“As a second-language speaker of English, I have to code switch a lot between English and Chinese,” says Yichi “Stacy” Li ’17, of Chongqing, in southwest China.
Li will discuss code switching—the mixing of two or more languages in conversation—during a presentation at Centre’s upcoming RICE symposium highlighting student research, internships and creative endeavors.
Participating in RICE is a “fantastic opportunity” to practice public speaking, Li says.
“I have taken part in many speech competitions in China, but speaking in another language is a very different and exciting experience,” she adds.
Her RICE presentation came out of a paper, “Negotiating Characters: The Chinese-English Code-Switching Phenomena,” that she originally wrote for a linguistics class taught by Phyllis Bellver. An associate professor of Spanish, Bellver is also chair of the linguistics program.
“Dr. Bellver helped me a lot on my paper when I had problems understanding the hard articles,” says Li of her RICE mentor. “She told me what I should focus on and what not. She helped me so much.”
Li has already decided to minor in linguistics, although as a first-year student she has not yet declared a major.
“Linguists think that bilinguals appear to have both languages active in their brains at the same time, no matter which language they are consciously speaking,” she explains. “Bilinguals have the ability to control the parallel activity of the two languages and to choose the intended language that they want to use without consciously thinking about it.”
She was surprised to learn that code switching is not random, but follows certain linguistic rules. And it’s not just a verbal phenomenon. It also happens in writing, she notes.
Li loves language and says that she picks up accents easily. She speaks both her native Chongqing dialect and also Mandarin.
“I can imitate all kinds of different dialects in Chinese, and I do a pretty good job,” she says.
She began studying English at the age of 4, learning the grammar at school and pronunciation from American TV. In addition to English, she has also studied Spanish. Next semester she plans to start French. Since French is more widely used in China, she notes, it might be more helpful to her anticipated career as an interpreter.
“I think language is a fun thing to play with,” she says. “I enjoy the process of learning different languages.”
Li will make her presentation about language code switching on April 10 in Young 201 at 4:05 p.m.
The 2014 RICE symposium will be held April 10-11. It includes 61 oral presentations, 28 poster presentations and a musical performance. There is also an exhibition of artistic works in the AEGON Gallery of the Jones Visual Arts Center.
By Diane Johnson