Code Switching in the Car
09 Dec 2004
Code switching: a term in linguistics referring to alternating between one or more languages or dialects in the middle of discourse between people who have more than one language in common. —Wikipedia
I was riding with my girlfriend in her car. We were pulling up to my apartment, and the guard was motioning to her.
Legend: SHH=上海话 (Shanghainese), PTH=普通话 (Mandarin)
> Her (SHH): Can’t I park here?
> Guard (SHH): No, you need to park over there.
> Her (SHH): Oh, over there?
> Guard (SHH): Yeah.
> Her (PTH): OK, got it, thanks.
> Guard (SHH): No problem.
> Me (PTH): Why did you use Mandarin just now?
> Her (PTH): I wasn’t sure if he knew Shanghainese.
> Me (PTH): What are you talking about? He spoke to you in Shanghainese, and you were replying at first in Shanghainese.
> Her (PTH): Oh.
> Me (PTH): So why did you switch?
> Her (PTH): I don’t know. Why are you giving me a hard time?
Ever since I first came to Shanghai I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s any pattern to the way bilingual speakers in Shanghai use Shanghainese and Mandarin. There are some obvious general patterns, but other times (as in the above example) there seems to be no reason at all.
It’s a little frustrating. Most people don’t pay much attention to their own natural linguistic processes and aren’t too keen on metalinguistic self-examinations either, which doesn’t help my understanding any.
Don’t Chinese people know they’re all supposed to be cooperating with me on this “understanding the Chinese language” thing?