Motivations Behind Code-switching Among Kuwaiti Bilingual Schools‟ Students

  • Fatemah Mahsain

Student thesis: Phd


ABSTRACTCode-switching is a language-contact phenomenon in which the juxtaposition of languages is intentional and purposeful. The Kuwaiti speech community has a distinctive code-switching mechanism because of the unique sociolinguistic and cultural setting; as they code-switch to English even though they are neither an immigrant community nor are/were colonised by an English speaking country. In Kuwait, code-switching between Kuwaiti Arabic and English is very common among the youth, even though English is considered to be a foreign language. It is observed that the code-switching behaviour of Kuwaiti bilinguals attending bilingual/multilingual schools differs from that of those attending monolingual schools.In this thesis, an ethnographic study has been conducted to corroborate this observation. Both bilingual/multilingual school students and bilingual students attending monolingual schools were interviewed in order to identify the motivations behind their code-switching behaviour. The interviews were analysed sequentially by adopting the conversational analysis framework. The sequential approach (Auer 1984) focuses on a turn-by-turn participant-oriented analysis (Li Wei 1994) to seek answers to the questions of how and why bilingual speakers code-switch. Here, the different code-switching behaviours of these young Kuwaitis were investigated in an attempt to analyse the conversational functions behind them.Without exception, bilinguals in monolingual schools preferred conversing in Kuwaiti Arabic with a few one-word English insertions here and there, even though free language choice was emphasised at the beginning of each conversation. On the other hand, the language choice of bilingual school students varied from choosing Kuwaiti Arabic or English as the language of conversation to code-switching between the two languages on a continuous basis. Code-switching ranged from English insertions into Kuwaiti Arabic speech or Kuwaiti Arabic insertions into English speech to alternating between the two languages. In addition to the different code-switching styles, various conversational functions behind code-switching were also recognised. In this thesis, code-switching was treated as a contextualisation cue (Gumperz 1982), highlighting the pragmatic functions and contributing to an understanding of the intended meaning. At least five motivations behind code-switching among bilingual school students were identified in our corpus: accommodation, repair, contrastiveness, filling linguistic gaps, and floor holding, among others.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYaron Matras (Supervisor) & Maciej Baranowski (Supervisor)


  • Kuwaiti Arabic, Code-switching, Language Contact

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