This posting is about Linguistics – which, as I have said before, many people absolutely hate - probably because language is such an integral part of being human. But let that go.
I am taking a course from the Teaching Company about this, and the instructor, John McWhorter, is telling me more about Linguistics than I really wanted to know. But let that go too.
Today the class is about code switching: switching back and forth between two languages in the same sentence, or between sentences. This interests me because I have had a lot of exposure to people who spoke both English and Spanish. My ex’s family was bilingual and would frequently switch back and forth between the two on the telephone. I noticed they used Spanish when they were being subjective and emotional – but English when being more objective. But I never heard them code switch – something that is very common in New York City, with its many immigrants from the Caribbean.
Costa Rica used to have many speakers of English on its Caribbean coast – Black people. But this English is quickly dying out because Costa Rica does not support Black English – even though it is making a strong effort to teach all its children American English. No one seems to notice this contradiction.
Linguists have studied code switching – and almost broke out in fights over their theories on how this is done. The dominant theory is MLF which explains a lot – but every location has its variations.
I lived with a Tico family for five years, and Marielos learned enough English (Spanglish, really) so we could communicate about the basics. They expected me to learn Spanish, a reasonable expectation, but for a variety of reasons this never happened.
Costa Rica seems to be an area where code-switching seldom happens. Here you can speak Spanish and English, and can switch back and forth – but you don’t mix them up.
In the States, Spanish-speaking people are very aware that Spanish use is discouraged – and take great care in mixed company to not mix them up. My last girlfriend in California was Mexican-American, and spoke fluent Spanish that she was proud of – but was very careful to make it clear that she could speak both. Hispanic members of the police force find their Spanish is very useful – they probably use it to talk to their grandparents who were immigrants – and of course, to the drug dealers they arrest – but they wouldn’t dream of mixing them up.
Paranoia about immigrants is now common in the US and in Europe – and even, believe it or not, in Costa Rica – which, with its relatively affluent economy is full of immigrants, many of them illegal. They do not have a language problem – only a money problem.