Code-switching, constraints, and optimal grammars

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although several constraints have been proposed in the past to record the grammatical properties of code-switching, the claimed status of their 'universality' has often been questioned. This paper provides a comparative-syntactic account of the properties of code-switching among languages such as Kashmiri-English, Hindi-English, Kashmiri-Hindi, and the much discussed Spanish-English (Poplack, 1980; among others) and Swahili-English (Myers-Scotton, 1993a). Based on this cross-linguistic data, we propose universal constraints on code-switching which restrict the range of syntactic permutations of code-switches to all and only those that are grammatical. The proposal, couched in Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky, 1993), is premised on the assumption that the proposed universal constraints are prioritized: they are defeasible, but only in those contexts in which they conflict with another, presumably higher ranked, constraint. Under this proposal, the observed syntactic differences among languages involved in code-switching turn out to be a result of different (constraint-) ranking configurations opted by individual code-switching grammars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-251
Number of pages29
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Code-switching, constraints, and optimal grammars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this