‘C’est Cidre. Not Cider’: The Creative Use of Code-Switching in Advertising


Code-switching is broad term referring to the alternation between two or more languages, dialects or styles, within and between utterances and sentences. When it comes to linguistic creativity, code-switching provides a wealth of opportunities for the speaker, beyond those available in any single language or dialect. As well as being a creative mechanism in literature, music and film, it’s also a very creative tool for selling things – in branding, marketing and advertising.

And, as I also hope to show, code-switching in advertising is not something that requires fluency in a second language. Au contraire. Even people who would call themselves monolingual are probably more used to code-switching than they think – so much so, in fact, that they have probably stopped noticing how often the ‘(M)ad Men’ use it to tempt us.

The main role of code switching in marketing and branding, of course, is to evoke a foreign and desirable lifestyle – from a part of the world where the particular language is spoken – which thus becomes associated with the commodity in question. Outside of the Anglophone world, English in particular is employed to give brands an international or western feel. The example that Professor Penelope Gardner-Chloros gives in her book on code-switching is from Germany. Here, in a poster advertising McDonald’s latest culinary creation, English is combined with the local language to ‘evoke a cosmopolitan – or American – lifestyle’ (p. 6, Gardner-Chloros, 2009):

‘McCroissant: The American Antwort auf Croissant. The lecker warm Croissant. Geschnitten in two Teile, this is very praktisch. So is genug Platz for weitere leckere things.’

[‘McCroissant: The American answer to Croissant. The delicious warm Croissant. Cut in two parts, this is very practical. So is enough room for further delicious things.’]

The text of the advert combines grammars, as well as words, from both languages. It also cleverly employs words like ‘so’, ‘warm’ and ‘in’ which are lexical items in both languages; this helps reduce the effort required by the reader to understand what is written, at the same time maintaining the pervasiveness of the English throughout the text.

If you travel anywhere outside of the Anglophone world – from Chile, to Kenya, to Beijing – you are likely to find similar examples. On a recent trip to Russia, it was noticeable that many restaurants in downtown St Petersburg and Moscow had Russian-English names, often switching languages in their signs (‘Restoran Meat Head’ was a particular favourite, and not just for the steak). And code-switching wasn’t only to be found in the catering sector. The business newspaper I picked up in Moscow airport was called the ‘RBC Daily’, which even switches scripts (from Cyrillic to Latin) in its title. Here, of course, (American) English is evocative of international business and commerce.

But code-switching is prevalent in the Anglophone world too, and English speaking consumers like me are just as likely to be taken in by it.

In the UK at least, French is especially common, partly because it is traditionally the most taught second language, but also because of the perceived attractiveness of the French lifestyle – and its connotations of elegance, sophistication and taste. As such, French is used to sell everything from cars and clothes, to perfume and beer.

Stella Artois, for example, is a Belgium beer, brewed in the Flemish speaking city of Leuven. However, to the US and UK market, it advertises itself as very definitely French. Recently, the company launched a new advertising campaign for its cider using a simple code-switch in the tagline:

C’est cidre. Not cider.’

[It’s ‘cidre’. Not cider.]

Such a tagline, of course, cleverly hinges upon the (perceived) superiority of everything French – including the language itself.

For obvious culinary reasons, the restaurant industry is arguably the place where code-switching to French is most common. Walking around any English speaking city, you’re likely to find plenty of French: here, a chain of French restaurants advertising ‘bonnes tables et vins’; there, a bistro advertising its ‘plat du jour’. If you’re an English speaker in the Anglophone world, you’re perhaps most likely to see code-switching in restaurant menus. And you see it so often, in fact, that you’ve possible stopped noticing it.

Take, for example, the menu for the Michelin-starred La Chappelle restaurant in London. The majority of the language may look like English, but the register is decidedly Francophone. Starters are labelled ‘Entrées’, main courses as ‘Plats principaux’. Appetisingly, there’s ‘ballotine of quail’, ‘pavé of halibut’, an ‘assiette of Herdwick lamb’ (what’s wrong with ‘plate’?), and ‘summer vegetables en cocette. There’s certainly a soupçon of code-switching going on, and that’s only in the à la carte menu.

Because of the status in Europe of French cuisine, French has dictated much of the English vocabulary for food and drink (‘restaurant’, ‘bistro’, ‘café’, ‘menu’, and so on). As such, it’s worth being careful to differentiate between code-switching and lexical borrowing. In borrowing, a ‘loan word’ is taken from a donor language and incorporated into the recipient language. However, in practice, it’s quite difficult to separate the two phenomena. In reality, there is a continuum between the two extremes: loans start off as code-switches and then gradually become established phonologically, morphologically, and so on, into the lexicon of the recipient language (Gardner-Chloros, 2009).

For example – for most English speakers I know at least –  ‘restaurant’ is a fully fledged ‘English’ word. However, there are still certain speakers, usually from among the British upper classes, that refuse to accept its English phonology. They still pronounce ‘restauranten français, without the terminal /t/ and with the final consonant Gallicly nasalized. That is, they refuse to borrow and, instead, are absolutely resolute in their code-switching.

Code-switching to another language like this can be used, of course, as a device to demonstrate how sophisticated we (think we) are. Interestingly, I once heard a particular member of this group – a food critic on a popular TV cooking competition – pluralise the phonologically-French ‘restaurant’ by adding a terminal /z/, as in English. Critics might say that this particular speaker, in an overtly pretentious effort, was failing to be as clever as he thought he was(!). Technically speaking, you would say within the speaker’s own idiolect the integration of ‘restaurant’ was complete morphologically, but not phonologically.

At the other end of the spectrum, even within the food business, there are those that are more resistant to code-switching. James Martin is a British TV chef who presents a popular Saturday morning cooking show in the UK. Albeit in jest, I once heard him say of ‘crème anglaise’ (BBC One, ‘Saturday Kitchen Live’, 5 October 2013):

‘Back where I come from, that’s called “custard” […] The difference is twenty quid!’

But, whatever you feel about code-switching in advertising – sophisticated, pretentious, or simply unnecessary – you can’t disagree that it’s everywhere. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous, that it’s very easy to stop noticing that it’s there at all.

Since, when it comes to the business of selling, there’s nothing like a bit of code-switching. Often, the difference is at least a few extra bucks.


There’s a short blog and interesting video about code-switching in advertising here (http://lindazonderop.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/code-switching-in-advertising.html).

Gardner-Chloros, P. (2009) Code-Switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


‘Keep Calm And Jazz It Up’: The Productive Art of Creative Linguistic Variation

ImageIf you’ve been to the UK in the last few years, you won’t have been able to avoid the latest craze sweeping the nation. It’s a craze which seems to manifest itself everywhere: in shop windows, on T-shirts, in adverts – even in language blogs. And it’s one that has at its heart one very simple phrase.

On the eve of World War II, the UK Government displayed posters across the country carrying the very simple plea to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. The message – simply stated and boldly written – was clear: to get through the war, the nation couldn’t afford to panic.

After the war was over, the poster had surely had its day. But then, in 2001, some enterprising soul came up with the  idea of printing new copies of it for sale. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, the poster has appeared everywhere from office walls to football changing rooms. In particular, it has spawned all manner of creative parodies from ‘keep calm and have a cup-cake’ to the royal wedding inspired ‘keep calm and marry Kate’. Novel versions have appeared all over the place, from greeting cards to shopping bags. There is now even a website where you can generate your own. In fact, the country has been inundated with so many examples that some commentators have begun to wonder whether it’s time to stop ‘keeping calm’, and just stop.

So, what’s behind the craze for ‘keeping calm’ and ‘carrying on’? Why has it been so popular?

For many people in the UK the phrase will surely carry a very warm feeling of ‘Britishness’ – from the wartime reference itself, even down to the most Anglo-Saxon of linguistic features at the end: the phrasal verb. But, I would argue that the most important factor in the success of the ‘Keep Calm’ craze is in, in fact, the wealth of creative potential that the phrase itself provides. Because ‘keep calm and carry on’ is the perfect example to illustrate one of the most important mechanisms in linguistic creativity: creative linguistic variation.

Let me explain.

When it comes to language, creativity is not bound only to poetry and fine prose. Researchers like Ronald Carter at University of Nottingham have done much work to point out that linguistic creativity (the ‘art of common talk’, as he calls it) is pervasive in everyday life (Carter and McCarthy, 2011). As such, linguistic creativity  can come in all manner of forms, including the use of figurative language (metaphors, similes and so on), puns and other word-play, jokes, careful placement of cultural references, general deviations from appropriateness, and even style-switching.

But perhaps one of the most common of all these forms of creativity is what Carter calls ‘departures from expected idiomatic formulations’. In essence, this ‘creative linguistic variation’ (or CLV for short) means taking a well worn phrase like ‘keep calm and carry on’ (or any other cliché, idiom or figure of speech), and playing with it, creatively. Tony Veale, computational linguist at University College Dublin, has dedicated an entire book to this creative process (Veale, 2012). In his words (p. 26), creative linguistic variation refers to:

‘…expressions that are playful in their use of words, that stretch words or familiar phrases to fit novel (but apt) meanings, and which can be seen as pleasurable variations of a familiar convention, an entrenched stereotype, or an existing turn of phrase.

In short, CLV means imitating and innovating, at the same time. And it’s probably something you do more often than you think.

In one real-life example from Carter’s research, two lifeguards are chatting as they sit behind a cash-desk taking money from swimmers (Carter and McCarthy, 2011). One of them recounts to the other:

I was in, reading FHM on the sun-lounger, happy as hell.

The metaphor employed in this sentence, ‘happy as hell’, is a good example of CLV. In itself, ‘happy as hell’ actually stretches the definition of metaphor since there are no obvious attributes of ‘hell’ (think ‘hot’, ‘firey’, ‘miserable’) that match the adjective ‘happy’. Instead of being built up from its component parts, the expression is therefore better explained as a variation on older, more fitting metaphors: ‘hot as hell’, perhaps, or ‘brutal as hell’.

If you do a web search (using a Google-based tool like WebCorp) for examples of ‘_ as hell’ you get the following among the top 60 hits:

mad as hell’ (6 hits)
creepy as hell’ (5)
cold as hell’ (3)
hot as hell’ (2)
hard as hell’ (2)
sexy as hell’ (2)
old as hell’ (2)
brutal as hell’ (2)
crazy as hell’ (2)
confusing as hell’ (1)
ugly as hell’ (1)
Hollywood as hell’ (1) 

Of course, some of these are more novel than others, and some are more pleasing (my favourite is ‘Hollywood as hell’), but all are good examples of CLV in action.

A phrase like ‘keep calm and carry on’ gives rise to even more creative possibilities. If you do the same search, this time for expressions of the form ‘keep calm and _ on’, you get the following among the top 60 hits:

keep calm and carry on’ (5)
keep calm and teach on’ (3)
keep calm and invest on’ (3)
keep calm and fight on’ (3)
keep calm and dream on’ (2)
keep calm and marry on’ (2)
keep calm and soldier on’ (2)
keep calm and Karey on’ (2)
keep calm and tweet on’ (2)
keep calm and Carrie on’ (1)
keep calm and conform on’ (1)

Some of the variations deviate little in terms of meaning (‘soldier on’); some echo the wartime routes of the original (‘fight on’); some add a subtle subversive spin (‘conform on’); and, some pun directly on the verb being replaced – at the same time creating new verbs from proper nouns (‘Carrie’ and ‘Karey’). But, all are good examples of creative linguistic variation.

You can do the same search for ‘keep _ and carry on’, now looking for instances of the adjective ‘calm’ being replaced. This time, you will find examples of CLV including ‘keep clean and carry on’ (2) and ‘keep cool and carry on’ (2). And, finally, if you look for more wholesale creative variations, searching for instances of ‘keep calm and _’, you will hit examples including:

keep calm and visit our shop’ (2)
keep calm and make tea’ (1)
keep calm and visit New York’ (1)

And, my personal favourite:

keep calm and stop making keep calm posters’ (1)

Of course, as Veale points out in his book, novelty is not enough when it comes to making such variations. There is very obviously an art to creating pleasing expressions like ‘keep calm and stop making keep calm posters’. As Veale says:

A truly creative variation is a delicate balance of the novel and the familiar, of the appropriate and the inappropriate. If words seem to be in the wrong place, then they are in the wrong place at the right time. A creative variation is not just any novel combination of familiar elements, but a deliberate departure from a convention that is given a distinctive and knowing twist.

In his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, George Orwell famously expresses his hatred of ‘dead metaphors’. He even pleads with authors to avoid them, even if they are not yet dead, but only just going stale (Orwell, 1946). One of the golden rules for writing, he says, is:

Never use a metaphor, simile or figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

His point was a valid one: that, in political debate, the metaphors people use can influence, for better or for worse, the way in which we view the world. But what Orwell missed was that, when it comes to the everyday linguistic creativity, dead metaphors – as much as any well worn turn of phrase – are actually a fantastic source of novelty.

So next time you feel your prose is missing something, just remember the productive art of creative linguistic variation. In other words: keep calm, and jazz it up.



Carter, R. and Mccarthy, M. (2011). Talking, Creating. In Li Wei (ed.) The Routledge Applied Linguistics Reader (pp. 202-227). Oxon: Routledge.
Orwell, G. (1946) Politics and the English Language. Horizon, 13, 252-265.
Veale, T. (2012) Exploding the Creativity Myth: The Computational Foundations of Linguistic Creativity. London: Bloomsbury.


‘Strictly’ Speaking: The Classical Art of the Prime Time Talent Show

ImageSad grown-ups like me that find themselves stuck at home on a Saturday night will find their televisions awash with talent shows. Depending on the time of year, they’ll have the dizzying choice between ‘X-Factor’, ‘Dancing On Ice’, ‘America’s Got Talent’, ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, ‘The Voice’, as well as countless imitations. The clear winner in my household is the BBC’s long running ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – the equivalent of ABC’s ‘Dancing with the Stars’ in the States. I admit it. I find myself glued to ‘Strictly’ – as it is affectionately known by its legion of fans – each and every week.

But, personally, I don’t just watch Strictly Come Dancing for the glitter and the sequins – I’m just as interested in the language of its commentators. Because, as I hope I can show, Strictly firmly follows a linguistic tradition which is more than 2000 years old. Let me explain.

All of these talent shows rely on their, hand-picked panels of expert ‘judges’ – their Simon Cowells, Piers Morgans and Sharon Osbournes. With Strictly, it’s a well turned out quartet of former professional dancers and choreographers: Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Bruno Tonioli, and Craig Revel-Horwood. As in all of these shows, the judges are there to pass comment on the relative performances, for better or worse, of the contestants.

But Goodman et al are not just there for their in depth knowledge of the cha-cha-cha. They are there to entertain – and a key part of that is the language that they use. I want to convince you that, when it comes to the ancient art of public speaking (oratory), Strictly’s panel of judges are right up there with the Greeks and Romans.

For the citizens of 5th Century Athens, the art of public speaking and the ability to persuade others with words (rhetoric) were critical skills to have (Leith, 2011). As a result, large numbers of tutors-for-hire – the sophists – made a handsome living teaching young men how to argue taxation policy in the General Assembly and defend themselves in the Courts. These sophists knew the power of a well formed sentence or a carefully placed word. As one of the first teachers of rhetoric, Gorgias, put it: ‘The effect of speech upon the condition of the soul is comparable to the power of drugs over the nature of bodies.’ Later, the Romans carried on the teaching tradition. The politician Cicero wrote at length on the subject of oratorical style.

Generations of these sophists (and, later on, their Roman cousins) spent many a happy hour carefully categorizing and cataloguing the various figures that could be used by the canny orator to decorate their speech. A ‘figure’ is basically any striking or unusual arrangement of words (Lanham, 1991): they are perhaps best thought of as any combination of words employed as linguistic ‘ornament’ to raise a sentence or passage above the dry and the literal.

There are hundreds of these ‘figures pedantical’, as Shakespeare once called them, with their often beguiling Greek and Latin names: auxesis, asyndeton, chiasmus, hyperbole, and so on. The Bard himself would have spent a good deal of his Grammar school education in Stratford-Upon-Avon having such terms drilled into him.

And, we still all learn a few of them in poetry class: metaphor, simile and alliteration, anyone? As for the rest, the best place to find them is in scholarly tomes like ‘A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms’ (Lanham, 1991), or in one of the various repositories on the web.

In ancient Greece and Rome (in the absence of Saturday night TV) speeches were often given, simply, to entertain. People would happily listen for hours to toga’d speakers, down at the Arena, waxing lyrical about – for example – how beautiful Helen of Troy was. So, for these Saturday night entertainers of the classical world, knowing when and how to use these figures was an important skill in moving, persuading, and entertaining their listeners…

2000 years on, the art of oratory is alive and well. Listen to the judges of Strictly, on any given Saturday, and you’ll hear them use many of these figures.

To illustrate my point, here are just a few examples of the various rhetorical figures I picked out from the shows’ two opening episodes of 2013. I hope they show that, when it comes to the classical art of oratory, not just their dancing skills, Goodman and Tonioli are up there with Cicero and Gorgias.

Metaphor (Changing a word from its literal meaning to one not properly applicable but analogous to it)

That was chicken soup to the eyes. It was tasty, satisfying, and did me the world of good.’ – Len Goodman
Through the darkest clouds, a ray of sunshine appears!’ – Len Goodman

Simile (Making an explicit comparison)

I thought it was going to be like a sneeze. You know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it.’ – Len Goodman
It was a bit like a ride on a budget airline…’ – Len Goodman
I thought you were wriggling like a slug in salt.’ – Craig Revel Horwood
It was like watching the leaning tower of Pisa.’ – Craig Revel Horwood
You were like stonehenge: you look magnificent, but you don’t move much.’ – Len Goodman

Tricolon (Use of a three-unit pattern, common in many prose styles)

But, nice. I enjoyed it. Well done.’ – Len Goodman
You had the fire. You had the flair. You had the attack.’ – Bruno Tonioli
Yes, it’s earthy. It’s strong. It’s masculine.’ – Darcey Bussell
You’re connected. You’re involved. You feel the music.’ – Bruno Tonioli
You came out. You gave it your best shot. You did it with conviction.’ – Len Goodman

Alliteration (Recurrence of an initial consonant sound, and sometimes a vowel sound)

Serious, sexual, sensuous, and lyrical at the same time.’ – Bruno Tonioli
[Your Charleston] was limp, lame and lacklustre.’ – Craig Revel Horwood

Consonance (Resemblance of stressed consonant sounds where the associated vowels differ)

The cheeky cha-cha-cha, they say.’ – Len Goodman
There was lots of sugar, and not a lot of spice.’ – Darcey Bussell

Assonance (Resemblance of internal vowel sounds in neighbouring words)

Don’t lose it, Ben. Use it!’ – Len Goodman
You were as sharp as a lemon tart.’ – Len Goodman
There is plenty to fancy, Miss Clancy!’ – Bruno Tonioli
I thought it was loud and proud.’ – Len Goodman

Anaphora (Repetition of the same word, in a different or contrary sense, at the beginning of successive clauses or sentences)

Two dances down. So far, so fabulous!’ – Len Goodman

Antistrophe (Repetition of a word or words at the end of several clauses, sentences or verses)

Read all about it! This girl can shake it!’ – Bruno Tonioli

Hyperbole (Exaggerated of extravagant terms used for emphasis, but not literally)

Breathtaking!’ – Craig Revel Horwood

Palilogia (Repetition for vehemence or fullness)

I was, darling. I was moved.’ – Craig Revel Horwood
You’re a good dancer, Abby. You are.’ – Len Goodman
Do it right! Do it right!’ – Bruno Tonioli

Paranomasia (Punning, or generally playing on the sound or meaning of words)

More stagger than “Jagger”!’ – Len Goodman
You put the “go” in “tango”!’ – Len Goodman
Dragon versus drag-meat, darling!’ – Craig Revel Horwood
You put the “oo” in “smooth”.’ – Len Goodman

Ploce (Repetition of a word with new significance after the intervention of another word or words)

Talk about cooking up a storm: you were cooking up a stink!’ – Bruno Tonioli

Auxesis or Amplificatio (Generally cranking things up, linguistically)

Read all about it! This girl can shake it!’ – Len Goodman

[And, finally, just to show that even the presenters of the show are at it too…]

Epizeuxis (Repetition of a word with no other words in between)

Wow, wow, wow!’ – Tess Daly

Chiasmus (Inverting the order of repeated words or phrases)

Nice to see you, to see you nice!’ – Bruce Forsyth


Lanham, R. A. (1991) A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Leith, S. (2011) You Talkin’ To Me?: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. London: Profile Books.

Code-Switching: The Creative Art of Combining Languages (2)


If want to get creative, why stick to one language when you can play with two?…

Code-switching – the alternation between two or more languages, dialects or styles – is a well studied phenomenon, one that is found pretty much in every corner of the globe (Gardner-Chloros, 2009). It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that it also crops up in the media – in books, in film and in music – and not only in places where speaking two languages is the norm.

And, just as in real life, code-switching can be used as a means to a wide variety of artistic ends. Below are some of my favourite examples from literature, pop music, and cinema.


First of all, what about the written word?

Code-switching in literature has not yet been the subject of much research, although there have been recent efforts to change that. But in fact, on the printed page, it’s not uncommon for authors to borrow words from other languages – for example, to add a sense of the exotic or a particular foreign place.

An obvious way to make a narrative set in France more French, for example, is to add a few words of the lingo. Stephen Clarke’s witty culture-clash novel ‘A Year In The Merde’ makes a clever, if unsubtle, code-switch in the title. No surprise, peut-être, that it made it to the bestsellers list. And it works both ways. In his 2005 essay ‘Mon Angleterre’, French journalist Olivier Barrot makes many similar switches to English. Here he is talking about the British sense of à la mode:

‘Quant à deux des plus récents, des plus fashionable restaurants londoniens, le Spoon et le Sketch, ce sont…’
(‘As for two recent examples, of the most fashionable restaurants in London, The Spoon and the Sketch, are…)

More abstractly, code-switching at the lexical level can give a general sense of the alien and the strange. Few though have done this to the extent of Anthony Burgess. In his masterpiece ‘A Clockwork Orange’, Burgess borrows heavily from Russian to effectively create a new hybrid dialect for his violent protagonist, which he calls ‘nadsat’ (from the Russian word for ‘teenager’). As anyone who has read the book will know, it’s deliberately difficult and disorienting for the audience. Burgess gets switching right from the second line, where ‘droog’, for example, is from the Russian ‘drug’ (meaning ‘friend’):

 ‘There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip chill winter bastard through dry.’

Code-switching in literature is not a recent phenomenon. In Shakespeare’s ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’, for example, the pedantic schoolmaster Holofernes constantly switches from English to learned Latin. Language conservators rejoice(!): here is Holofernes having a go at the linguistically uncouth Armando (Act 5, Scene I):

‘I abhor such fanatical phantasimes, such insouciable and point-device companions, such rackers of orthography, as to speak ‘dout’ sine ‘b’, when he should say ‘doubt’, ‘det’ when he should pronounce ‘debt’: d, e, b, t, not d, e, t. He clepeth a calf ‘cauf’, half ‘hauf’; neighbour vocatur ‘nebour’, ‘neigh’ abbreviated ‘ne’. This is abhominable, which he would call ‘abominable’. It sinuateth me of insanie. Ne intelligis, domine? To make frantic, lunatic.’

Here code-switching, to and from the classical tongue, is a clever device to show Holofernes’ academic pedigree – and, more importantly perhaps, his desire to remind people of it.

And, arguably, code-switching can define a generation of literature. Aleksandr Pushkin, the founding father of Russian literature, mostly spoke French at home with his aristocratic parents (it’s quite likely that he learned Russian from the domestic servants). It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that he often code-switches between the two languages in his writing. In his famous short story, ‘The Queen of Spades’, he makes ten or so switches to French, not including those in the dialogue between characters. At the funeral of the Countess, for example, he writes:

‘No one wept: tears would have been une affectation.’

According to the translator of the passage, Robert Chandler, one of Pushkin’s great achievements as a writer ‘to make use of every possibility available to him: colloquial Russian, Church Slavonic and borrowings from French, German and English’ (Chandler, 2005).  In discussing the evolution of Russian literature in general, Chandler goes on to argue that the greatest literature arises from ‘marriages – or battles – between different cultures’. In other words, just as Shakespeare borrowed from Latin, French and Italian, and so on, so did Pushkin, Dostoyevsky and others to forge a new Russian literary language in the 19th Century. Code-switching was the linguistic means to do just that.


Code-switching in film is also not a recent phenomenon. Bollywood is perhaps the classic example, where Hindi/Punjabi-English has been common practice for a long time (Sailaja, 2011). However, now even some Hollywood directors, such as Mel Gibson, are doing it (Barnes, 2012).

In the cinema, code-switching can serve the same purpose as in literature – to give a sense of the foreign or the alien (take Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, for example). But, on screen, code-switching can also be used more-directly to present a genuine linguistic reality. Because of the possibility of subtitles, if you want to render code-switching as a genuine reflection of the speech community in which the film is set, you can just get the actors to code-switch and translate in words the bits the audience won’t understand. An obvious example is the internationally acclaimed ‘Monsoon Wedding’ from 2001. Would the movie have been quite so rich and sumptuous, I wonder, if it weren’t for the constant code-switching between languages?

But, probably my favourite film to feature code-switching, because it so neatly captures my own time as a foreign student abroad, is ‘L’Auberge Espagnole’. The film’s characters – all Erasmus students from across Europe thrown together for a year in a run-down apartment in Barcelona – constantly alternate between French, Spanish and English. If you exchange Spanish for German and Swiss-German (I was living in the Swiss city of Lausanne) that’s pretty much my experience too.

Pop Music

Finally, what about code-switching in popular music?

In the pop charts of the English speaking world, foreign language music is perhaps as rare as clothes in a Rihanna video – much to the chagrin of high school teachers looking to enthuse their students about learning languages. However, a sprinkling of a foreign language in an otherwise Anglophone record can arguably help it stand out from the crowd. As a result, in the competitive world of the Billboard charts,  a degree of code-switching is more common than you might think.

For example, how about the Anglo-Spanish ‘Macarena’ by Los Del Rio, an international hit in 1995? Here’s the last verse, featuring some substantial intra-sentential switching, just oozes sun, san and sangria:

‘Come and find me, my name is Macarena
Always at the party con las chicas que son buena

Or how about Kylie Minogue’s ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’ from her 1988 debut album? The chorus is no work of poetry, but just think what it would be like without the code-switching to the language of love:

‘I still love you
Je ne sais pas pourquoi
I still want you
Je ne sais pas pourquoi’

Of course, code-switching is not limited to the British and American charts. Elsewhere, it’s arguably more prevalent. For example, outside of the Anglophone pop world, a sprinkling of English can give the song a more international or Western flavour.

A few hours watching music television in a Beijing hotel room, recently, was enough to convince me that this sort of code-switching is pretty common in the Mandarin pop world. One song that caught my ears was the  ‘920’, a hit in 2012 by the Taiwanese singer A-Lin. The catchy chorus features the line:

‘yongyuan zai wo de xinzhong turning and running
(‘forever, the centre of my heart is turning and running’)

The canny singer also happily rhymes the English ‘fly away’ and ‘I don’t know why I wanna cry’ with whole lines of Mandarin. ‘Landing’ by artist Naluwan, was another catchy tune I picked out featuring the simple line:

‘Wo hao higher
(‘I’m so high’)

And finally, who can forget the international sensation, ‘Gangnam Style’, which ruled the pop world in 2012. Was it the (albeit brief) switch to English in the refrain or the catchy dance routine that made the song such a hit for Korean singer PSY? I know which I’d put my money on…


Barnes, L. (2012) The role of code-switching in the creation of an outsider identity in the bilingual film. Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research, 38, 247-260.
Chandler, R. (ed.) 2005. Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida. London: Penguin Books.
Gardner-Chloros, P. (2009) Code-Switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sailaja, P. (2011) Hinglish: code-switching in Indian English. ELT Journal, 65, 473-480.

National Public Radio (NPR) has just started a fascinating blog about code-switching, which is well worth checking out.