Voluntary Code Switching Costs Among Spanish-english Bilinguals

Open Access
Johnson, Marvin Hampton
Area of Honors:
Interdisciplinary in Psychology and Spanish
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Paola Eulalia Dussias, Thesis Supervisor
  • Rick R Jacobs, Honors Advisor
  • code switching
  • bilingualism
  • processing costs
  • lexical access
  • Spanish
A common occurrence among multilingual speakers is the switching of languages in the course of a conversation, even within a single phrase or sentence (e.g., Por favor, tráigame los groceries from the garage/ Please bring me the groceries from the garage). This phenomenon is known as code switching and is a focal point for researchers looking to better understand the way multilingual speakers process language. For example, one view holds that switching back and forth between languages is an inefficient process for the brain, described as a “switch cost”. While the results of these studies support the hypothesis that a switch cost exists, the researchers focused on “cued” switch costs. In doing so, the participants did not switch at will; rather, they were to switch as soon as they were constructed. Cued switching tasks are practical in that they allow for the researcher to better control switches and operationalize costs. However they present an inaccurate representation of how multilingual speakers code switch (they code switch at will, not on command). Therefore in the present study, Puerto Rican Spanish-English bilinguals were presented with a voluntary switching task. The participants completed a scene-matching task in which they described an image for a confederate to replicate. The participants were given a two-minute time limit in order to induce a pressure scenario. Code Switching frequencies were compared between the first minute of the task and the second minute in order to determine whether or not the participant code switches less when pressed for time and communication must be more efficient. If the participant persists in code switching, however, it would suggest that any mental cost of code switching either doesn’t exist or is negligible.