Linguistics and the Human Sciences, Vol 2, No 1 (2006)

Exploring Codeswitching in Systemic Functional Linguistics: Languages and Meaning-Making among Lao Speakers in Northeastern Thailand

Peter Vail
Issued Date: 12 Mar 2007


Codeswitching is a phenomenon well-studied in several branches of linguistics and anthropology, but one which has not been well integrated into a systemic-functional (SFL) approach. This paper aims to provide an empirical account of codeswitching with an SFL metafunctional framework based on ethnographic field research among Thai and Lao speakers in Northeastern Thailand. Codeswitching was found to have textual functions involving the organization and cohesion of oral texts produced in conversational interaction among multilingual speakers. Codeswitching was also found to produce interpersonal meaning, both within and above the level of the clause. Such meanings were produced through, among other things, the choice of pronouns and politeness markers. Less clear are codeswitching functions in ideation; because the transitivity systems of Thai and Lao are so similar, ideational functions are found more at the level of discourse. The ideational differences between Thai and Lao are argued to be connected to literacy, since Lao as used in Thailand lacks a literate mode and, consequently, the discourse types associated with it. Codeswitching was used to appropriate literate discourses of Thai into Lao through a strategy of simultaneity, and thereby validate Lao as a politically efficacious language.

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DOI: 10.1558/lhs.v2i1.133


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