Analysing codeswitching practices in super-diverse settings

a blog post by Zane Goebel, La Trobe University, Australia

While super-diversity has increasingly become an issue to grapple with in anthropological studies focusing on urban settings (e.g. Blommaert, 2010; Vertovec, 2007), in Indonesia super-diversity has been a concern at least since the emergence of an anti-colonial nationalist movements in the 1920s (Elson, 2008). One significant off-shoot of attempts to come to terms with this diversity were attempts at standardizing a variety of Malay with the idea of it being used as a lingua franca amongst an archipelago of ethnolinguistic others. By the early 1970s Indonesia’s attempt at standardizing and circulating a ‘standard’ was hailed as a significant success by such notable figures as the sociolinguist Joshua Fishman (Dardjowidjojo, 1998). As an important Australian neighbour, there was also much activity surrounding the teaching of Indonesian in Universities and Australian schools since the late 1950s (Reeve & Read, 2010). For example, by the mid 1990s there were large numbers of primary school, secondary school, and university students studying Indonesian with many engaging two to six weeks of in in-country intensive study or even longer exchange type programs. For those students who returned a common complaint was that what they had learned in class was very different to what they had heard, learned and spoke while in Indonesia (e.g. Sneddon, 2003).

I was one of these students in 1992 and then again in 1993. Following my return from an exchange at Diponegoro University, which is situated on the North coast of Semarang (Central Java), I did some tutoring in Indonesian as I contemplated what to do with an honours degree. As I reflected upon my experiences in Indonesia and on my teaching, one of the things that struck me about teaching materials and about discourses about Indonesian more generally was the lack of empirical research that had been done on what actually happens in interactions amongst Indonesians from different areas of the archipelago. For example, early ethnographic treatments only mentioned this issue in passing (e.g. Kartomihardjo, 1981; Wolff & Poedjosoedarmo, 1982). I had a PhD topic! As I familiarised myself with early primarily US-based anthropological and linguistic anthropological studies I found that these scholars spent years in the field (Bloch, 1976; Geertz, 1973; Hymes, 1972): perfect for someone with a topic a scholarship and no post-PhD plans! While my final PhD dissertation was heavily dependent on research in the field of codeswitching, at that stage I hadn’t yet identified the gaps that became apparent nearly ten years later as I read work on semiotics and interaction by Asif Agha (2007) and Stanton Wortham (2006). For example, this work suggests that in order to interpret situated social identification we need to pay attention to participant trajectories across several timescales, including their exposure to circulating ideas linking signs to social types and their associated semiotic systems while also taking a semiotic approach to codeswitching.

Although there have been many excellent ethnographic studies of codeswitching practices (Kulick, 1992), some of which also focus on the links between codeswitching and language ideologies (e.g. Errington, 1998), recent treatments of codeswitching that attempt to build bridges between different paradigms (e.g. Gafaranga, 2007; Gardner-Chloros, 2009) have yet to integrate ideas about participant trajectories and time-scales. While this may be because the different paradigms that focus on codeswitching practices ask different questions, in Language, Migration, and Identity I attempt to add to these and earlier bridge-building efforts (e.g. Auer, 1998; Heller, 1988) by showing how these ideas can be incorporated in studies of interaction in settings characterized by transience and diversity.

Language, Migration and IdentityZane Goebel’s book Language, Migration and Identity: Neighborhood Talk in Indonesia is available now from Cambridge University Press.


Agha, A. (2007). Language and social relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Auer, P. (Ed.). (1998). Code-Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity. New York: Routledge.

Bloch, M. (1976). Review of Bauman, R., & Sherzer, J. (Eds) Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Language in Society, 5(2), 229-234.

Blommaert, J. (2010). The sociolinguistics of globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dardjowidjojo, S. (1998). Strategies for a successful national language policy: The Indonesian case. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 130, 35-47.

Elson, R. (2008). The idea of Indonesia: A history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Errington, J. (1998). Shifting languages: Interaction and identity in Javanese Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gafaranga, J. (2007). Talk in Two Languages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gardner-Chloros, P. (2009). Code-switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books Inc. Publishers.

Heller, M. (Ed.). (1988). Codeswitching: anthropological and sociolinguistic perspectives. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hymes, D. (1972). Models of the interaction of language and social life. In J. Gumperz & D. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics: The ethnography of communication (pp. 35-71). New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Kartomihardjo, S. (1981). Ethnography of communicative codes in East Java. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.

Kulick, D. (1992). Language shift and cultural reproduction: Socialization, self, and syncretism in a Papua New Guinean village. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reeve, D., & Read, J. (2010). Teaching Indonesian in Australia. Retrieved from

Sneddon, J. N. (2003). The Indonesian language: Its history and role in modern society. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

Vertovec, S. (2007). Introduction: New directions in the anthropology of migration and multiculturalism. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6), 961-978.

Wolff, J., & Poedjosoedarmo, S. (1982). Communicative codes in Central Java. New York: Cornell University.

Wortham, S. (2006). Learning identity: The joint emergence of social identification and academic learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently

Duels and DuetsA blog post by John L. Locke

It has long been known that men and women talk differently when conversing with members of the opposite sex. This has never been explained, but insights emerge from same-sex conversations where, free of the need to accommodate to each other, deeper differences between men and women readily bob to the surface.

In Duels and Duets, I claim that modern men and women talk differently because our male and female ancestors followed different evolutionary paths.  Since men were selected to aggress and dominate, but could end up killing themselves, they needed a safer way of achieving their goals. Ritualized duels, using words instead of weapons, filled the bill.  Verbal duels also provided a way for me to display the fitness information that women needed in making their long-term mating choices.

In a number of traditional societies, anthropologists have encountered various contests, from song duels to drum duels, poetic duels, and sung poetic duels – all fought with words, and all fought by men.  By itself, this is intriguing, but the underlying disposition to duel also leeches into the speech of men in modern societies, even when they are merely socializing with their colleagues and friends. In these ordinary duels, men denigrate their friends in a humorous way, often before an audience, but they also hold competitive joke- and story-telling sessions that feature verbal artistry.

Today, many men see themselves as performers, seeking eloquence where it could attract favorable attention from women and men, and portraying themselves as heroes in the stories they tell.  One trial lawyer, so theatrical in the courtroom that someone said he should have been an actor, responded, “What do you mean ‘should have been’?”

For reasons I describe in the book, women have tended to compete with other women indirectly, through mutual friends, and they have enlisted a more harmonious way of talking to build their relationships.  In these duets, women create feelings of closeness through intimate disclosures about others and themselves.  Gossip, the name we give to conversations that impart information about others, derives from “god-sibs” – originally “God’s siblings” – the 15th and 16th century women who gathered in bedrooms to witness new births but, while awaiting the natal event, discussed matters of mutual interest.  An unusually pure form of duetting occurs when women collaborate, effectively co-authoring and co-telling their personal stories.

Some books on “gendered language” say that little boys learn to talk like their father, and little girls imitate their mother.  But it is clear that males and females come into the world pre-wired to engage with other members of their sex in vastly different ways.  The endocrine system plays an important role here, supporting various relationships between the speaking voice and reproduction.  Men who enjoy locking verbal horns in public also tend to have more testosterone than others – trial lawyers are off the charts.

The adaptive value of this is revealed, predictably, on the evaluative side of the equation: women prefer men with low-pitched voices, especially during the high fertility phase of their menstrual cycle.  In this sense, women literally call the tune.  But other areas of speech and language are also involved in courtship, and I discuss the things that men do, in their speaking behaviors, to convince women that they have the right biological stuff.  Of course, duetting has its own set of physiological supports.  Intimate vocalization tends to increase oxytocin, which appears to facilitate emotional connection, and to decrease cortisol, a stress hormone.

How discrete are the relationships between the human sexes and their preferred ways of talking?  I’ve found lots of cases, historically, where women verbally assaulted each other, but these assaults were typically genuine – lodged in anger, usually as a form of reprisal for a perceived injustice – not as a way of posturing or relating, and none was ritualized.  Women may denigrate themselves, but they do not insult their close women friends, even humorously.  Men do talk quietly and privately with other men, but they usually shy away from the intimate self-disclosures that could increase their vulnerability, and they rarely work through other men in their efforts to compete with male rivals.  If they have something to say to a foe or competitor, they usually go up to him and say it.

Toward the end of the book, I revisit linguistic evolution, suggesting that if human language is built the way it is because the designers, the ancient human architects, were built the way that they were, then the shape of language would have been formed around these innately scripted preferences and priorities.  But how did this happen?  How did the human sexes’ ways of relating and interacting affect the design of spoken language?  In earlier chapters I focus on the things that language, as a communicative tool, has done for men and women; in the final chapter I ask what men and women did for language.


In recent years, writers have discussed the fact that speaking differences can cause couples to clash in their conversations.  But couples also need to collaborate in carrying out a broad range of domestic operations, from getting the car fixed to raising the children, paying the bills, and maintaining some sort of social schedule.  Teams usually work better if the members bring different strengths to the table, and divide up the responsibilities.  Different speaking strategies, I suggest, can and do help men and women to mesh in their lives.


John L. Locke is the author of Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently. Click here to find out more about the book and order your copy today for just £14.99 / $28.00

Why not listen to Professor Locke in discussion with Kirsten Hoge on Woman’s Hour

Accent and dialect in Australian politics

Written by Jeff Siegel

In Australia, the New South Wales state elections will be held on 26 March, and once again the American accent of the incumbent Premier, Kristina Keneally, has come into the news. Many of the issues discussed in the press and on blogs are reminiscent of the themes in my book, Second Dialect Acquisition.

Ms Keneally was born in Ohio to an Australian mother and an American father. She married an Australian, moved to Australia in 1994 and became a citizen in 2000. Although she now considers Australia her home and has only an Australian passport, she has not acquired Australian English. This is not surprising, since was 25 years old when she moved to Australia, and it is extremely difficult to learn a new dialect after childhood.

Ms Keneally joined the Labor party and was elected to the House of Representatives of the NSW State Parliament in 2003. In parliamentary debates, she was sometimes ridiculed for not speaking Australian English. For example, one time she appeared to disobey a ruling from the Speaker that she should conclude an answer. The Shadow Leader of the House rose and questioned whether the minister with the American accent “doesn’t understand Australian”.[i]

In 2009, Ms Keneally began to be viewed as a potential leader of the Labor party, and thus the future state Premier. But Australian English is an important part of national identity, and there were rumours that the power-brokers were worried that her American accent would be a turn-off for voters. One political commentator specifically referred to “fears of how that accent will play in western Sydney” (a crucial political area of the city).[ii]

At the same time, other rumours began to circulate that Ms Keneally was undergoing accent modification training to learn Australian English. Commentators noted that her accent was becoming a mixture of American and Australian. One wrote that her accent “sounds as if it set off from California and, at some indeterminate point over the Pacific Ocean, met [Australian golfer] Greg Norman’s accent coming the other way”.[iii] He continued:

It is difficult to describe Keneally’s pronunciation to those who haven’t heard it: suffice it to say that, in parliament, ‘Mr Speaker’ emerges as ‘Mr Spayka’, and that she has never seen a terminal ‘g’ that she did not make a valiant attempt to drop.”

However, Ms Keneally strenuously denied any voice training, saying: “If people think I have either the time or the inclination to stand around practising vowel sounds and dropping ‘r’s — no.” She also expressed the common view that one’s accent is an intrinsic characteristic of their true self: “My voice is as much a part of me as my eye colour or my heart.”[iv]

Nevertheless, in December 2009, Ms Keneally won a party leadership challenge and became the first female Premier of NSW. But her accent was still an issue. In an interview, she was again asked if she had done voice training. Her reply was: “Do you think I’m some sort of Eliza Doolittle, sitting around with some fellow getting me to say ‘the rain in, you know, Spain’?”[v] But in a Sydney Morning Herald online reader poll, 39.8 percent answered “yes” to the question: “Does Kristina Keneally’s American accent annoy you?”[vi]

Negative comments continued during her premiership. For example, one blogger wrote: “I saw her in an interview last night on Lateline [TV show] and her accent was a painful conglomeration. She is obviously attempting to hide her natural accent and in doing so, sounds like a hybrid of numerous clashing vowel pronunciations.”[vii] There is even a facebook page titled, “Kristina Keneally’s accent kills me”, with the description: “doesnt that australian-cross-american accent just make you cringe”.[viii]

In the final sitting of state Parliament before election, the Leader of the Opposition, Barry O’Farrell, presented Ms Keneally with a copy of The Little Aussie Fact Book, reminding voters of her American origins and suggesting she still had a lot to learn about Australia. In response to this stunt and to allowing his front bench to heckle her about her American accent, she said:

I go to question time and comments are made about my accent, interjections are hurled that I wasn’t in the country at this point or that point and then that sort of really immature, juvenile gesture by the leader of the opposition (to present the book).[ix]

The campaign had begun.

While the vast majority of the electorate will be rightfully focusing on political issues rather than superficial characteristics of the candidates, some voters are still hung up on the Premier’s accent, reflecting the common folk view that by changing their accent, a person is pretending to be someone they’re not.

[i] “Blinking Hazzard makes Keneally see red”, Andrew Clennell, Sydney Morning Herald, October 22, 2009.

[ii] “Labor Right’s future linked to an American accent”, Imre Salusinszky, 
The Australian, September 19, 2009.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] “Tear and fears: a day in the life of the Premier”. Andrew Clennell, Sydney Morning Herald, December 12, 2009.

[vi] Sydney Morning Herald, December 12-13, p.4.

[vii] sporty1, April 15, 2010,;wap2


[ix] “I’ll get personal, Keneally warns”. Heath Aston, Sydney Morning Herald, December 12, 2010.

Jeff Siegel’s title Second Dialect Acquisition is available now:

Peter Trudgill on English in Retreat

“The history of the geographical spread of English outwards from the British Isles is a familiar story. During the course of the 1600s, there was an explosive expansion of the English language across the Atlantic Ocean, with settlements in what is now the USA, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and the Bahamas; and then during the 1700s in Canada. By the mid 1800s, English as a native language had extended its reach into the Southern Hemisphere, arriving in Australia, South Africa, the Falkland Islands, and New Zealand. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, English continues to spread as a native language, as a second language, and as a foreign language.

“However, this tale of inexorable spread is not the whole story. There are actually a number of places in the world where English-speaking communities are under pressure from other languages, and where there is a possibility of language shift – the process whereby a community abandons its native language and adopts another – taking place.

“One striking example of English under threat concerns perhaps the least-known anglophone community in the world. These are the Bonin Islands, as mentioned in Investigations in Sociohistorical Linguistics: stories of colonisation and contact. The islands are in the central Pacific Ocean, about 500 miles southeast of Japan proper. The current population is about 2,000. The uninhabited islands were discovered by the Spanish navigator Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543. They were then claimed by the U.S. in 1823 and by Britain in 1825. The islands were first settled in 1830 by 5 seamen: two Americans, one Englishmen, one Dane, one Italian; and ten Hawaiians, 5 men and 5 women. They were later joined by whalers, shipwrecked sailors, and drifters of many different origins, which led to the development of a unique form of English with many similarities to American New England varieties. The islands were formally annexed by Japan in 1876, but after World War II they were a placed under U.S. military control. They were then returned to Japan in 1968. Currently immigration from Japan is being followed by language shift to Japanese on the part of the original (part-)European origin population. If the Japanese-based American linguist Danny Long had not alerted us to this community, it is quite possible that this form of English would have died out without anybody knowing that it even existed, let alone what it was like.

“Other examples come from Central America. In the 1640s, parts of the eastern coastal areas of Central America and adjacent islands began to be occupied by groups of anglophones – one consequence of this which is not widely appreciated is that much of the Caribbean coastline of Central America, from Belize down to Colombia, is English-speaking to this day, with both British Isles-origin and African-origin speakers. The Honduran Bay Islands of  Roatan and Utila were occupied by English buccaneers in 1642, and Honduras was officially ceded by the British to the Spanish only in 1859. Today, however, in-migration to the islands from the Honduran mainland means that the communities are becoming increasingly Spanish speaking.

“More recently, during the late 19th century, there was large-scale expansion of native-speaking anglophones from some of the Caribbean islands, notably Jamaica, to eastern coastal areas of Costa Rica, focussing on Limón. They came to work on the construction of a railroad to transport coffee from the interior highlands to the coast. Today we find an unusual situation where English is a language which generally has lower status in Costa Rica than Spanish does. Spanish is the official language of the country, and is spoken natively by people who are mostly of European origin. The anglophones, on the other hand, are people of African origin who have in the past experienced considerable racial discrimination – until 1949 they were actually forbidden by law to travel from the coastal zone into the highlands.  Younger English speakers are now all bilingual in Spanish and English ­­– necessarily so, because they are required to speak Spanish in school – and recent reports suggest that English is giving way to Spanish to a certain extent, as is also happening on the English-speaking islands of Colombian and Nicaragua.

“In another example, the Dominican Republic is basically monolingual Spanish-speaking, but several regions of the country were settled in the 1820s by some 6,000 American ex-slaves who immigrated there through arrangements between the Haitian rulers of Santo Domingo, and American philanthropic agencies. One settlement was on the peninsula of Samaná. The anglophones there refer to themselves as ‘Americans’ and speak fluent English, some of them to the apparent total exclusion of Spanish.  Most of them cite Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey as the place of origin of their ancestors. There is now, however, considerable pressure on the community to shift to Spanish.

“A further interesting case goes back to the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Thousands of Americans from the defeated South then left the United States. Some went to Mexico and the West Indies, and some even made it as far as Japan and Egypt, but the largest number of those that left went to Brazil, perhaps as many as 40,000 of them, where they founded a number of settlements. The best known of these is called Americana, which is situated about 150 km northwest of Sao Paulo, and today has about 200, 000 inhabitants. The language of the community was for many decades a Southern variety of American English, and there are many hundreds of older people today who still speak a conservative form of English which has its roots in, particularly, Georgia and Alabama. Gradually, however, the community have become bilingual in English and Portuguese, and most younger people are as comfortable in Portuguese as in English, if not more so.

“We see, then, that there are cases in the world of English being threatened by major languages such as French, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese. However, in a final and most extraordinary example of English as an endangered language, we can note a remarkable case of a reversal of the usual tragic pattern of English killing off indigenous languages: in one small part of the word, English is dying out and being replaced by a Native American language. The language in question is Guaraní, the main indigenous language of Paraguay. The presence of English in Paraguay is the result of a Utopian Socialist settlement carried out from Australia in the 1890s, when a colony of perhaps 400 English-speaking people was established. Many of the descendants of these New Australia colonisers are still to be found in the area of the town of  Nueva Londres (formerly Nueva Australia),where the community retains English-language surnames and a collective memory of their Australian origins and customs. Large-scale language shift is taking place, however, and English is being lost as a native language: younger members of the community are now native-speakers of Guaraní.[1]”

Peter Trudgill

[1] I owe this up-to-date information about the situation in Paraguay to Danae Perez, of the University of Zurich.

Continue reading Peter Trudgill on English in Retreat

Language Diversity in the USA

Cambridge author Kim Potowski seeks to contribute to the appreciation and promotion of ethnolinguistic diversity in the United States:

Continue reading Language Diversity in the USA

Language and the African American Child

9780521618175“How does the language of developing African American English (AAE)-speaking children differ from that of their peers who are learning standard American English and other varieties of English? How does it differ from that of AAE-speaking adults in the same speech communities? Research on some topics in the study of the use AAE by adolescents and adults is well established; however, research on development and use of AAE by pre-school age children is limited. Language and the African American Child gives a linguistic description of patterns in the speech of developing AAE-speaking children who are growing up in small communities in the southern United States. As one of the few linguistic descriptions of child AAE, the book contributes to our understanding of developmental trends and systematic use of language in this population. Given reports in the literature on AAE from other regional areas, some data in the book can be generalized to children in other AAE-speaking communities. The data raise questions about general linguistic principles and patterns unique to child AAE as well as those shared by child language in general. The discussion helps to dispel the myth that AAE is simply a dialect consisting of features with negative settings that correspond to positive settings in standard American English, and all that is necessary is for children to switch the negative settings to positive in “formal” settings. At the very least, the view is stereotypically simplistic, and on a more serious note, it perpetuates the erroneous view that children growing up as native AAE speakers are not acquiring a complete grammar.

“Language and the African American Child brings together child AAE data from different sources, such as spontaneous speech samples and data from elicited constructions, and addresses them from the perspectives of general claims about development, inherent variation in AAE, and language use in AAE speech communities. Some of the data, such as that related to the link between syntactic and phonological structure in prosodic and intonational patterns in yes-no questions, for example, have never been addressed in the literature and provide interesting and important topics for further research. Given the recent emphasis on language use and academic success, the book also raises questions that should be taken into consideration in classroom instruction.”

Lisa Green

Lisa Green’s title Language and the African American Child published in December 2010 at £19.99. Click here to find out more and look inside the book.

Language and Religion: A Journey into the Human Mind

“This is one of the first books to explore in depth the philosophical implications for religion, and by implication other areas of culture, of the new Rationalism tacit in cognitive psychology. Its approach to a renewed rationalism is Kantian in its underlying stance and develops a form of philosophical pragmatism based on Peirce. The book can be seen as a project which attempts to modernize and naturalize this historic tradition.

“Language and Religion is about the cognitive pragmatics of culture, with the world religions as the example. The term ”rationalism” is used in the sense of the claim that the architecture of the mind, with its innate mental representations, provides reliable knowledge independently of experience, knowledge which is a prerequisite for learning from experience. Being the result of evolution such knowledge is ‘synthetic a priori’ providing cognitive frameworks for the fixation of belief and all forms of reasoning within experience, including communication. And this background, with its subsequent rationalizations, and empirical input to-gether give the species-mind its whole grasp of reality. This is in sharp contrast with most 20th century explanations of religion which are within modern empiricist assumptions, the unquestioned ‘common sense’ in English speaking countries in the most recent historical period. Indeed, in purely empiricist contexts, isn’t it the case that the mind is led to the eliminative reduction of religion, once evolution destroyed the ‘argument from design’?

“The book exemplifies the rationalist tradition through its thorough-going cognitivism. It is a synthesis of Peter Carruther’s version of modularity of mind, Chomsky’s linguistics, cognitive pragmatics, mainly relevance theory, and Sperber’s theory of epidemiological culture within a modified Tooby/Cosmides outlook. The book suggests that something like this picture gives the best naturalistic account of the emergence of culture from the complex interaction of the multiple systems of the mind/brain, and therefore the best explanation of religion. This synthesis can be used for a new understanding of culture in general, just beginning to be explored.

“In fact, it provides a picture of how complex cultural systems are emergent phenomena created by the interactions of billions of mind/brains within various social orders in evolutionary and practical contexts. Religion is a cultural complex in which language and communication in social contexts is the main means by which inter-modularity is achieved and relevant cultural mysteries conceptually formulated using rational-aesthetic concepts and made public by language.

“In this context, can religion be scientifically explained without being eliminated? Can it have a rational warrant within a stereoscopic image of humanity which is both scientific and non-scientific? The book tries to demonstrate that it can. It argues that the species-mind can and indeed must accept many relevant but incorrigible mysteries within culture with its tacit metaphysics and morals – concepts like ‘freedom’ – that will most probably never become scientific problems, and it can do so rationally, although within a context of uncertainty and critique that requires a philosophy of uncertainty. This is not the same thing as having blind faith but a response to a natural but genuine authority emergent within a community in practical contexts.”

Language and Religion: A Journey into the Human Mind by Professor William Downes is available now. Click here to find out more and take a look inside the book.