Inter-sentential code-switching and language dominance in Cantonese-English bilingual children

Chit Fung Lam, Stephen Matthews

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This paper examines the relationship between language dominance and the under-investigated topic of inter-sentential code-switching in Hong Kong Cantonese–English bilingual children. Longitudinal data for six children showing different dominance patterns were analysed. MLU differentials (Yip & Matthews, 2006) were adopted to measure dominance based on five criteria: methodological compatibility, typological comparability, gradient measurement, variance validity, and multifaceted compatibility. Our results showed that bilingual children produced more inter-sentential code-switching in the context of their non-dominant language and less in their dominant-language context. We account for this asymmetry in relation to mechanisms of inhibitory control (Gross & Kaushanskaya, 2015). Further, we propose that intrasentential and inter-sentential code-switching each have a different status in bilingual children’s developing grammar, underlining the methodological importance of separating the two constructs in future investigations. We also suggest that, in societies where intra-sentential code-switching is a social norm, inter-sentential code-switching could serve as signs of early bilinguals’ dominance status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-105
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2020


  • code-switching
  • code-mixing
  • language dominance
  • Cantonese-English bilingual
  • bilingual children
  • MLU


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