Language alternation in infant bilinguals: A developmental approach to codeswitching

Lanvers, Ursula (2001). Language alternation in infant bilinguals: A developmental approach to codeswitching. International Journal of Bilingualism, 5(4) pp. 437–464.




Taking as its starting-point the total lack of data on infant code switching, this anonymously peer-reviewed article tackles three aspects of the question: methodological problems in the identification and analysis of infant switching incidences; the need for a qualitative, contextualised approach; and the provision of comprehensive new data.

Carefully collected unique developmental data from two children was used to analyse over 50 switching incidences between age 1,3 and 3,0, each time checking the switch against the child’s actual lexical knowledge and the language context (German, English or bilingual). Surprisingly, results show that switching for emphatic effect appears as the earliest form, with sociolinguistically motivated switches appearing only gradually. Focusing on one aspect in early bilingualism, these results have implications for the theory of language acquisition in general, suggesting an earlier capacity for creative language manipulation than previously noted in the literature.

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