ANA CELIA ZENTELLA, University of Pennsylvania


This study describes and analyzes the role of Spanish and English in the lives of bilingual children in a community setting. Its specific focus is the functions and linguistic characteristics of code switching in children of different ages and language proficiency levels. Participants in the study included thirty-four children of nineteen families (Corpus A); five of these children between the ages of six to twelve were studied in depth (Corpus B). The research was undertaken over a period of eighteen months on a Puerto Rican block in East Harlem. The principal methodology, ethnography, revealed that the community values and uses both Spanish and English in all aspects of community life in networks that alternately reinforce Spanish or English or code switching. Four major family patterns emerge, depending on the language(s) spoken at home by caretakers, and by children to each other. Despite major differences in exposure to and/or practice in Spanish at home, English is the prevalent language among children, and they show frequent intersentential switching. These code switches often defy expected links with topic and/or domain: switching for switching's sake corroborates speakers' dual identity as Puerto Ricans and New Yorkers. The ethnographic data are supported by a quantitative analysis of 2,139 intra-turn code switches. Fourteen variables were considered: speaker, addressee, language of the switch, syntactic constituency of the switch and of the constituents immediately preceding and following the switch, speaker's knowledge of the switched word(s), setting, style, language of the previous statement, function, conversational strategy, editing phenomena and grammaticality/equivalence. Results show that, contrary to the community belief that intra-turn code switching occurs only when the speaker does not know the word(s), i.e., for the purpose of "crutching," 78 percent of the children's switches were for words they knew in both languages. The majority of the switches are intra-sentential and demonstrate the ability to juxtapose constituents from both languages in accordance with the grammatical rules of both. Older English-dominant children tend to switch intra-sententially and at infrequent switch points more often than the youngest Spanish dominant speaker. The children employ code switching for twenty-four conversational strategies grouped under Crutching, Footing, and Appeal and Control. Individual differences in the use of these strategies, of English and Spanish, and of grammatical constituents, reflect the roles played by language dominance and social role of the speaker. Implications of the research for bilingual educational programs and language policies are discussed.

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Recommended Citation

ZENTELLA, ANA CELIA, ""HABLAMOS LOS DOS. WE SPEAK BOTH": GROWING UP BILINGUAL IN EL BARRIO" (1981). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8127100.