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Filling lexical gaps and more: code-switching for the power of expression by young bilinguals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 July 2022

Michelle K. TULLOCH*
Florida Atlantic University, USA
Erika HOFF
Florida Atlantic University, USA
Corresponding author: Michelle K. Tulloch, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton Florida 33431–0992, United States Email:


In this preregistered, longitudinal study of early code-switching, 34 US-born, Spanish–English bilingual children were recorded with a bilingual family member at 2;6 and 3;6, in Spanish-designated and English-designated interactions. Children’s Spanish and English expressive vocabulary and their exposure to code-switching were measured through direct assessment and caregiver report. The children code-switched most frequently at speaker changes; within-turn and within-utterance codeswitching were rare. By 3;6, switches to English were significantly more frequent than switches to Spanish. At both ages, Spanish proficiency was a negative predictor of the frequency of switching to English, but children’s degree of English dominance uniquely explained additional variance. Thus, children appear to code-switch not merely to fill gaps in their weaker language but to maximize their expressive power. Neither individual differences in exposure to code-switching nor in the interlocutors’ language proficiency were consistently related to the children’s rate of code-switching.

© The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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