Code-Switching or Code-Mixing? Tiwi Children’s Use of Language Resources in a Multilingual Environment

  • Aidan Wilson
  • Peter Hurst
  • Gillian Wigglesworth
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Minority Languages and Communities book series (PSMLC)


This chapter analyses the language used by children on the Tiwi Islands with reference to current theories around bilingualism and code-switching. The Tiwi Islands (northern Australia) are a complex linguistic area with Modern Tiwi, English and Kriol, an English-lexified creole, being commonly spoken. At the preschool stage of the children’s linguistic development, none of these languages appears to be a dominant matrix language as described by Myers-Scotton and Jake (Linguistics 33, 981–1024, 1995; International Journal of Bilingualism 4(1), 1–8, 2000). We argue that children can do more than just code-switch and instead utilise a basic, fairly uniform grammar alongside a repertoire of language-specific features which they draw upon freely. Such versatility is particularly useful in shaping language for an audience which itself has differing abilities in each of the languages.


Preschool children Translanguaging Multilingualism Language change Language choice Tiwi Islands, Australia 


  1. Di Sciullo, A.-M., Muysken, P., & Singh, R. (1986). Government and code-switching. Journal of Linguistics, 22, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ferguson, C. A. (1959). Diglossia. Word, 15(2), 325–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Jake, J. L., Myers-Scotton, C., & Gross, S. (2002). Making a minimalist approach to codeswitching work: Adding the matrix language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 5(01). doi: 10.1017/S1366728902000147.
  4. Jake, J. L., Myers-Scotton, C., & Gross, S. (2005). A response to MacSwan (2005): Keeping the matrix language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 8(03), 271. doi: 10.1017/S1366728905002300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Joshi, A. (1985). Processing of sentences with intrasentential code switching. In D. R. Dowty, L. Karttunen, & A. M. Zwicky (Eds.), Natural language parsing: Psychological, computational and theoretical perspectives (pp. 190–205). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Lee, J. R. (1987). Tiwi today: A study of language change in a contact situation. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.Google Scholar
  7. Meisel, J. M. (1989). Early differentiation of languages in bilingual children. In K. Hyltenstam & L. K. Obler (Eds.), Bilingualism across the lifespan: Aspects of acquisition, maturity and loss (pp. 13–40). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Myers-Scotton, C. (1993 [1997]). Duelling languages: Grammatical structure in codeswitching (1997 edition with a new afterword). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  9. Myers-Scotton, C., & Jake, J. L. (1995). Matching lemmas in a bilingual language competence and production model: Evidence from intrasentential code switching. Linguistics, 33, 981–1024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Myers-Scotton, C., & Jake, J. L. (2000). Testing the 4-M model: An introduction. International Journal of Bilingualism, 4(1), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. MacSwan, J. (2000). Bilingualism: Language and cognition the architecture of the bilingual language faculty: Evidence from intrasentential code switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3, 37–54.Google Scholar
  12. MacSwan, J. (2005a). Codeswitching and generative grammar: A critique of the MLF model and some remarks on “modified minimalism”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 8(1), 1–22. doi: 10.1017/S1366728904002068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. MacSwan, J. (2005b). Remarks on Jake, Myers-Scotton and Gross’s response: There is no “matrix language”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 8(3), 277–284. doi: 10.1017/S1366728905002312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Paradis, J. (2001). Do bilingual two-year-olds have separate phonological systems? International Journal of Bilingualism, 5(1), 19–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Poplack, S. (1980). “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence in Spanish y termino en Espanol”: Toward a typology of code-switching. Linguistics, 18, 581–618.Google Scholar
  16. Poplack, S. (1981). The syntactic structure and social function of code-switching. In R. Durán (Ed.), Latino language and communicative behavior (pp. 169–184). Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  17. Radford, A. (2007). Minimalist syntax revisited. Essex: Essex University.Google Scholar
  18. Simpson, J, Caffery, J., & McConvell, P. (2009). Gaps in Australia’s Indigenous language policy: Dismantling bilingual education in the Northern Territory. AIATSIS research discussion paper 24. Canberra: AIATSIS Research Publications.Google Scholar
  19. Smith, J. C. (2008). The refunctionalisation of first person plural inflection in Tiwi. In C. Bowern, B. Evans, & L. Miceli (Eds.), Morphology and language history: In honour of Harold Koch. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  20. Wilson, A. (2013). Tiwi revisited: A reanalysis of Traditional Tiwi verb morphology (Unpublished master’s thesis). Melbourne: The University of Melbourne.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aidan Wilson
    • 1
  • Peter Hurst
    • 2
  • Gillian Wigglesworth
    • 2
  1. 1.Intersect AustraliaSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations