Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-7l5rh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-01T17:21:01.062Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Look at the gato! Code-switching in speech to toddlers*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 November 2014

University of Maryland
University of Maryland
University of Maryland
Address for correspondence: Rochelle Newman, University of Maryland – Hearing and Speech, 0100 Lefrak Hall, College Park, Maryland 20742, United States. e-mail:


We examined code-switching (CS) in the speech of twenty-four bilingual caregivers when speaking with their 18- to 24-month-old children. All parents CS at least once in a short play session, and some code-switched quite often (over 1/3 of utterances). This CS included both inter-sentential and intra-sentential switches, suggesting that at least some children are frequently exposed to mixed-language sentences. However, we found no evidence that this exposure to CS had any detrimental effect on children's word learning: children's overall vocabulary size did not relate to parental inter-sentential CS behavior, and was positively related to within-sentence CS. Parents often repeated words across their two languages, but this did not appear to increase the likelihood of children having translation equivalents in their vocabulary. In short, parents appear to CS fairly often to young children, even within sentences, but there is no evidence that this delays child lexical acquisition.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This work was the MA thesis for the first author; we thank the other members of her committee: Yi Ting Huang for helpful advice, and particularly Nan Bernstein Ratner for both helpful advice and help with CHAT. We also thank the members of the Language Development Lab for assistance with scheduling, Meredith Rowe for manuscript advice, and Jenna Poland, Christina Royster, and Seth Dellinger for helpful assistance with coding and transcription.



Abutalebi, J., Brambati, S. M., Annoni, J. M., Moro, A., Cappa, S. F. & Perani, D. (2007). The neural cost of the auditory perception of language switches: an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study in bilinguals. Journal of Neuroscience 27, 13762–9.Google Scholar
Bard, E. G. & Anderson, A. H. (1994). The unintelligibility of speech to children: effects of referent availability. Journal of Child Language 21, 623–48.Google Scholar
Barron-Hauwaert, S. (2004). Language strategies for bilingual families: the one-parent-one-language approach. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
Bernstein Ratner, N. (1984). Patterns of vowel modification in mother–child speech. Journal of Child Language 11, 557–78.Google Scholar
Bosch, L. & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (1997). Native-language recognition abilities in 4-month-old infants from monolingual and bilingual environments. Cognition 65, 3369.Google Scholar
Boumans, L. (1998). The syntax of codeswitching: analysing Moroccan Arabic/Dutch conversation. Tilburg: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar
Broen, P. A. (1972). The verbal environment of the language-learning child. ASHA Mongraphs 17.Google Scholar
Byers-Heinlein, K. (2009). Characterizing bilingual input: a self-report measure of language mixing by bilingual parents. Paper presented at the Boston University Conference on Child Language Development, Boston.Google Scholar
Byers-Heinlein, K. (2013). Parental language mixing: its measurement and the relation of mixed input to young bilingual children's vocabulary size. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 16, 3248.Google Scholar
Cantone, K. F. (2007). Code-switching in bilingual children. Dordrecht: Springer.Google Scholar
Chauncey, K., Grainger, J. & Holcomb, P. J. (2008). Code-switching effects in bilingual word recognition: a masked priming study with event-related potentials. Brain and Language 105, 161–74.Google Scholar
Cheng, L. & Butler, K. (1989). Code-switching: a natural phenomenon vs. language ‘deficiency’. World Englishes 8, 293309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cook, R. D. & Weisberg, S. (1982). Residuals and influence in regression. New York: Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar
David, A. & Wei, L. (2008). Individual differences in the lexical development of French–English bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 11, 598618.Google Scholar
Duñabeitia, J. A., Dimitropoulou, M., Uribe-Etxebarria, O., Laka, I. & Carreiras, M. (2010). Electrophysiological correlates of the masked translation priming effect with highly proficient simultaneous bilinguals. Brain Research 1359, 142–54.Google Scholar
Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Bates, E., Thal, D. J. & Pethick, S. J. (1994). Variability in early communicative development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 242/59, 1173.Google Scholar
Fenson, L., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., Thal, D. J., Bates, E., Hartung, J., … Reilly, J. S. (1993). The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventories: user's guide and technical manual. Baltimore: Singular Publishing. Google Scholar
Goodman, J. C., Dale, P. S. & Li, P. (2008). Parental input and the acquisition of vocabulary. Journal of Child Language 35, 515531.Google Scholar
Goodz, N. (1989). Parental language mixing in bilingual families. Infant Mental Health Journal 10, 2544.Google Scholar
Hoff, E. (2013). Interpreting the early language trajectories of children from low-SES and language minority homes: implications for closing achievement gaps. Developmental Psychology 49, 414.Google Scholar
Hoff, E. & Naigles, L. (2002). How children use input to acquire a lexicon. Child Development 73, 418–33.Google Scholar
Isurin, L., Winford, D. & de Bot, K. (2009). Multidisciplinary approaches to code switching. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.Google Scholar
Jackson-Maldonado, D., Thal, D. J., Marchman, V. A., Newton, T., Fenson, L. & Conboy, B. T. (2003). MacArthur-Bates Inventarios del Desarrollo de Habilidades Comunicativas: user's guide and technical manual. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Company.Google Scholar
Kitamura, C. & Burnham, D. (2003). Pitch and communicative intent in mother's speech: adjustments for age and sex in the first year. Infancy 4, 85110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kitamura, C., Thanavishuth, C., Burnham, D. & Lusaneeyanawin, S. (2002). Universality and specificity in infant-directed speech: pitch modifications as a function of infant age and sex in a tonal and non-tonal language. Infant Behavior and Development 24, 372–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Landis, J. R. & Koch, G. G. (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics 33, 159–74.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Language Use in the United States. (2007). Shin, H. B. & Kaminski, R. A., issued 2010, online: Scholar
Liu, H.-M., Tsao, F.-M. & Kuhl, P. K. (2009). Age-related changes in acoustic modifications of Mandarin maternal speech to preverbal infants and five-year-old children: a longitudinal study. Journal of Child Language 36, 909–22.Google Scholar
MacWhinney, B. (2000). The CHILDES project: tools for analyzing talk, 3rd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
MacWhinney, B. (2007). The CHILDES project: tools for analyzing talk – electronic edition. Part 1: the CHAT transcription format. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
Miser, T. M. & Hupp, J. M. (2012). The influence of socioeconomic status, home environment, and childcare on child language abilities. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues 31, 144–59.Google Scholar
Muysken, P. (2000). Bilingual speech: a typology of code-mixing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Myers-Scotton, C. (1997). Duelling languages: grammatical structure in codeswitching, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Pearson, B. Z. & Fernández, S. (1994). Patterns of interaction in the lexical development in two languages of bilingual infants. Language Learning 44, 617–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pearson, B. Z., Fernández, S. C., Lewedeg, V. & Oller, D. K. (1997). The relation of input factors to lexical learning by bilingual infants. Applied Psycholinguistics 18, 4158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pearson, B. Z., Fernández, S. C. & Oller, D. K. (1993). Lexical development in bilingual infants and toddlers: comparison to monolingual norms. Language Learning 43, 93120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, J. R. (1973). Syntax and vocabulary of mothers’ speech to young children: age and sex comparisons. Child Development 44, 182–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Place, S. & Hoff, E. (2011). Properties of dual language exposure that influence two-year-olds’ bilingual proficiency. Child Development 82, 1834–49.Google Scholar
Poplack, S. (1980). Sometimes I'll start a sentence in Spanish Y TERMINO EN ESPANOL: toward a typology of code-switching. Linguistics 18, 581618.Google Scholar
Poplack, S., Sankoff, D. & Miller, C. (1988). The social correlates and linguistic processes of lexical borrowing and assimilation. Linguistics 26, 47104.Google Scholar
Poulin-Dubois, D., Bialystok, E., Blaye, A., Polonia, A. & Yott, J. (2012). Lexical access and vocabulary development in very young bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism 17, 5770.Google Scholar
Proverbio, A. M., Leoni, G. & Zani, A. (2004). Language switching mechanisms in simultaneous interpreters: an ERP study. Neuropsychologia 42, 1636–56.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rowe, M. L. (2008). Child-directed speech: relation to socioeconomic status, knowledge of child development, and child vocabulary skill. Journal of Child Language 35, 185205.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Snow, C. (1972). Mothers’ speech to children learning language. Child Development 43, 549–65.Google Scholar
Vosoughi, S., Roy, B., Frank, M. & Roy, D. K. (2010). Contributions of prosodic and distributional features of caregivers’ speech in early word learning. Paper presented at the 32nd Annual Cognitive Science Conference, Portland, OR.Google Scholar