Chinese vendors’ code-switching in service encounters in Sarawak, Malaysia


  • Yih-Long Lau Universiti Teknologi Mara
  • Su-Hie Ting Universiti Malaysia Sarawak



language choice, code-switching, service encounters, retail encounters


The study examined the language of service encounters in a bakery operated by Chinese vendors in a Foochow-dominant town in Malaysia. Naturally occurring data of 100 service encounters were digitally recorded (83 with Chinese customers and 17 with non-Chinese customers). In intraethnic interactions, Foochow is the default language choice but Mandarin is emerging as a viable option. In interethnic interactions, the Chinese vendors accommodated by speaking either Bahasa Malaysia or Bazaar Malay. A majority of the service encounters took place in one language as code-switching was identified in only 19 encounters. In interethnic interactions, the vendors switched to thank customers in English but in intraethnic interactions, the functions vary with the staging of service encounters. The main functions are emphasis on attributes of goods in Sale Enquiry, attributes and quantity of goods to buy in Sale Request, and attributes, quantity and price of goods to sell in Sale Compliance. Code-switching in the Purchase Closure stage brings in expression of thanks which is not an integral feature of service encounters in Eastern settings. Using stages of service encounters to explain code-switching functions provides a less context-dependent framework which shows how code-switching brings about efficiency in service encounters.

Author Biographies

Yih-Long Lau, Universiti Teknologi Mara

Yih-Long Lau teaches English at the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi Mara, Campus Samarahan, Sarawak. She graduated from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak with a Masters degree in Applied Linguistics in 2012. She obtained her Bachelor Degree of Education with Honours (Teaching English as a Second Language) from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak in 2009. Her main research interests are business language and interactional sociolinguistics. She is particularly interested in how appropriate language choices are made in retail encounters in multilingual settings and the social meanings of these language choices.

Su-Hie Ting, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Su-Hie Ting teaches English at the Centre for Language Studies, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. She graduated from the University of Queensland with a Ph.D in Applied Linguistics in 2001. Her main research interests are language use and attitudes, academic writing and strategic competence. Her articles have been published in Multilingua, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Current Issues in Language Planning, Journal of Academic Language and Learning, and International Journal of Applied Linguistics (ITL).



How to Cite

Lau, Y.-L., & Ting, S.-H. (2014). Chinese vendors’ code-switching in service encounters in Sarawak, Malaysia. Sociolinguistic Studies, 7(3), 199–223.




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