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Review of  Codeswitching on the Web

Reviewer: Kathryn Graber
Book Title: Codeswitching on the Web
Book Author: Lars Hinrichs
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Creole English, Jamaican
Issue Number: 18.852

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AUTHOR: Hinrichs, Lars
TITLE: Codeswitching on the Web
SUBTITLE: English and Jamaican Creole in e-mail communication
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond 147
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company YEAR: 2006

Kathryn Graber, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan


In this presentation of his doctoral dissertation research, Lars Hinrichs
outlines the discursive functions of codeswitching between Jamaican Creole
(Patois) and Jamaican English in computer-mediated communication (CMC).
Based on innovative corpora of personal email messages and posts to
internet discussion forums, he analyzes written codeswitching as a
fundamentally different phenomenon than codeswitching in speech. In the
process, he contributes to long-standing debates in creole and contact
studies over the definitions and applicability of diglossia and the creole
continuum. Positioning himself within ''Third Wave Variation Studies''
(Eckert 2005), Hinrichs attempts to shift the focus of codeswitching
research to processes of identity negotiation, stressing the conscious
deployment of codes as resources to be used strategically. This book should
be of both methodological and theoretical interest to scholars of CMC,
writing systems and their development, interactional sociolinguistics,
discourse analysis, linguistic anthropology, codeswitching and language
contact, creole studies, English as a World Language (EWL), and the
Caribbean area and its diaspora.

In Chapter 1, Hinrichs very clearly lays out his research program and the
book's framework. The present study is a response, he says, to the need for
''an ethnographically informed, qualitative study of naturally occurring,
informal CMC'' to test conflicting theories regarding the shifting pragmatic
functions - and ultimate fate - of Jamaican Creole (3). He briefly
considers some differences between spoken and written codeswitching,
arguing that because written codeswitching is more conscious and planned
than codeswitching in speech, rhetorical functions come more to the fore.
The bulk of the chapter is devoted to a summary of the sociolinguistic
situation in Jamaica and an overview of theoretical debates in Jamaican
sociolinguistics, namely in terms of a long-standing struggle between
proponents of the diglossia model and proponents of the creole continuum
model. Hinrichs favors the creole continuum model, though he finds it ''less
helpful to describe a range of various intermediate lects on the continuum
than to take language use to be the result of the strategies with which
speakers and writers draw on the basic resources that they have at their
disposal'' (11). Also included are an overview of recent innovations in CMC
studies and a description of the author's data collection and methodology.
His data consists of a primary corpus of personal emails from Jamaican
university students and addressed to other Jamaicans and a secondary corpus
of posts to online discussion forums intended for Jamaican participants.

Chapter 2 includes a brief discussion of how well the creole continuum can
be said to be reflected in CMC data. Hinrichs emphasizes that native
speakers perceive of Jamaican English and Jamaican Creole as a binary set
of codes or resources, while theorists describe their linguistic practices
according to a continuum of mesolectal gradations. He argues that because
codeswitching in CMC tends to be more conscious than codeswitching in
speech, the native model of a ''two-part set of stylized codes'' is replacing
the creole continuum within the domain of CMC (41). Thus, ''CMC has brought
about a new functional distribution between English and Patois in writing,
with Patois having surrendered the primacy it holds in informal
communication in speech to English'' (41).

In Chapters 3-5, Hinrichs provides his substantive data analysis, moving
through three different possible models for analyzing the discursive
functions of codeswitching. Chapter 3 takes up ''situational codeswitching'',
as articulated by John Gumperz (1982). Two major differences between the
Patois/English relationship in speech and in CMC are observed: 1) in speech
in Jamaica, codeswitching between the two is the unmarked choice, while in
CMC, Jamaican Creole is ''almost always'' the marked choice (43); and 2) in
speech, variation along a continuum may be observed, while in CMC, there is
more clearly a binary opposition at work between the two codes. Hinrichs
outlines several possible reasons for Jamaican writers to use Jamaican
Creole in their CMC. Having analyzed examples from his corpora, he rejects
a model of codeswitching in CMC that would ascribe set topics to individual
codes, with the notable exception of the topic of religion being
consistently ascribed to English.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to ''metaphorical codeswitching'', as developed by
Gumperz and his followers and critics. Here Hinrichs turns to the active
and possibly conscious manipulation of codes. Like others before him, he
argues that simple lists of the possible stylistic functions of
codeswitching cannot capture the full range of naturally occurring
functions. He proposes to instead analyze codeswitches individually, using
a version of Peter Auer's (1995) ''sequential conversation analysis'' and
proceeding from the ''contrastive'' to ''inherent'' meanings of the codes under
analysis (63).

The volume's most substantial section, Chapter 5, is dedicated to
''identity-related codeswitching'', or (as the chapter is subtitled) ''how
writers describe themselves through code choice'' (86). Hinrichs begins with
an overview of the Labovian approach to variation and several theoretical
responses to it. He then analyzes several specific lexical items from
Jamaican Creole that function in his data to symbolically frame CMC
messages. Moving from the frames into the main texts of CMC, he argues for
the value of attending to performativity and role play, invoking Bakhtin's
notion of ''double-voicing'' to account for the negotiation of multiple
voices in a narrative (104-105). Through examples from his corpora, he
demonstrates the use of codeswitching to evoke existing personae or social
prototypes from writers' and readers' shared Jamaican cultural knowledge.
He analyzes the ''communicative value'' that is to be had by using these
personae and concludes the chapter with a discussion of the functions of
codeswitching in narrative (127). The complexity of voicing in his data
leads him to question traditional views of the functional distribution
between 'we'- and 'they'- codes; he notes differences between
identity-related codeswitching in his own data and in studies of Jamaican
Creole in the Jamaican diaspora, namely British Creole.

Chapters 6 and 7 present a summary and theoretical conclusions. In Chapter
6, Hinrichs briefly reiterates his main points and reviews the various
theoretical paradigms that he has used, pointing out their strengths and
limitations. Based on his data from CMC, he validates Mair's (2003) claim
that Jamaican Creole is undergoing a pragmatic shift toward being used more
symbolically. But he adamantly denies that Jamaican Creole is becoming
functionally reduced, suggesting instead that its discursive functions are
expanding in the realm of CMC. In Chapter 7, he further compares the
discourse functions of Jamaican Creole in CMC with those of British Creole,
extending his argument against a simple view of 'we'-/'they'-code
distribution. He outlines his study's implications for EWL, suggesting a
paradigm shift toward greater use of qualitative research and ''micro-level
ethnographic studies'' to determine the local contexts that are creating
structural and functional linguistic change (151). Finally, he places his
analysis of codeswitching in CMC within larger regional and global
sociocultural trends toward formalization and informality, calling for an
interdisciplinary perspective within comparative sociolinguistics.

An appendix includes the primary corpus in its entirety.


Hinrichs repeatedly notes that he does not intend to offer predictions
regarding Jamaican Creole and its use. His caution is well taken, but it
results in some unresolved questions. Particularly vexing is the question
of how widely applicable his observations are (or will be), given that
internet access in Jamaica is at present quite limited and that his sample
of writers is drawn (necessarily) from a very narrow segment of the
Jamaican population. These issues are addressed very briefly in a footnote
(279, fn 2) and in the introduction in a comment on socioeconomic status
(11), but are not taken up at length. Other questions arise in Hinrichs's
discussions of codeswitching's discursive functions in identity
construction/negotiation. He beautifully demonstrates writers' evocation of
existing social identities in CMC, but -- as he reminds his reader at other
points in the book -- identities are not only static entities to be
imported and manipulated. How might the discursive construction of personae
in CMC be not only reflecting existing cultural stereotypes, but also
creating them? A more dialectic approach might have been helpful in these
discussions, though it would have required additional ethnographic
research. The discussions of embedded quotations in Chapter 4 and
double-voicing and narrative uses of codeswitching in Chapter 5 would have
benefited from attention to additional work by Bakhtin and existing
research on voicing and participant roles in discourse (see especially
Bakhtin 1981, Goffman 1981, Hill 1995, Voloshinov 1986[1930]). Readers with
a background in anthropology might not find Hinrichs's use of ethnographic
research satisfying, as it appears to have been limited to two short
fieldtrips, and his methodologies in social research are not clear.

These weaknesses do not detract from the overall theoretical and
methodological contributions of the study, which are considerable. Rather,
they indicate possible directions for further research, along the very
lines as Hinrichs is suggesting: the incorporation of greater ethnographic
knowledge into variationist studies, and more careful attention to aspects
of everyday social performance and identity practices.

The book is well laid out and reader-friendly, with engaging and even
entertaining data. The introductory overview of theoretical debates in the
Jamaican and creole studies literature is extremely helpful and makes the
study accessible to scholars who are otherwise unfamiliar with the Jamaican
case. Hinrichs has created some unusual and innovative corpora; as he
points out himself, the difficulties of obtaining personal emails have
limited studies in email communication thus far, but he has overcome them
in this study. The primary corpus, included in its entirety in the
appendix, is itself a contribution to CMC and codeswitching studies. But
the greatest strength of this study is the number of perspectives and
theoretical debates that Hinrichs has brought to bear on his data. Theory
and data are well integrated in the text, and the interweaving of
qualitative and quantitative data is inspiring. Hinrichs attends to his
informants' multiple possible reasons for employing codeswitching, using a
variety of theoretical models from diverse fields and consistently
reminding his reader that codeswitching in CMC is essentially a matter of
creative linguistic practice.


Auer, Peter (1995) The Pragmatics of Code-Switching: A Sequential Approach.
In One Speaker, Two Languages: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on
Code-Switching. L. Milroy and P. Mysken, eds. Pp. 115-135. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Caryl
Emerson and Michael Holquist, trans. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Eckert, Penelope (2005) Variation, Convention, and Social Meaning.
Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America,
January 7. Available at

Goffman, Erving (1981) Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press.

Gumperz, John J. (1982) Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Hill, Jane (1995) The Voices of Don Gabriel: Responsibility and Self in a
Modern Mexicano Narrative. In The Dialogic Emergence of Culture. Dennis
Tedlock and Bruce Mannheim, eds. Pp. 97-147. Urbana and Chicago: University
of Illinois Press.

Mair, Christian (2003) Language, Code and Symbol: The Changing Roles of
Jamaican Creole in Diaspora Communities. Arbeiten aus Anglistik und
Amerikanistik 28(2):231-248.

Voloshinov, V. N. (1986[1930]) Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. L.
Matejka and I. R. Titunik, eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kathryn Graber is a doctoral student in Linguistic Anthropology at the
University of Michigan. She is currently conducting preliminary
dissertation fieldwork in southeastern Siberia (Republic of Buryatia,
Russian Federation) on the circulation of Buryat- and Russian-language
media and its impact on local language contact and change. Her research
interests include writing systems, textual practices, literacy, the
relationship between writing and speech, historical linguistics,
pragmatics, Soviet and post-Soviet language policies, race and ethnicity,
media, performance, and the philosophy of language.