Little research has been done on the way in which bilingual children acquire their first languages. This process – during which children acquire two languages simultaneously from birth – is known as bilingual first language acquisition (BFLA). Similarly, there is little research on the different language phenomena, such as code-switching, that can be observed when children acquire two closely related languages at once. Code-switching has not yet been investigated in a study involving Afrikaans-Dutch participants. Consequently, this study aimed to address this gap.
To describe the code-switching in the speech of the group mentioned above, novel language data of eight preschool children between the ages of 2;3 and 6;4 who are raised bilingually in Afrikaans and Dutch in South Africa were collected and analysed. The parent-report method was employed to collect the data, and the data collection period lasted approximately two months. In aggregate, 123 utterances containing code-switching were analysed for the study.
The study was undertaken within Steffen Höder’s (2014a) Diasystematic Construction Grammar (DCxG) because it provides a framework within which multilingual constructions can be analysed. DCxG is based on the general principles of traditional construction grammar (CxG) approaches but is specifically suited for analysing constructions that emerge from various language contact situations. As pointed out by Höder (2014a:138) and corroborated by Boas and Höder (2018:37) and Colleman (2018:146), language contact phenomena have only attracted the attention of a small number of construction grammarians in recent years. In fact, it also has a largely marginal status in prominent grammatical approaches. However, because of the ubiquitous nature of language contact phenomena (Boas & Höder, 2018:5), it cannot be excluded from grammatical approaches. From this perspective, DCxG was conceptualised.
The main idea purported by DCxG is that a multilingual speaker’s grammar consists of two different types of constructions, namely idioconstructions and diaconstructions (Höder, 2012, 2014, 2018). These constructions respectively refer to the constructions that are unique to a specific language (idioconstructions) and the constructions that capture the overlap or similarities of the different languages (diaconstructions). Thus, a diaconstruction is a form-meaning mapping representing the mutual influence of the two (or more) languages on each other. Firstly, diaconstructions are formed by a cognitive process in which a multilingual speaker makes an interlingual identification between two (or more) corresponding idioconstructions. After that, the similarities in form and/or meaning of the respective idioconstructions are abstracted to a schematic construction through a process of generalisation. Finally, the diaconstruction is entrenched in the multilingual speaker’s grammar.
The current study determined that the code-switching of the preschool, Afrikaans-Dutch participants mainly consists of intra-sentential code-switches (i.e., shifts that happen from one language or language variety to another in the middle of a word, phrase, or sentence) that take place on the (morfo-)lexical level. It was established that code-switching on the lexical level affects nouns more than any other part of speech, while verbs were affected the second most of all word classes. Furthermore, it was indicated that most of the constructions containing code-switching are structured in Afrikaans, with Afrikaans lexical items frequently being replaced with those from Dutch. Because of the overlap between Afrikaans and Dutch, these lexical items were mostly non-identical cognates (i.e., words that are etymologically related in Afrikaans and Dutch, but that differ graphemically) followed by the other two types of cognates that were identified, viz. non-cognates and false friends.