Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Code-switching at 20.5 months? Or just differentiating?...

Last night, soon after I walked in the door from tutoring, Geoff told me that Kaya was communicating on a totally different level. "What do you mean," I asked him. And then, as soon as I sat down on the couch next to them, I heard for myself as quickly as he'd delivered his message...

Kaya was sitting in Dada's lap, snuggling into his shoulder with her sippy cup of milk. They were looking through the photo album of our summer camping trips. After a few moments initial shyness, Kaya started crawling and falling all over the couch, giggling between a variety of words in both English and German. The first thing she said that left me speechless was in reference to her banana-eating friends. She came home with 2 monkeys that usually live at her grandparents'...(apparently she was much more 'into' her toys yesterday than they noticed she was last week, so they sent her primate friends home with her). When I asked her about these stuffed playmates, "Was ist das? Ist das ein Affe?" (What is that? Is that a monkey?), she answered, "Affe.....Monkey". That was the first time I'd EVER heard her use both labels in the same comment...it was as if she'd been saying the word, 'monkey' for the past day (which she had, according to her grandparents) and wanted to make sure that 'Affe' was, indeed, the same as 'Monkey'. Usually, instead of switching her comment to English with me, she switches it to German, like she did at dinner a bit later in the evening.

The three of us were sitting at the table when I asked her whether she wanted some water. "No. Nein," she said, quickly, with nary a pause between the two words. This time, instead of seemingly wanting to verify the meanings, it seemed very clear to me that she was correcting the language that she chose to use with me. From this single experience at the table, it may not seem very clear that she is code-switching. However, there are a variety of other little stories that illustrate how clearly and consistently she is doing this.

Earlier this week, as I was heading out for a run, I heard Kaya come toddling out of her room towards the fridge, eagerly requesting (demanding?!) "milk, milk," from her Dada. She'd been talking to Geoff for a few minutes before I heard this, so it's clear that she was directing this request to him--I was also nearly out the door and out of her sight. I knew that she uses the word 'milk', as well as the term 'Milch', but didn't know that she knew to differentiate the terms from one another in regards to which one to use with each of us. While she was at her English-speaking grandparents' place last week, she used the term 'help' as opposed to 'Hilfe' in German, as she uses regularly with me. My theory was, that when she's prompted to use one term or another, like when her Gramms asks her if she wants help, then she simply continues to use that word until prompted, in context, to use the term 'Hilfe'. Maybe that IS how her brain was working up until a few days later when I was coming home from that run. Apparently, Kaya had gotten distracted from her initial English milk-request, and started playing with her toys instead. Geoff was rushed that morning, and therefore, didn't respond immediately to her plea (hence the distraction...). As soon as she saw me, however, she was reminded of her lingering desire for dairy, and made that clear to me with a very adamant, "Milch...Milch." It took me a second to process what had just occurred, but once I did, I pointed it out excitedly to Geoff:

Kaya clearly differentiated her language with us for the first time ever!
Or is it simple association?
Or code-switching?

Whatever it is, it's a heck of a lot more advanced than I ever thought she'd be at this age...and a HECK of a lot more excitement than I EVER expected to experience as I returned from my jaunt.

The question was burning such a hole in my mind that I came home yesterday from the library with 4 books on language development. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, I dove into the books, looking eagerly for an answer to my question:

Is it possible that Kaya can differentiate languages already?
Would it be considered code-switching?

Code-switching and Triggers

I found at least part of my answer in Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson:
"In bilingual mode, [which is when bilinguals don't use their languages separately from each other, but instead use both languages together], speakers often switch between languages, or 'code-switch.' This seamless switching between languages (here called 'codes') can happen either between sentences or within sentences at permissible points in the grammatical structure..." (p.98)

There is lexical code-switching, that refers to switching single words into the other language, and grammatical code-switching, which is when more of a sentence is switched. Grammatical code-switching happens "in response to an internal or external 'trigger.' A trigger is a word or grammatical element that is represented mentally in both languages, so it facilitates, or 'triggers,' the move from one language to the other." (p.98)

Pearson continues on to say that "all bilingual speakers have the choice to switch or not to switch. It is as if they have a meter that they can set at either one language or the other--or in between. Generally, a child's setting--closer to bilingual or closer to one of the monolingual poles--reflects the way his environment is set. Children under age two appear sensitive to signals from other speakers, although they may not be very skilled at staying in one language..."

These last few sentences felt really promising to me, as if I'd found my answer. However, I'm still not confident that what Kaya is doing would be considered code-switching. It seems that there must be another term that relates to the fact that Kaya is becoming aware that two different languages are being spoken to or around her, and that the words that she knows fit in these different languages in a certain way. It seems that it would be called 'differentiation', but I have yet to find this term or a recognition of the concept in the reading that I've been doing.

To those of you multi-lingual parents out there, raising bilingual or multilingual children, can you speak to this at all? Is there a term for this? Do you remember when your kids started differentiating, or associating one person with one language? Are you willing to share any stories?

Kaya, pointing out (in!) Zoe's "Ohr" (ear)

In addition to the words above (no/nein, milk/Milch, book/Buch), Kaya has a few more words that we've noted over the past week that she consistently differentiates (the German with me and its English counterpart with everyone else):

"hungy"-"Hummer" (hungry/Hunger)

Additional Language Developments

In addition to this whole differentiation/code-switching concept, Kaya's language has been exploding in other ways, too.

--3 days ago, she said her first 4 syllable word: Edamame.

--She now identifies colors when she sees them, specifically "ink" (pink) and "lellow."

--She's been using more two-word phrases in the past few days than we've ever heard her use:
aya's house
hello dog
baby tomato
baby monkey

--And the cutest thing: Even though she's nailed the "k" at the end of many words, like "Cock" (clock!) and "book", she can't seem to figure out how to put the sound at the beginning of words. Same goes for "w/v" in German. So, she says cute things like:
"aya" (Kaya)
"henna" (Kenna)
"ua" (Kahlua)
"iss" (Kiss)
"assah" (Wasser/water)

Excited to be able to put a diaper on a REAL baby!

It's hard for me to express how excited I am about this new stage in Kaya's development--not sure if I've succeeded in sharing this excitement through my writing already, but if not, then I just have to say, "I LOVE THIS!!!!!!" Laying her down on her changing table and hearing her say, "A, Baby, C," while her tongue sticks out past her bottom teeth on her "Cs" and she giggles constantly while recycling a joke from more than week ago...amazing. And beautiful. And amazing.

I just can't seem to get over the fact that she's only been alive for 20 months and she can communicate to get (most) of her needs met; can walk to where she wants to go; and can put my underwear on her head. I thought I had some experience with children, but after spending nearly every day with Kaya for the past many months, it's become clear to me that I had NO idea how amazing it is to watch babies grow up, much less to hear them turn into little people!

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