Assumptions behind grammatical approaches to code-switching: when the blueprint is a red herring

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Gardner-Chloros, Penelope ; Edwards, Malcolm (2004)

Many of the so-called ‘grammars’ of code-switching are based on various underlying assumptions, e.g. that informal speech can be adequately or appropriately described in terms of ‘‘grammar’’; that deep, rather than surface, structures are involved in code-switching; that one ‘language’ is the ‘base’ or ‘matrix’; and that constraints derived from existing data are universal and predictive. We question these assumptions on several grounds. First, ‘grammar’ is arguably distinct from the processes driving speech production. Second, the role of grammar is mediated by the variable, poly-idiolectal repertoires of bilingual speakers. Third, in many instances of CS the notion of a ‘base’ system is either irrelevant, or fails to explain the facts. Fourth, sociolinguistic factors frequently override ‘grammatical’ factors, as evidence from the same language pairs in different settings has shown. No principles proposed to date account for all the facts, and it seems unlikely that ‘grammar’, as conventionally conceived, can provide definitive answers. We conclude that rather than seeking universal, predictive grammatical rules, research on CS should focus on the variability of bilingual grammars.
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