Code-Mixing in the Bilingual Preschool Child: Understanding the Communicative Purpose

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Lyne, Amy
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This study aimed to identify the social functions and purposes to the commonly misunderstood act of code-mixing among bilingual preschool aged children, and to support its acceptance as a valid stage towards becoming bilingual. Current research in the field of bilingual language acquisition and development supports that preschool aged children are not only able to learn two languages simultaneously, but are further capable of differentiating and manipulating both languages given the social and communicative context (Genesee, 2008; Nicoladis & Genesee, 2007; Paradis & Nicoladis, 2007). Other research has demonstrated that code-mixing follows a specific syntactic pattern of production among emerging bilinguals (Woolford, 1983); however, there is limited evidence towards determining the purpose of the act, specifically from a Canadian English-French bilingual context. Bilingual language proficiency for the preschool students in this study were established through a Family Language Use Survey, a Classroom Language Use Survey, as well as a Bilingual Questionnaire designed to measure both expressive and receptive language skills in both languages for 12 English-French bilingual preschool students (aged 3-5). Interactions between participants were recorded and analyzed to first identify 186 incidences of code-mixing, which were then transcribed and coded based on communicative purpose (Brown, 2007), function of language use (Halliday, 1973; as cited by Brown, 2007), as well as for parts of speech (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 2015), in determining the functional and social purpose in language choice. This study hoped to demonstrate not only that bilingual preschool aged children’s use of code-mixing serves as a stepping stone towards becoming bilingual, but that it further holds a real communicative and social purpose as well.
code-mixing , preschool , bilingual , bilingualism , languages , child development