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Multilingual play: Children's code-switching, role play, and agency in Dominica, West Indies

  • AMY L. PAUGH (a1)

In Dominica, rural adults forbid children from speaking Patwa (a French-lexicon creole) in favor of acquiring English (the official language), contributing to a rapid language shift in most villages. However, adults value Patwa for a range of expressive functions and frequently code-switch around and to children. Children increasingly use English but employ Patwa for some functions during peer play when away from adults. This study examines how, despite possible sanctions, children use Patwa to enact particular adult roles during peer play, and what this signifies about their knowledge of role- and place-appropriate language use. Critically, they draw on their verbal resources and physically embodied social action to create imaginary play spaces both organized by and appropriate for Patwa. The examination of children's social worlds provides a more nuanced picture of language shift – and potential maintenance – than observing only adult-adult or adult-child interaction.An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2002 AAA Annual Meeting in New Orleans in a session organized by Marjorie Goodwin and Lourdes de León, “Children socializing children through language: New perspectives on agency, play, and identities.” I thank them for organizing this exciting and timely panel, and for their comments on my paper. I also thank Bambi Schieffelin, Ana Celia Zentella, Tamar Kremer-Sadlik, Carolina Izquierdo, Jane Hill, and two anonymous reviewers for Language in Society for their insightful comments. I am grateful to several organizations which funded the research: the U.S. Department of Education (Fulbright-Hays), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the National Science Foundation, and the Spencer Foundation. My deepest thanks go to the Dominican children and their families who generously opened their lives to me. I alone take responsibility for any shortcomings here.

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