Code-switching Functions in Facebook Wallposts

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Su-Hie Ting
Dean Kai-Liang Yeo


Social media is a digital medium that allows “written speech” and represents a new domain for studying multilingual language practices in face-to-face interactions. The study examined languages used in Facebook wallposts by multilingual users in Malaysia and the functions of code-switching in the communication. Using Gumperz’s (1982) model of conversational code-switching, 24 students’ Facebook wallposts were analysed. The results showed that students preferred to use the language they write best. English was used either as the base language or the code-switched language, indicating that English is inevitably an essential language in Facebook interactions. Code-switching was used mainly for personalization and interjections (37% each) as the wallposts were targeted at rapport building. Expressiveness was largely conveyed through fillers (e.g., ar, la). There was some code-switching for message qualification (21%) to soften or strengthen a comment rather than to enhance the clarity of messages. However, the features of the digital medium made some functions of code-switching irrelevant, particularly addressee specification, quotation, reiteration and referential functions. The finding on code-switching functions not having the same salience in social media and face-to-face communication indicate that written speech is similar to, but not the same as, oral interactions.


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