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Myers-Scotton’s “Markedness Model”

Gumperz’s analysis of code-switching as an interactional strategy is further developed by Myers-Scotton (1993a) in her “Markedness Model.” Myers- Scotton argues that bilingual speakers are aware of the social consequences of choosing a specific language (or, mixing languages) in a particular context. She contends that in any given circumstance, a particular language variety is the expected or unmarked language, while the other variety is the unexpected or marked language. Myers-Scotton contends that bilingual speakers are endowed with a knowledge of socially relevant markedness associated with expected practices in a given community, and that speakers who make the unexpected or marked choices do so for specific reasons. Thus, in most postcolonial multilingual societies, switching to the local ethnic language to talk about one’s family would be “unmarked” (i.e., there is nothing remarkable about this language choice), whereas switching to the local ethnic language in a public speech would be “marked” (i.e., listeners would wonder why the speaker chose this unexpected variety and try to figure out the speaker’s intentions).

Myers-Scotton observes that one of the most common uses of codeswitching as a marked choice is to express authority, anger, or annoyance. In Extract (3), from Myers-Scotton (1993a: 133), a passenger on a bus in Nairobi is talking to the conductor in Swahili, the unmarked choice for bus transaction. English is in italics.

Extract (3)

Passenger: Nataka kwenda Posta.

“I want to go to the post office.”

Conductor: Kutoka hapa mpaka posta nauli ni senti hamsini.

“From here to the post office, the fare is 50 cents.”

(Passenger gives the conductor a shilling, from which he should get 50 cents in change.)

Conductor: Ngojea change yako.

“Wait for your change.”

(Passenger says nothing until some minutes have passed and the bus is nearing the post office where the passenger plans to get off.)

Passenger: Nataka change yangu.

“I want my change.”

Conductor: Change utapata, Bwana.

“You’ll get your change.”

Passenger: I am nearing my destination.

Conductor: Do you think I could run away with your change?

Myers-Scotton argues that the passenger switches from Swahili (the “unmarked” choice) to English (the “marked” choice) to reinforce his annoyance at not having received his change. She points out that the passenger is using English to show off his education and assert his authority. But the conductor, by also switching to English, asserts his own position as the passenger’s equal.

To illustrate code-switching as an “unmarked” choice, Myers-Scotton (1993a: 116) provides an extract from an office interaction in Kenya. In Extract (4), Edward is visiting his relative, John, an executive in a soft-drink bottling company in Nairobi. Myers-Scotton states that both English and Swahili are the unmarked choice for office interactions. Notice that John speaks English to his white-collar subordinate, but when he calls to the receptionist to get a soft drink for Edward, he switches to Swahili. Then he switches back to English to lecture a salesman. Myers-Scotton contends that while John might speak in either Swahili or English to his higher-level staff members, in this conversation he uses English because it is the more unmarked choice for expressing authority. Swahili is italicized.

Extract (4)

Subordinate: (entering John M.’s office and speaking to Edward M. just after John M. has stepped out for a minute) Where has this guy gone to?

Edward: He’s just gone out. He will soon be back.

John: (to subordinate when he returns) Why did you change the

plan of our stand at the showground? Who recommended the change? . . .

Subordinate: (looking guilty) Nobody told me.

John: Go and change it according to our previous plan. Also make

sure that the painting is done properly.

John: (to Edward when subordinate has left) I’ve told this man how to

build our stand, but he went and did a different thing. Ni mtu mjeuri sana. (“He’s a stubborn person.”) I’ll make him pay for the paint he spoilt.

John: (calling to the receptionist) Letea mgeni soda anywe.

“Bring the guest a soda so that he may drink.”

Receptionist: (to Edward) Nikuletee soda gani?

“What kind of soda should I bring you?”

Edward: Nipe Pepsi.

“Give me a Pepsi.”

Salesman: (entering) Sikuweza kufika kwa sababu nilikuwa mgonjwa.

“I couldn’t come because I was not well.”

John: Well, I wanted you to explain something about one of your

receipt books ... There’s a mistake somewhere. Take it back and make the totals again.

John: (to Edward when salesman leaves) This one will not earn any

money at the end of this month. He has a big shortage.

Although it is claimed to be both comprehensive and predictive, capable of associating the social symbolism of particular languages with the conversational strategies of speakers, Myers-Scotton’s Markedness Model presents difficulties in that it is not always possible to determine which languages become marked or unmarked in a given bilingual interaction (see also Alfonzetti, 1998; Auer, 1995; Li, 2005; Shin & Milroy, 2000). In some cases, mixing itself may be the unmarked variety. Gafaranga (2005) showed that Kinyarwanda-French code-switching by his bilingual Rwandese participants already constituted their language “code” and that they used the mixed variety in exactly the same way as monolinguals use one language. He disagrees with the “language-reflects-society” view put forth by Myers-Scotton and other scholars, and contends that code-switching must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis by taking into account the conversational structure of the interaction. This is exactly what Auer (1995) accomplishes with his conversation analytic framework, to which I turn next.

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