Demythologising language alternation studies: conversational structure vs. social structure in bilingual interaction

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The aim of this paper is to reflect on the relationship between the conversational structure and the wider social structure in bilingual conversation. In this reflection, I have found Cameron's [Cameron, Deborah, 1990. Demythologising Sociolinguistics. Reprinted in Coupland, N., Jaworski, A. (Eds.), 1997, Sociolinguistics: A Reader and Coursebook. MacMillan, New York, pp. 55â??67.] idea of a â??demythologised sociolinguisticsâ?? very helpful. My starting point is that â??identity-relatedâ?? accounts [Sebba, Mark, Wootton, Tony, 1998. We, they and identity: sequential vs. identity-related explanations in code-switching. In: Auer, P. (Ed.), Code-Switching in Conversation: Language, Interaction and Identity. Routledge, London, pp. 262â??286.] of language alternation have been dominated by what Cameron refers to as the â??language-reflects-societyâ?? perspective. In the paper, some of the shortcomings of this perspective are discussed and an alternative view of the relationship between language alternation, as a conversational structure, and the wider social structure is suggested. Drawing on insights form Conversation Analysis (CA) and Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA), my argument is that, in bilingual conversation, the conversational structure relates to the social structure insofar as language itself is a social structure, i.e. insofar as language itself structures society. In turn, this is only a matter of taking the often evoked notion of linguistic identity seriously. As for the issue of the interaction between language alternation and non-linguistic social structures, it is argued that a theory of interpretive processes in conversation is needed that is much broader than the language-reflects-society perspective.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281 - 300
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


  • Linguistic identity


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