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Spelling bilingualism: Script choice in Russian American classified ads and signage

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2005

Department of Linguistics, New York University, New York, NY 10003-6860<,>


This article investigates the role of script choice in bilingual writing, drawing on classified advertisements and other texts written for and by Russian-speaking immigrants in New York City. The study focuses on English-origin items that appear in Russian texts, which are found to be written either in roman or Cyrillic script. Through an investigation of categorical and variable constraints on this variation, it is found that script choice relates to the distinction between lexical borrowing and single-item codeswitching. It is argued that writers may, consciously and on a token-by-token basis, choose the Cyrillic script to mark a word as borrowed or the roman script to mark it as foreign. However, they may also avoid this choice, as hybrid forms attest, especially when the use of characters shared by both alphabets allows ambiguous readings. The findings thus have implications for understanding notions of language boundaries in bilingual language use.Versions of this article were presented at two conferences: “Alphabetics: Interpreting letters” at Harvard University, 26–27 April 2003, and NWAVE 32, Philadelphia, 9–12 October 2003. I thank the audiences for their valuable insights and observations, especially Erika Boeckeler and Daniel Kokin. I also owe thanks to Katya Korsunskaya, Vladislav Rapoport, Doris Stolberg, Mario Geiger, and Tobias Kuhn. I am grateful to John Victor Singler, Mark Sebba, and Jannis K. Androutsopoulos, as well as to Jane H. Hill and to two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. All errors and omissions remain my own.

Research Article
© 2005 Cambridge University Press

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