Functions of code-mixing

Rafiya Begum, Microsoft Research India

So far on this blog, we have seen many examples of code-mixing that occurs frequently among bilingual and multilingual communities. A very interesting question is why people mix two languages (code-mix) or switch between two languages (code-switch).

I have come across school kids whose mother tongue is different from the medium of language (second language) used among friends in school. Since they spend so much time with friends, they code-mix their mother tongue and the language used among friends even when they are back home. This continues even when they grow up since they learnt this phenomenon of mixing or switching between languages from an early age. This sometimes gives a hilarious effect when they use words or phrases from another language into their native language even if the translations of those expressions are present in their native language. See the examples of Hyderabadi Urdu-English sentences below:

ten baje hai (It is ten o’clock)

tum log double meaning dialog bolke sata rai  (You are irritating me by saying double meaning dialogs)

In the above examples, ten and double meaning dialog (phrase) are from English and the rest of the part is in Urdu.

People change their speech in order to fit in with the person they are talking with. They code-switch when they have to talk about a particular topic or to change the context or to convey the identity of the person who is code-switching. People code-switch to show formality or their attitude to the listener and when certain words are lacking in a language they get those words from another language.

Here is an example of code-switching between Hyderabadi Urdu and Telangana Telugu.

Urdu                            Telugu

arey suno miyaa… naaku  ii  pani  iiyaradey?

(Hey, listen Mister …. Can’t you give this work to me?)

In the above example, speaker is switching from Hyderabadi Urdu to Telangana Telugu in the same conversation. The speaker is using Urdu to grab the attention of the listener or address the listener and then switches to Telugu to express the actual matter. The switching location between two languages is called as switch point and it carries a lot of significance. In other words, we can say that the purpose information behind the switching is carried by the switch point. Switch points represent various code-switching categories. Looking at the Twitter code-switched Hindi-English tweets we observed the following categories which are divided into two types, i.e., Pragmatic and Structural.


Fact to opinion switch is where speakers switch languages when they are switching from expressing facts to opinions. They switch to another language for reinforcing a positive or a negative sentiment/opinion expressed in a language. In Sarcasm, a simple opinion about a particular topic is expressed in a language and a switch to another to express a sarcastic opinion about the same. Quotations, which are often employed to express opinions, are stated in the original language, while the context or fact might be stated in another language. Cause-Effect switch is used to express the reason or cause in one language and effect in another. In Translation, a fact or opinion expressed in one language is translated to the other language, perhaps for reinforcement or wider reach of the tweet.


In Reporting-Speech, we observed that often Hindi is used to quote real conversations which took place in Hindi while the reporting part is in English. The conversations may be in quotes, and the reporting may contain specific English cue words such as ‘say’, ‘ask’, ‘think’, ‘tell’, etc. The other examples of code-switching are use of wishes, greetings and addressing in one language (usually English) and then switching to another.

If you want to know more about the functions of code-switching, you can refer to the following paper:

Begum, R., Bali, K., Choudhury, M., Rudra, K., Ganguly, N. (2016). Functions of Code-Switching in Tweets: An Annotation Scheme and Some Initial Experiments. In Proc. LREC.


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