PLIN Seminars

2023 - 2024

Kate Bellamy (Leiden University) - Code-switching in nominal constructions: Evidence from three communities

Thursday, 7 March 2024, 13.00–14.00

Code-switching, or the use of two or more languages in the same conversation, occurs in many multilingual settings (e.g. Deuchar, 2012). Of particular interest are the exact points in the clause where code-switches occur, and which language contributes the different elements therein. These constraints vary as a function of many linguistic and extralinguistic factors, yet generalisations regarding these factors can be drawn across unrelated language pairs. Nominal constructions are a particularly common locus of switches (e.g. Eichler, Hager & Müller, 2012), whereby a noun from one language is inserted into a clause of another, as in example (1), where the Spanish noun manguera is inserted into an otherwise English clause.

(1) My mom got the manguera
     ‘My mom got the hosepipe’             (Parafita Couto, Bellamy & Ameka, 2023: 411)

In example (1), the Spanish noun can be inserted directly into the English clause. However, where the matrix language of the clause possesses grammatical gender, the inserted noun (which may or may not originate from a gendered language) must therefore be assigned gender. Previous codeswitching studies have identified three main gender assignment strategies in mixed nominal constructions: (i) the gender of the noun’s translation equivalent dictates assignment; (ii) phonological or orthographic cues from the language of the inserted noun influence gender assignment in the recipient language; and (iii) a default gender preference (often masculine) proliferates (for an overview, see Bellamy & Parafita Couto, 2022).

In this talk I will present the results of two experimental (one production and one judgement) tasks, and one corpus study from two diverse communities: P’urhepecha-Spanish bilinguals in Michoacán (Mexico), and Tsova-Tush-Georgian speakers in Zemo Alvani (Georgia). Both P’urhepecha and Georgian have no grammatical gender, while Spanish possesses a binary gender system (masculine and feminine) and Tsova-Tush has five-way classification (masculine human, feminine human, and three ‘neuter’ genders called B, D, J after the form of their agreement targets). Taken together, the findings of these studies indicate that task type plays a role in the type of gender assignment strategy applied (Bellamy, Parafita Couto & Stadthagen-González, 2018). They also support the claim that sequential bilinguals who acquired the gendered language first (here, the Tsova-Tush group) are more likely to prefer a translation equivalent strategy (e.g. López, 2020). 

I will also present the findings of a noun insertion study in Heritage Piedmontese (HP)- Spanish bilinguals in Argentina (Goria & Bellamy, accepted). Based on five hours of spontaneous speech, we find that in the majority of cases where a Spanish noun is inserted into a HP frame, the bare stem is used, with the addition of HP morphology occurring in only 10% of attested instances. This preference may be borne out of the typological similarity between the two languages involved.

To conclude, I will reflect on the bilingual bias of the majority of previous code-switching research. This will set the scene for a short presentation of my FNRS-funded project (to begin in 2026) on trilingual code-switching in heritage P’urhepecha communities in the USA.


Bellamy, K. & Parafita Couto, M.C. (2022). Gender assignment in mixed noun phrases: State of the art. In: Dalila Ayoun (Ed.), The Acquisition of Gender: Crosslinguistic perspectives. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 14-48.

Bellamy, K., Parafita Couto, M.C. & Stadthagen-González, H. (2018). Investigating gender assignment strategies in mixed Purepecha–Spanish nominal constructions. Languages 3(3): 28.

Deuchar, M. (2012). Code switching. In: C.A. Chappelle (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, Wiley-Blackwell.

Eichler, N., Hager, M. & Müller, N. (2012). Code-switching within determiner phrases in bilingual children: French, Italian, Spanish and German. Zeitschrift für französische Sprache und Literatur, 122: 227-258.

López, L. (2020). Bilingual grammar: Toward an integrated model. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Parafita Couto, M.C., Bellamy, K. & Ameka, F.K. (2023). Theoretical linguistic approaches to multilingual code-switching. In: Jennifer Cabrelli, Adel Chaouch-Orozco, Jorge González Alonso, Sergio M. Pereira Soares, Eloi Puig-Mayenco & Jason Rothman (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Third Language Acquisition and Processing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 403-436.

2022 - 2023

2021 - 2022