Code-switching in Art: From Semiotics to Sociolinguistics


  • Penelope Gardner-Chloros Birkbeck College, University of London



Code-switching, Heteroglossia/Double-voicing, Contextualization Cues, Rational Choice Model, Conversation Analytic Model, Roman Art (Ara Pacis), El Greco, Picasso


Both language and art can be considered as media for expressing meanings. This paper explores some suggestive parallels between meanings expressed through linguistic code-switching and meanings expressed in certain works of art. In particular, recent research on CS makes use of various notions which can be applied in the visual field: (1) heteroglossia/intertextuality: code-switching researchers such as Stroud have adopted this concept from literary studies to describe the exploitation by code-switchers of a ‘double voice’, i.e. the fact that much of what we say involves an implicit reference to the (real or imagined) words of others. (2) Contextualization : this refers to the strategic variations which speakers employ to create meaning within an agreed matrix of conventions. Gumperz developed the idea of contextualization cues, i.e. features of the form of the message which point to how the semantic content is to be understood. (3) Rational Choice v. Conversation Analytic approaches: Myers-Scotton’s ‘Rational Choice’ model suggests that bilingual individuals’ language choices are largely to do with the indexing of varieties to particular sets of ‘rights and obligations’. Auer and Li Wei have shown that this only provides a partial explanation, and that linguistic choices provide a means of structuring conversation independently of such associations. Artistic examples taken from Roman Art, Renaissance Cretan icons and Picasso illustrate how, like code-switched utterances, works of art can derive meaning from (a) duality of reference, (b) the incorporation of an older tradition within a new work, and (c) from their vertical relationship with the context of their production and with their audience. Parallels identified here suggest that some areas of CS research are touching on universal semiotic patterns.

Author Biography

Penelope Gardner-Chloros, Birkbeck College, University of London

Reader in Sociolinguistics and Language Contact, Birkbeck College, University of London.



How to Cite

Gardner-Chloros, P. (2012). Code-switching in Art: From Semiotics to Sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistic Studies, 4(3), 635–664.