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Structural Aspects of Bilingual Speech

A Case Study of Language Use in the Russian Immigrant Community in Israel


Elena Gasser

The goal of the present study was to identify, describe and account for bilingual (Russian-Hebrew) varieties spoken in the Russian immigrant community in Israel. In order to achieve this complex goal, an interdisciplinary approach was chosen based on a combination of linguistic, psychological and sociological disciplines. The analysis of bilingual data has shown that there were three main types of bilingual varieties in use. The varieties were distinguished on the basis of the dominant patterns of language mixing (showing the evidence of a general shift from insertional to alternational CS) as well as of the directionality of CS. The three main speech styles were partly related to their speakers’ generational memberships. However, the differences in speech styles were not so much the function of generational affiliations, as of the actual linguistic behavior in the immigrants’ social lives. The variations within generational cohorts were better accounted for in terms of these speakers’ identities, attitudes and habitual language choices.
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4 Chapter II: Setting the Theoretical Framework


Depending on the particular context, the term bilingual speech can refer to a range of phenomena from code switching to attrition as well as shifting to the other language as the main means of communication. Bilingual phenomena other than code switching will be treated in Section 2.6.2. They will be presented in light of Myers-Scotton’s theory of contact linguistics. An overview of the most significant developments in code switching (henceforth CS) research will be presented in the following.

But what is the reason for studying bilingual speech? Is there anything special about its structure? Or is there any structure at all in what seems a haphazard mix of (two) languages?

Perhaps due to the image of an “ideal bilingual” coined in Weinreich 1953 (which served as a point of reference for many researchers long after the appearance of “Languages in Contact” in 1953), code switching within sentences has had a bad reputation not only among linguists but also among bilingual speakers themselves. It was considered an expression of a speaker’s inability in either of his two languages, an interference, a lack of intelligence and, consequently, a socially stigmatized mode of speaking.

Over time, a different view of the phenomenon has developed among researchers who have become increasingly aware that code switching (henceforth CS) is not an irregular mix of linguistic systems (i.e. interference) but rather a rule-governed process serving important communicative and cognitive functions. They have recognized that switching is widely used in bilingual...

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