Codeswitching in Academic writing

Hi, I’m Seumas and I’m a chronic codeswitcher.


Code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages or language varieties in a single discourse event. It’s not a bad thing necessarily, indeed when I was in Mongolia and speaking with competent bilinguals, codeswitching made a lot of sense – there were just words and expressions that were better of not being translated to enforce monolingualism in a single conversation.

But it is a problem when it comes to academic writing. My thesis work involves a far bit of working with Greek and Latin, and I work on the assumption that anyone dealing with my writing in these fields (certainly my examiners) ought to have at least the competency in these two languages that I do. It is thus fairly natural to code-switch a lot of Latin phrases, and Greek ones, into my English writing.

Personally, this goes beyond a string of Latin idioms, id est, ad hoc, ipssissima verba, καὶ τὰ λοιπά. I find myself prone to wanting to start a sentence in English and finish it with a whole clause in Latin.

Generally I resist, or edit out, such tendencies. Because a written document has less control over its readership and less possibilities of ‘clarification’ than an oral conversation. Almost everything I want to say can be said in English, if I make the effort to phrase it in English. Restricting my writing to a single language broadens my theoretical audience and generates a less cumbersome text. And certainly one ought to avoid those monstrous texts of the polyglot codeswitch addicts, who begin in English, wander into allusions and citations of Greek and Latin verse, and then add commentary in French and German. Assuming an audience of pentalingual readers does not a work for posterity make.

So I’m doing my best to keep my ὁ Χριστὸς κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρωπινόν and qui secundum hominem secondum Deum in duobus naturis una res est to a minimum. If you knew the struggle, you’d thank me for it.

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