is used properly at the right time, to the right environment, and with the right purpose, it will not be perilous to the users.

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Heredia, R. R., & Altarriba, J. (2001). Bilingual Language Mixing: Why Do Bilinguals Code-Switch? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(5), 164–172. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8721.00140?journalCode=cdpa

Pollard, S. (2002). The Benefit of Code Switching within a Bilingual Education Program. Honors Project, Paper 2. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/hispstu_honproj/2

Rihane, W. M. (n.d.). Why Do People Code-Switch: A Sociolinguistic Approach. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/2649532/Why_do_People_Code-switch_A_Sociolinguistic_Approach

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