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Medium-of-instruction-induced code-switching: Evidence from Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan
David C.S. Li (City University of Hong Kong)
Code-switching and medium of learning and teaching are traditionally seen as distinct research areas. Current models of code-switching suggest that it is a commonly used discourse strategy to index bilingual interactants’ social and/or ethnolinguistic identity (e.g., Myers-Scotton 1988, 1993, 1998; Myers-Scotton & Bolonyai 2001), or to signal various conversational meanings in ongoing discourse, such as selecting addressee(s), changing the topic, and signaling dispreference (e.g. Auer 1984, 1988, 1995; Gumperz 1982; W. Li 1994, 1998, 2002). In either case, referential meanings involved in switches are generally regarded as constant. To my knowledge there has been little empirical evidence of code-switching being attributed to the medium of learning and teaching.
Being a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, the postcolonial society of Hong Kong provides an interesting context for studying code-switching motivations. It is well-known that Chinese Hongkongers are very reluctant to use English entirely for intraethnic communication – unlike Chinese Singaporeans in this regard (e.g., D. Li 2001). At the same time, intra-sentential code-switching (more commonly referred to as code-mixing) between Cantonese and English is ubiquitous when topics related to school experience (broadly defined) are invoked (D. Li 1999a, 2000; Li & Tse 2002), despite the fact that Cantonese-English ‘mixed code’ is socially stigmatized (D. Li 1999b).
Empirical evidence of semantically motivated code-switching was obtained from an experimental study involving 108 educated Chinese-English bilinguals in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The experiment, entitled ‘One day with only Cantonese/Mandarin’, required student participants to use only their dominant community language for one day, and to avoid using any other language(s) (cf. ‘breaching experiments’ / ‘revelation through disruption’, Harold Garfinkel 1967). Data arising from their rich and highly contextualized experiences were collected using two methods: reflective diary (Gibbons 1987) and focus group (Lunt & Livingston 1996; Stewart & Shamdasani 1990). The primary objective of the project was to find out under what circumstances bilingual students would perceive a need to code-switch (cf. Li & Tse 2002).
This paper focuses on medium-of-instruction-induced code-switching from Chinese to English by examining the code-switchers’ own accounts of the reasons why they found it so difficult to avoid instantiating field-specific terminologies when the conversation touched upon concepts that were learned and taught through English. Similarly difficult to avoid were expressions belonging to what may be termed ‘institutional discourse’, such as course and programme titles, administrative practices, academic departments and support services, etc. The tendency of cognitive dependence on English was clearly much stronger among participants in Hong Kong than in Taiwan. The findings point toward a psycholinguistic ‘medium-of-learning effect’ on the development of bilinguality. The paper will end by briefly commenting on methodological concerns about the validity of self-report data.
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