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Review of  Borrowing Versus Code-Switching

Reviewer: Chas Mac Donald
Book Title: Borrowing Versus Code-Switching
Book Author: Richard J. Nivens
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Malay
Issue Number: 16.1496

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Date: Tue, 10 May 2005 14:28:33 -0400 (EDT)
From: Chas Mac Donald
Subject: Borrowing versus Code-Switching

AUTHOR: Nivens, Richard J.
TITLE: Borrowing versus Code-Switching
SERIES: Publications in Sociolinguistics 8
PUBLISHER: SIL International
YEAR: 2002

Chas Mac Donald, Stirling Media Research Institute at the University
of Stirling


Richard J. Nivens proposes a "psycholinguistically realistic accounting
of the longer stretches of Malay occurring in" his corpus of twenty
hours of speech recordings on the Island of Aru and the language
contact environment of Malay and West Tarangan there. This book
results from a Ph.D. thesis completed at the University of Hawai'i and
takes a refreshing look at language contact phenomenon and the
methods by which an understanding of them is attempted.

Chapter 1 -- Introduction. This chapter opens with an overview of the
current state of linguistics as it relates to code-switching and/or
borrowing. Nivens presents a very lucid account of the difficulties in
determining one from the other in Language Contact Phenomena
(LCP) and challenges some of the movements of the field while at the
same time offering alternative approaches to the difficulties
encountered. Of particular value is the discussion of the difference
between perspectives on where borrowing ends and code-switching
picks up. Nivens achieves the tricky balance of neither equivocating
nor resolving this dilemma. Instead he comes to the simple conclusion
that simplicity is certainly not present in the field at this point, and that
discussions should take place in an environment avowedly aware of
the complexity of the individual differences between speakers and

Chapter 2 -- West Tarangan: An Island in a Sea of Malay. Here
Nivens moves closer to the main task at hand with a comparison of the
differences between the local language ecology of West Tarangan,
linguistic use, gloss usage, linguistic support, institutional support or
the lack of it. He also delves into the phonology, phonetics and
morphology of West Tarangan, Dobo Malay, Standard Indonesian
Malay, Ambonese Malay etc. He provides three maps of the area
which show the geographic layout of Indonesia in increasing detail
down to the Aronese group of islands within the Maluku archipelago.
This in itself serves as a good metaphor language variety and
complexity and he discusses the features of the languages in contact
and their spheres of use in the islands. Particularly he subsets his
chosen language into two (West Tarangan A / B) and ponders a
situation where there are 'eighteen or nineteen' varieties, at village
level, which are idiosyncratically distinctive and appropriate to the
area for their connection with ancestry.

Chapter 3 -- Methodology and Corpus. This relatively short chapter
describes collection methods and a little about sources and analytical
methods. Nivens also describes his conventions for confirming
conclusions drawn from data and his approach to participants when
attempting to confirm their language use and instances of code-
switching. He also outlines when he accepts an apparent language
change as a code-switch and when he rejects it as such. At all times
he is careful to remind us that the semantic usages are not always as
they appear to be, and that they always relate to the speaker and how
they may be acting on different days.

Chapter 4 -- Prerequisites to LCP Research: Evidence from the
WT/Malay Corpus. Chapter 4 covers the vast bulk of the corpus
content and Niven's approach to deconstructing lexical usage, the
motivations for those usages and possible slippages that might be
hidden therein which suggest a false account of language choice.
Particularly in this chapter, he also addresses the concept of
equivalence (p66), - static, dynamic, and contextual. He moves on, to
a more detailed breakdown of the corpus lexus and then to how we
consider cultural imports (76) in terms of the code-switching/borrowing
debate. On page 93 he moves on to numbers and describes how the
use of Malay numbers for money cannot simply be regarded as a
code-switch as the concept did not exist in the West Tarangan area
he is dealing with. Thus although some number forms are embedded
language (EL) rather than matrix language (ML), they are not code-
switches because they are the only terms available. Modification and
negotiation of lexical choices is the subject of the next section (p108)
which deals with language repairs and then moves on to phonology
and morphology of Malay items into West Tarangan.

Chapter 5 -- Code-Switching: Causes, Forms, and Modes. Nivens
rounds the book of with a more holistic look at code-switching and
borrowing in general, concluding that micro-analysis is primary and
macro-analysis ought to be secondary in any attempt to understand
language contact phenomenon rather than the more traditional
obverse. In particular he deals with the triggering effect of some words
and how these become embedded and perhaps prioritised in the
lexicon of the speaker.


It is always encouraging to read a book which begins with a concept
of 'squishiness'. The book as a whole is an excellent study of
language contact phenomena and the manner in which languages in
contact are accommodated to each other by their speakers. Nivens'
insistence that the psycholinguistic must be taken into account when
considering the use of EL items in ML discourse and that a very deep
understanding of the motivations of lexical choice as a consequence
of the entire context -- personal, discursive, and societal -- is central
to the whole text. As he says himself, his "goal is not to propose the
most efficient and simple model of language possible, but the most
efficient and simple model which actually represents the way human
beings process language."

He presents a number of categories as tools for decoding language
use including "... different kinds of equivalence led me to propose a
continuum of Malay items from necessary to preferred to dispreferred
to gratuitous, the first two being considered default and the latter two
non-default.." (130-131). Much of the book is a (non-dismissive)
argument against the beliefs of Myers-Scotton., On page 204 he
departs from her proposal "that a matrix language is nearly always
identifiable". He does "allow for the possibility that ML turnover may
occur gradually" which will at times, and especially in abstracted
contexts make the identification of the ML difficult possibly erroneous.
He goes on to take Auer's Pattern III code alternation and propose
a "subdivision of alternation into CLOSED ALTERNATION and OPEN-
ENDED ALTERNATION, depending on whether the speaker is bound
to return to the original matrix language or not". (p204) On page 208
he concludes:
a) "All single non-default Malay items are insertions of Malay into WT
b) All instances of major CS are instances of Malay mode; more
specifically, they are EL-mode insertion (unless some evidence is
found for analyzing direct quotes as closed alternation);
c) When an instance of subclausal CS displays Malay syntax, and
contains only gratuitous Malay lexical items, it is a clear instance of
Malay mode (EL-mode insertion) ... and;
d) Triggered sequences and collocation sequences are brief
instances of Malay mode as well; perhaps they should be called
asymmetric Malay mode, since the language choice of one lexical item
clearly depends on that of another."

There is, however, still a difficulty with the book which raises its head
later on, and one which Nivens seems to have been at pains to avoid
in the main body of the text. This is on p198: "The answer to the
question, "Is Malay syntax sufficient evidence of Malay mode?"
depends upon whether speakers create syntactic structures first and
then insert lexemes, or choose lexemes first and then let the lexemes
themselves construct the sentences. In other words, do syntactic
structures have an independent existence in the mind, or is syntax
created before EL words are inserted. If syntactic structures are
created before EL words are inserted, then Malay order is a sufficient
condition for identifying Malay mode. However, if lexemes project the
syntactic structures, them Malay order is a necessary, but not
sufficient, condition for identifying Malay mode." (198) Linguistics,
sociolinguistics, and especially language activism, has for too long
suffered under the illusion that language is or can be an independent
agent within the brain, causing things to happen. It is perfectly
acceptable to take consequence as a phenomenon, but cause -- or
actual independent agency -- is simple totemism and has no place in
the discussion. Nivens appeared to be forcefully behind that approach
and it is not clear whether the passage quoted is a mere slippage or
something more fundamental. Lexemes cannot construct sentences,
the mind does that, however unconsciously and with whatever level of
complexity. The notion of triggering is a far more acceptable and
realistic approach.

On the following page he says, "some analysts might use [a cited]
example as evidence that WT structures are created first, after which
Malay lexemes replace WT lexemes. But since this is the only such
example in the WT/Malay corpus, it may be best to consider this is a
performance error as well -- that is, for such instances it might be
assumed that a speaker changed his mind about a lexical choice at
the last moment, after his first lexical choice had already created the
syntactic structure." (199) Given that we ought to substitute 'triggered
for 'created' in this passage there is still the implication that the
construction process is linear where a fixed morphological pathway
with a somewhat finite set of entry points for alteration exists. This is
clearly not the case, as the process of construction not only continues
up to the point of utterance, but also through it (as evidenced by stalls
and changes) and then afterwards (as evidenced by repairs and
emphases). In fact the lexical and structural choice may undergo any
number of changes as the weight of the proposed utterance - as it
relates to its concept - combines with perceived weight of previous
utterances and hearings, projected utterances and hearings, and the
possible interactions of interlocutors or the rest of society.

That aside, Code-Switching versus Borrowing is an excellent book
and fully deserving of an audience open to the possibility that
language can be understood only when viewed through an extremely
complex kaleidoscope, and even then will remain a distinct step away
from full transparency.


Chas Mac Donald is a Ph.D. student at the Stirling Media Research
Institute at the University of Stirling in Scotland. He is currently
undertaking research on the use of language in the media of the
Celtic countries and works for or with a variety of local and national
organisations working for the Gàidhlig language in Scotland.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1556711344
ISBN-13: 9781556711343
Pages: 251
Prices: U.S. $ 30.50