Some wheres and whys in bilingual codeswitching: Directionality, motivation and locus of codeswitching in Russian-Hebrew bilingual children

Rina Raichlin, Joel Walters, Carmit Altman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Aims and objectives: Differences in directionality, motivations and locus of codeswitching have been reported for children’s codeswitching, but these constructs have not been subjected to experimental study in order to examine how they may interact. This study investigated these variables in bilingual preschool children’s codeswitching. Methodology: Thirty-two Russian-Hebrew bilingual children (mean age 6;3) performed two tasks: Retelling of narratives manipulated for setting/topic and listener and Conversation with a bilingual adult. Retelling conditions included a Russian story retold to a Hebrew-speaking puppet, a Hebrew story retold to a Russian speaking puppet and a Mixed language story retold to a bilingual puppet. The Conversation task involved responses to questions in Russian, Hebrew and codeswitched speech about holidays and activities at home and in preschool. Data and Analysis: All children’s speech was audio recorded and transcribed using CHILDES conventions for data transcription. Codeswitched utterances were coded for the following: Directionality (Hebrew-to-Russian/Russian-to-Hebrew); Motivation (psycholinguistic/sociopragmatic); and Locus (intra-utterance/cross-speaker). Results: Overall children produced more codeswitching from Russian to Hebrew and did so more for psycholinguistic motivations (to maintain fluency or to overcome difficulties in lexical access). Originality: High rates of codeswitching occurred in this study, ranging from 15% to 22% for Conversation and Retelling, respectively (calculated as codeswitched instances per utterance). This high rate may be attributed to the experimental nature of the tasks, which intended to elicit codeswitching in children’s speech. Significance: Drawing from Green and Wei’s processing model, findings regarding directionality and motivation are discussed in terms of connectivity and activation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-650
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number2
Early online date18 Mar 2018
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.


Carmit Altman’s research deals with language development in preschool bilingual children with and without impairment. She works on construction of assessment tools for screening preschool children’s early language development, including assessment of narrative abilities and their relation to sociolinguistic identity. Her research is currently funded by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF 863/14) and the Israel Ministry of Education. She is affiliated with the Child Development and School Counseling Programs in the School of Education at Bar-Ilan University. Joel Walters’ research in bilingualism bridges sociopragmatics and psycholinguistics. His present work examining narratives and social identity in a variety of contexts, including bilingual children with typical language development and SLI, bilingual adults recovering from aphasia and narrative intervention with children of refugees, asylum seekers and labor migrants. His research has been funded by the Israel Science Foundation, the German-Israel Research Foundation (GIF), the German Ministry of Education (BMBF) and the Israel Ministry of Education. He is Professor Emeritus from Bar-Ilan University and currently Chair of the Department of Communication Disorders at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem.

FundersFunder number
German Ministry of Education
German–Israel Research Foundation
Israel Ministry of Education
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
Israel Science FoundationISF 863/14


    • Codeswitching
    • Russian-Hebrew bilinguals
    • child bilingualism
    • directionality
    • preschool children
    • psycholinguistic motivations
    • sociopragmatic motivations


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