Code switching is a widely observed phenomenon in multilingual and multicultural communities. This study focuses on code switching by teachers in multilingual and multicultural high school classrooms in a particular district in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa. The aims of this study were to establish whether teachers in the classrooms concerned do code switch and, if so, what the functions thereof are. With these aims in mind, data were collected from four high schools in the Siyanda District, during 13 lessons in total. These lessons were on the subjects Economic Management Sciences, Business Studies and Accounting.

The participants in the study were 296 learners in Grades 8 to 12 and eight teachers. Data were collected by means of researcher observations and audio recordings of lessons. These recordings were orthographically transcribed and then analysed in terms of the functions of code switching in educational settings as identified from the existing literature on this topic as well as in terms of the Markedness Model of Myers-Scotton (1993).

The answer to the first research question 1, namely whether teachers made use of code switching during classroom interactions was, perhaps unsurprisingly, “yes”. In terms of the second question, namely to which end teachers code switch, it was found that the teachers used code switching mainly for academic purposes (such as explaining and clarifying subject content) but also frequently for social reasons (maintaining social relationships with learners and also for being humorous) as well as for classroom management purposes (such as reprimanding learners). The teachers in this data set never used code switching solely for the purpose of asserting identity. It appears then that the teachers in this study used code switching for the same reasons as those mentioned in other studies on code switching in the educational setting.

The study further indicated that code switching by the teachers was mainly an unmarked choice itself, although at times the sequential switch was triggered by a change in addressee. In very few instances was the code switching a marked choice; when it was, the message was the medium (see Myers-Scotton 1993: 138), code switching functioned as a means of increasing the social distance between the teacher and the learners or, in one instance, of demonstrating affection.

Teachers code switched regardless of the language policy of their particular school, i.e. code switching occurred even in classrooms in which English is officially the sole medium of instruction. As code switching was largely used in order to support learning, it can be seen as good educational practice. One of the recommendations of this study is therefore that particular modes of code switching should be encouraged in the classrooms, especially where the medium of instruction is the home language of very few of the learners in that school.



Background to this study1

Research questions and aim of the study2

Structure of the thesis2

Terminology issues3

Code mixing3


Code switching4

Other core terms4


Code switching research in the educational context in Southern Africa6

An overview of code switching research in South Africa14



Code switching as a sequence of unmarked choices16

Code switching itself being the unmarked choice17

Code switching as a marked choice18

Code switching bringing unity among marked choices19

Marked code switching in increasing social distance via authority /anger 19

Marked code switching as ethnically-based exclusion strategy20

The message is the medium20

Marked code switching for aesthetic effect21

Code switching as an exploratory choice21



The Northern Cape Province and the high schools involved22


Data collection procedures25

Data analysis procedures27



Code switching in dual medium School HOA29

HOA Teacher Mr P29

HOA Teacher Mr K33

Functions and markedness of code switching in School HOA34

Code switching in parallel-medium School HOR34

HOR teacher Mr T34

Functions and markedness of code switching in School HOR35

Code switching in English-medium School DET 135

DET1 Teacher Mr L35

DET 1 Teacher Mr B38

DET1 Teacher Mr Y39

Functions and markedness of code switching in School DET140

Code switching in English-medium School DET 241

DET 2 Teacher Ms M41

DET 2 Teacher 2 (Ms S); Subject: Accounting41

Functions and markedness of code switching in School DET 242



The functions of the code switches43

The markedness of the code switches48


Summary of the main points52

The contribution of the study and implications for educational practice52

Limitations of the study53

Directions for further research on this topic54

Concluding remarks54



Background to this study

This thesis discusses the functions of code switching during teachers’ interactions with their learners and examines the teachers’ motivations for employing code switching. South Africa has moved from being an officially English-Afrikaans bilingual country in the past (while even during that time actually being multilingual in practice) to an officially multilingual country with 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Given that South Africa has these 11 official languages and many non-official languages, there is widespread bilingualism (and indeed multilingualism) in this country. In this context, it is common practice for bilinguals to use both of their languages in their everyday conversations; hence the phenomenon of code switching is often observed. This code switching takes place during intercultural communication and in communication among people of the same culture who share knowledge of more than one language.

Regarding linguistic rights, the Constitution of South Africa (1996) states that “all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitability” (South African Constitution, 1996:4). Furthermore, Section 29(2) of the Constitution states that “everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable” (Ministry of Education 2002: 3). Also, the 1997 Language in Education Policy (Department of Education 1997) allows schools to determine their own language policy in consultation with parents and the community served by the school. The policy further states that no child should be excluded from a school on the basis of his/her language.

In the Siyanda District of the Northern Cape Province – in which I have been working as a teacher since 1988 and as a subject advisor for the subjects Economics and Business Studies since 2004 – there are 19 high schools, of which 13 officially have Afrikaans as sole medium of instruction, two have English as sole medium of instruction, one is an Afrikaans-English dual- medium school (in which Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking learners are in the same class and receive their tuition in both languages) and three are parallel-medium (in which there are an

Afrikaans stream and an English stream, i.e. the two language groups are in different classes). Note that there are no schools in this district in which an African language is officially a medium of instruction. Yet, during my visits to schools in this district, I have observed that code switching has become common practice in classrooms, especially where the medium of instruction involves the use of English (whether as sole medium of instruction or in combination with Afrikaans). This code switching is not in line with the official language policies of these schools, and this raised the question as to why it occurs. My assumption was that teachers and learners made use of such code switching for very specific purposes, i.e. that such code switching performed specific functions. The present study was done in order to test this assumption: I set out to establish what functions code switching has in high school classrooms, and I focused on code switching between Afrikaans, English, isiXhosa and Setswana in four different high schools in the Siyanda District.

Research questions and aim of the study

The aim of this study was to identify specific functions of code switching occurring in high schools in the Siyanda District of the Northern Cape Province. With this aim in mind, the following research questions were formulated:

Question 1: Do teachers during classroom interactions in the high schools concerned make use of code switching?

Question 2: If code switching does indeed occur, what is the nature (in terms of markedness) and what are the functions of teachers’ code switching?

Structure of the thesis

As stated above, this thesis focuses on the prevalence and functions of code switching in secondary school classrooms. As such, Chapter 2 provides an overview of literature on this phenomenon. The theoretical framework is discussed in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 sets out the methodology used to answer the research questions posed in Section 1.2 above. The data is presented in Chapter 5 and discussed in Chapter 6. Chapter 7 concludes this thesis by, amongst other things, pointing out the insights gained, the limitations of the study and suggestions for future research on the topic of code switching in educational settings. Before turning to the literature review, terminological issues are clarified below.

Terminology issues

For the sake of clarity, I will differentiate between the terms “code mixing”, “borrowing” and “code switching”. Each will be discussed below, and then I will define other terms important to the research presented in this thesis.

Code mixing

McCormick (1995: 194) defines “code mixing” as referring to speech in which the alteration between the two languages used consists of shorter elements, often just one single word. The following is an example of such code mixing between Welsh and English, taken from Deuchar (2005: 619):1

(1) Ia, mae o'n reit camouflaged yn dydi

‘Yes, he is quite camouflaged isn't he’


As stated by Kieswetter (1995), borrowings are words that have been integrated phonologically and morphological into the host language. McCormick (1995) refers to the same phenomenon as “convergence”. McCormick (1995) differentiates between two types of convergence, namely lexical convergence and syntactic convergence. Lexical convergence occurs, for example, where English imports an Afrikaans word into its lexicon. A typical example of such a borrowing would be braai, as shown in the following example given in Van Dulm (2007: 10):

(2) We had a nice braai on the beach last Sunday

A feature of syntactic convergence is the violation of verb-placement rules, especially in Afrikaans. An example of such convergence, given by McCormick (1995: 205), is found in (3) below (although it is questionable whether study can be regarded as a loan word in standard varieties of Afrikaans). In (3), one notices that the word order in the Afrikaans sentence is closer to that of English.

1 In this thesis, examples of code switching will be presented in the following manner: English parts of utterances will be in normal type face, other languages in bold (followed by the name of the language in square brackets, where it is not obvious from the text which language the speaker is using), and English glosses will be in italics. Comments will be presented in parentheses.

(3) Ons moet study altwee instead of Ons moet altwee bestudeer

‘We must study both’

Code switching

The term “code-switching” refers here to alternations of language within a single conversation, often involving switches within a single speaker turn or a single sentence (McCormick 1995: 194). Code switching is distinguished here from other, related phenomena which are common in bilingual conversations, namely borrowing and code mixing (discussed above). Firstly, code switching is different from borrowing, the latter involving “the incorporation of lexical elements from one language in the lexicon of another language” (Muysken 1995: 189). McCormick (1995: 200-203) differentiates between two types of code switching, namely situational code switching and conversational code switching. In McCormick’s (1995) study, she found that her informants switched between English and Afrikaans based on the situation in which they found themselves. She mentions, for instance, that they spoke Afrikaans to their neighbours but English during meetings such as those held by the local rugby club (McCormick 1995: 200-201). Conversational code switching, according to McCormick (1995) seems to be unconscious, for example for delivering the punch line of a joke. For the purposes of this study, single-word switches were not included as evidence of code switching (these were taken to be instances of code mixing and as such fell outside the scope of the present study). Also, where the teachers’ code switching is analysed, I considered the language they themselves (and not their conversational partner) spoke last to identify instances of code switching.

Other core terms


In this thesis, “marked” refers to “unexpected” (see Myers-Scotton 1993: 75), which means that where code switching is labeled as “marked”, such code switching is unexpected in that context. As stated by Myers-Scotton (1993: 75), speakers “have a sense of markedness regarding available linguistic codes for interaction” (which means that they know which code (or language) would be the most appropriate to use in any situation), “but choose their codes on the persona and/or relation with others which they wish to have in place” (which means that the choice to switch codes can at times be a deliberate one).

Matrix language:

Myers-Scotton (1993: 4) refers to the matrix language as the main language, i.e. the dominant language, during code switching interactions.

The embedded language:

The embedded language, according to Myers-Scotton (1993: 3), refers to the other language being used in code switching, i.e. the non-matrix language which is used to a lesser degree in the code switched interaction.




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