By Fatchul Mu’in


We may refer to a language or a variety of a language as code. This is useful because it is neutral. This is to say that such terms as language, standard language, dialect, style, speech level, register, pidgin, Creole, and the other variety of the language can be called as codes. In other words, the term code is meant to refer to one of the varieties in language hierarchy. If a language is a variety of human languages, we, for example, will know that English, Javanese, Banjarese, Arabic, and Indonesia languages respectively, are codes. In reality a language has a number of varieties, and its varieties (dialect, style, pidgin, Creole, speech level, register, etc) are also referred to as codes. In this relation, Fishman states that each language variety can be identified its sound systems, vocabularies, grammatical features, and meaning (Fishman, 1972:5).

What is a Code Switching

According to William F. Mackey, bilingualism is a relative concept. Being a relative concept, it involves the questions of degree, function, alternation, and inteference.

If a code switching is conducted by a bilingual speaker, it involves the question of function: ”What does he use his languages for?. What role have his languages played in his total pattern of behavior?”. The discussion on the question of function is related to the uses of his languages in the speech community. For instance, a speaker will use one of his languages in his family environment; and he will use the other in the other social environments such as school, market, etc.

This aspect of bilingualism is closely related to the question of alternation:” To what extent does he alternate between his languages? How does he change from one language to the other, and what conditions?”. This discussion on the question of alternation is concerned with code-switching/code-mixing and its influencing factors such as partcipants, topics, etc.

The use of language in a situation of bilingualism and/or multilingualism often involves the problems of who speaks, what language, to whom and when (Fishman, 1972:244). In such situation, we often look at a speaker changes his language or a variety of the same language for one to another. This language change depends on a situation or a necessity of using a language or its varieties.

When a language is regarded as a system of code, the language change from one to another is known as a code switching. For instance, a speaker uses Indonesian language, and then he changes it to the other one. This language phenomenon is known as a code switching.

However, as illustrated above, there may be some possibilities of language varieties of the same language either in the forms of dialects, speech levels, styles or registers. Also, as steted above, all languages and/or varieties are known as codes. In this relation, the concept of code switching covers a switching of one language to another, that of one dialect to another, that of one speech level to another, that of one style to another, and that of one register to another.

Nababan argues that the concept of code switching involves a speech event in which one changes a functional style (for instance, an informal one) to another (for instance, a formal one), or changes a dialect to another one (1984:31).

Furthermore, as it is known, Javanese language has what we call the complex speech levels. Therefore, the concept of code switching can be extended to be the change of one speech level to another. This kind of code switching occurs, for instance, at the time someone speaks in the language using a formal and honorofic speech level (krama), and suddenly he changes it to Indonesian language in a formal style, and he returns again to krama, then to ngoko, and at last he uses Indonesia language, etc.

The concept of code switching is distinguished from that of the code mixing. The former occurs because of various factors: participants (who speaks and to whom he speaks), topics he talks (discusses), channels of communication he uses, and purposes he intends. In this relation, Fishman argues that uses of two or more languages and/or varities of the same language is influenced by ” Who speaks, What language, to Whom, and When (1972). In the other side, Istiati Soetomo states that the code switcing is determined by speaker’s communicative consideration. The communicative consideration is taken based on the fact that in speech event he is always influenced by the cultural, social, personality, and behavioral subsystems of the human action system (1985:26).

The code mixing refers to a speech situation in which a speaker mixes two or more language or varieties of the same language in a speech act without determined factors; he behaves in such a way for his sake of easiness; or it is as his habit to use mixing languages (1985:88).

Notes for Further Explanation on Code Switching

Dell Hymes (in Gumperz and Hymes, 1972 : 59-65) states the speech are in the sixten components, being grouped together under the letters of the word SPEAKING. SPEAKING here stands for (S)etting, (P)articipants, (E)nds, (A)act sequence, (K)ey, (I)nstrumentalities, (N)orms, and (G)enres. The further explanation is as follows:

The first letter is S covering setting and scene; setting refers to the time and place of a speech act and, in general, to the physical environment, and refers to the psychlogical setting or the cultural definition of an occasion as a certain type of scene. The second one is P referring to speaker or sender of message, addressor, hearer/receiver/audience, and addressee. The third one is E referring to ends as goal and as outcomes. The fourth one is A referring to act sequence consisting of message form and message content. The fifth one is K referring to key that is introduced for the tone, manner, or spirit in which an act is done. The sixth one is I referring to instrumentalities; it covers channels and forms of speech. A channel is a choice of oral, written, telegraphic, semaphore, or other medium of transmission of speech; while, a form of speech refers to a variety of language. The seventh one is N referring to norms; they cover the norm of interaction and that of interpretation. The last one is G referring to genres. By genres are meant categories such as poem, myth, tale, proverb, riddle, curse, prayer, oration, lecture, commercial, editorial, etc.

A speaker will select one of the multiple languages and/or varieties of the same language available within the linguistic repertoire (referring to a totality of a language and its varieties) of a speech community and interaction strategies in any specific context. Knowing the alternatives and the rules for appropriate choice from among them are part of speaker’s communicative competence. This one will determined that he will use one of the languages or the varieties of the same language in accordance with the domain in which a speech act occurs (Troike and Blackwell. 1986: 52). As a consequence, when he speaks in one domain using English language, he may changes his code to another in another domain. (add explanation based on wardhaugh?)

Factors determining domains may include the general subject under discussion (in religion, education, family, etc), the role-relationships between the participants (e.g. mother-daughter, boss-secretary), and the setting of the interaction (e.g. mosque, home, office) Troike and Blackwell. 1986 : 56)

To understand more about Dell Hymes’ components of speech covered in an abreviation of SPEAKING above, we may need a further explanation. In this relation, we can start from a certain speaker (from non-English speaking countries) who were trained in English (and have a mastery of English) uses English when discussing, lecturing, and publishing about linguistics in English. The speech act is conducted in front of his own students, although they are not fluent in that language. In the illustration, we can note two components of speech: partcipants (speaker and his audience), and a form of speech (a kind of language he is using).

The language choice (at the same the code switching occurs) is primarily in line with the topic he discusses. Discussing the topic, he uses English and does not use his own language. T his speech act can be interpreted that (1) the topic is linguistics, (2) the participants involved have communicative competence in English, and (3) the topic and participants determine the speaker to use English because of the audience. This may be because the participants (especially, the speaker) do not know the necessary terminology in their national language, or because they have come to believe it is more appropriate to use English to talk such sujects as grammatical analysis, and even to use English examples rather than their own Indonesian Language. In this case, it can be said that topic is often a primary diterminants of language choice (code switching of one language to another) in bilingual or multilingual contexts; bilingual speaker have often learned about some topics through the medium of one language and other topics through the medium of the second, and thus may only know the vocabulary to discuss a topic in one of their languages, or feel it is more ”natural” to use one language for the particular topic.

In almost different view, Istiati Soetomo (1985:2) states: “ If a bilingual speaker will send a message to his listener, he will meet two factors. First, it is the factor on the speaker’s competence of language system. In this relation, can he distinguish and select each of the language system, so that when he uses one of the languages, the other language system does not influence his speech act? If he is incompetent, while he uses one of two languages, the other one may be involved in his speech. This results in interference and/or code-switching/code-mixing. On the other side, if he is competent to separate one system from another when he uses one of two languages, it means that his speech act is in a single language; he does not make interference, code switching or code mixing.

Second, it is the consideration on communication. A man as a means of communication uses a language in his effort to interact one with another. In reality, he is not free from rules of using language agreed by speech communities in which he lives and interact with the other members of the community in accordance with the values (way of life). This consideration will determine whether he will use a single-language, make interference, switch code or mix code”.


Based on the discussion above, we can conclude that:

1. A monolingual speaker of a language may conduct code switching in the forms of the changes of (a) a dialect to another, (b) a speech level to another, (c) a style to another, and (d) a register to another of the same language.

2. Other than those conducted by a monolingual speaker, a bilingual speaker may conduct code switching in the form of the change of a language to another.

3. Factors determining code switching are : (a) participants (who speaks and to whom he speaks), (b) topics he talks (discusses), (c) channels of communication he uses, (d) purposes he intends, (e) cultural system covering the aspects of constitutive symbol, of cognitive symbol, of expressive symbol, and of evaluative symbol, (f) social system covering status-role relationship, (g) personality system covering psycholical aspects of a speaker such attitude, identity, etc.


1. ”Speakers may have communicative competence in using two or more varieties (say, regional dialects) and in their speech act they select from among regional varieties in their repertoire depending on which geographical area.” In relation to code switching, how will they switch from one to another?

2. Mention some factors determining code switching and then relate them to a certain speaker conducting some speech acts in some domains! Illustrate his/her speech acts by referring to codes he/she uses!

3. Some presenters of some radio stations often use more one code. Try to listen the radio programs. Identify what codes does the presenter use in his/her speech act; what factors determining his/her code switching phenomenon!

1 Comment

  • agus wijayanto

    Hello Mr. Muin
    It’s an interesting article. I was just wondering how would you explicate the phenomena of code switching/mixing in terms of Hymes’ ethnograpic scheme. You qouted:”The code mixing refers to a speech situation in which a speaker mixes two or more language or varieties of the same language in a speech act without determined factors; he behaves in such a way for his sake of easiness; or it is as his habit to use mixing languages (1985:88)”.
    It sems that Hymes’ SPEAKING could contradict to this part: ” without determined factors; he behaves in such a way for his sake of easiness.” . My next question is how could you infer that code switching/mixing is equited to code choice?
    Thank you.

    a bilingual may use two or more languages alternately. if the use of them is based on one or more factors, he conducts what we call code switching. Code switching and code mixing involves code choice. He chooses another language when he switch from or mix with the language he uses before.

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