In this blog I am attempting at linking the theoretical discussion and framework of code-switching as a linguistic phenomenon in CMC as discussed by Hinrichs 2015 to actual authentic examples from my recent personal experience of family loss and dealing with it, and the role of CMC in this regard. Due to cultural differences my examples my seem to have crossed the boundaries of what is unshareably intimate and private. However, in our Arabic culture, we are open to share our sentiments and our experiences of loss and pain with others, just like it is acceptable in another culture to talk about traumatizing experiences of being subjected to rape and sexual assault for example.
In his (2015) paper, Hinrichs proposes that written digital code switching (WDCS) is a product of globalization. He provides an account for code switching (CS) among multidialectal diasporic Jamaican bloggers as a stylistic/ linguistic practice rooted in social power and identities. He argues that WDCS, unlike CS in speech, is more carefully constructed and is marked by rhetoricity which, to him, means figurative language: a language conveying meaning which does not arise from direct reference to objects, but rather from imagery or “semiotic tropes such as metaphor, symbolism, iconicity, simile and metonym…” Figurative language is “more elaborate, unpredictable, creative and artful” requiring cognitive work and reflecting aesthetic principles. Rhetoricity reflects how multiple contrasting linguistic resources are combined in discourse.
Hinrichs cites Gumperz and explains how the latter differentiates between situational and metaphorical CS:
In situational CS, the bilingual/ bi-dialectal speakers/ writers choose the language/ dialect according to their addressee, topic, location, and other situational, psychological, emotional, social and cultural factors, following the bilingual community’s norms dictating which code would be appropriate. Situational CS, which is rare in digital discourse as Hinrichs argues, involves “a simple almost one-to-one relationship between language usage and social context”, de-emphasizing volitional switching. Situational CS is a reaction on the part of the speaker to changes in setting, topic, or addressee. Only few topics in CMD produce correlations with CS in predictable directions.
In metaphorical CS, speakers/ writers switch codes as if a feature/ variable of the situation (addressee, topic, location, etc.) has changed when in reality nothing has changed. Hinrichs argues that it is this type of CS that is used in CMC. It is a focusing device which works through contrast. In this type of CS, the meanings are constructed from “complex juxtapositions of intertextually embedded voices and stances” of others which we assimilate, rework and re-accentuate, according to both Bakhtin and Hinrichs. Hinrichs argues that construction of complex and hybrid voices is the most strongly rhetorical discourse function of CS in general.
Instead of dividing CS to situational and metaphorical, Hinrichs proposes categorizing types of switches into three types based on the notion of voice, intertextuality and heteroglossia. The first group consists of switches that construct meaning from contrast. The second and third groups are more rhetorical: the relation between the codes and the topic as well as the writer’s stance contribute to the interactional meaning.
In the first type, the switches signal to the reader that s/he needs to understand and contextualize stretches expressed in each language or variety differently. Switches between codes are not “jumps to external linguistic resources”; each code is rather an integral part of all the voices the speaker/ writer adopts or expresses.
The second type is the polyvocal CS, in which CS is used in contexts of intertextuality as a result of polyvocality. This type includes “switches through which either textual material form, of the voice of, an identifiable, concreate personal or textual source is integrated.” This includes switching for quotations, and quotations in turn serve different contextual and discourse purposes.
The third type, heteroglossic CS, refers to switches in which the other voice is an opaque source, not a concrete person or text. This type mostly manifests itself at the lexical level and indexes a sociocultural code. An example of this provided in the paper is when a young female narrates a story using one linguistic variety, and then comments on the story using another. This type of CS draws attention to the writer’s linguistic repertoire. Code switchers have access to a range of codes as diverse, different, and distant from one another, as the globalization nature of the communicative environments themselves. CS here reflects alternating between cultures. It is the most rhetorical and figurative type.
In conclusion, Hinrichs argues that the effect of globalization favor greater rhetoricity in WDCS behavior. “The transitional position of diasporic writers leads to more rhetoricity in diasporic writing…Electronic medium itself, as a site and agent of globalization, features rhetoricity.”
As we have seen the paper touches upon the notion of diglossia, which according to Fergurson is the co-existence of two mutually exclusive linguistic varieties of the same language in the same community. Arab communities in general are known to be diglossic with two forms or varieties of Arab, in addition to being bilingual or trilingual in some parts of the Arab world and among certain social groups. These two varieties of Arabic are selected by the speaker/ writer based on the situation, the topic, and the audience, etc. The two varieties are the Modern Standard Arabic MSA and the regional spoken dialect(s). MSA is the form used in writing books, newspaper and magazine articles, and official governmental forms. It is also the linguistic variety used for broadcasting the news on TV and the radio, in political or documentary programs, lecturing (though not always and not everywhere in the Arab world), formal religious ceremonies and other formal and official contexts in which education, politics, literature, or religion… is the core topic. Before the age of globalization and digital communication, writing in MSA was the sole medium for all genres and styles of writing including personal letters and journal entries. The regional spoken dialects which differ from one region to another and even from one socioeconomic stratum to another is (and had solely been before the age of CMC) the medium for conversations/ oral communication among people on everyday topics. Syria is no exclusion to this diglossic situation. Syrians grow up to a certain degree balanced bidialectal, exposed to the Syrian dialect(s) at home through communication with people around them, and to MSA at preschools and schools and through TV programs (including children program until not too long ago). What is interesting is that the beginning of the digital age marks also the beginning of a new linguistic era in which using spoken dialects for informal and personal communication has begun, especially in CMC. No studies are carried out yet to show if the total or partial replacement of MSA with spoken dialects in CMC is a mere coincidence or if it is one of the globalization’s results. Whatever the case is, the move from MSA only as the only means for writing to a mix of MSA and dialects marks a move from the wide socio-political notion of Arab nationalism to a narrower type of nationalism associated with one’s immediate home country and not the whole Arab world.
The paper also is centered on the notion of diaspora whose definition in Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a: the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland, b: people settled far from their ancestral homelands, and c: the place where these people live.” According to this definition, we can nowadays speak of the Syrian population outside Syria as a diaspora since they have been dispersed outside their home-land involuntarily as an aftermath of the Syrian revolution against the regime in March 2011 and the consequent barbaric atrocities that have been inflected by Assad regime and his allies on the Syrian civilians ever since, which forced more than four million Syrians according to UNHCR to flee the country and seek refuge in the neighboring countries first: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, and in Europe and the US later http://www.unrefugees.org/2015/07/total-number-of-syrian-refugees-exceeds-four-million-for-first-time/?gclid=CjwKEAjw7ZHABRCTr_DV4_ejvgQSJACr-YcwqGsVqonNnITMYw1xal47am73r0iHjiySXhzDXx7MzxoCbX7w_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds
For the past five years, the emergence of Syrian dialects has been substantially noticeable in CMC and the use of Syrian Arabic has rapidly and enormously expanded in the CMC of the Syrian diaspora. Parallel to the actual Syrian revolution which took place on the Syrian soil and which was mainly manifested by peaceful protests of civilians followed by a merciless war waged by Assad and his allies on the Syrian civilians, is a world-wide digital Syrian revolution in which all Syrians opposing the regime participated through Facebook posts, blogs, online magazines, YouTube videos and smart phone applications like Whatsapp and Viber among others in support of their fellow Syrians at home. Millions of pictures, videos, and posts have been circulating among Syrians on these platforms. Code switching from MSA to Syrian Arabic is always present in CMC among Syrians. They make a choice with every post, blog, article or comment between using MSA and Syrian Arabic. In addition to using other languages of course, depending on the audience, the type of message, the emotional status of the writer and other psychological, cultural and social factors.
In addition to these national stories and narrations, and the detailed records of and commentaries on the revolution, the resulting war, the socio-political complications, and the humanitarian crisis, there are always the personal and intimate stories of everyday happenings which family members and friends from different parts of the world share and comment on, on Facebook pages and WhatsApp. Even in this type of CMC code switching between MSA and Syrian Arabic exists.
On a personal level, and to give one concrete example, I have been an active user of Facebook and a participant in two WhatsApp groups: one including my immediate family in different parts of the world (Missouri, Massachusetts, Istanbul, Damascus, and Riyadh) and the second includes all my female friends in New Jersey the majority of whom are Syrians. The main topic of these two groups in addition to my posts and comments on Facebook since Friday September 30, 2016 was the passing of my sister in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The purpose of my blog is not to share my agony but rather to show how digital communication in the age of globalization which has coincided with the emergence and expansion of the Syrian diaspora has changed our customs and traditions relating to the circulation of and reacting to the news of a family death. My purpose is also to provide an example of how code switching is integrated into this kind of communication.
Circulating and reacting to a family or friend decease involves four emotionally charged social communicative acts:
2. Expressing sadness and loss (and even sometimes provoking sympathy)
3. Offering condolences and expressing sympathy
4. Offering gratitude and thanks to those who have expressed condolences
If we go a decade ago, before the wide spread of CMC and before the Syrian revolution and the resulting Syrian diaspora (this is still the practice inside Syria today whenever possible), when a family member passes away, there were two ways of informing family and friends: phone calls to the closest and most immediate members who on their part start reaching others in the social network of the deceased, followed by a hundred or so one-page printed obituary which are glued on walls of the buildings where the deceased and his family live and work. The phone conversations are carried out in Syrian Arabic naturally, however the obituary is typed in MSA.
Expressing sadness and loss on the one hand, and offering sympathy and condolences on the other were offered in person during three-day-gatherings at the house of the deceased following the burial ceremony. The main medium is again Syrian Arabic and the only presence of MSA is limited to some short formal condolence-offering clichés and to some citations from the Quran or quotations from the Prophet’s Hadith.
Today, the means and methods for carrying out these communicative acts have changed. Members of my family outside Riyadh, including myself, have been informed of my sister’s passing via a post on WhatsApp. Acts of mourning have been digitalized. All other related communications have been circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp. Syrian relatives and friends have offered their condolences on these two platforms from many cities in different states in the US, France, Germany, Emirates, Oman, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. In all of these communicative acts, both MSA and Syrian Arabic have been present side by side and have been linked by code switching.
In what follows are some instances of my posts and comments on Facebook in which the two codes have been used and in which code switching is sometimes present. Whether these switches are of type I, II or III according to Hinrichs, I leave it up to you to judge. I am giving a rough rephrasing of the meaning conveyed in the italicized English translations.
1. انتقلت آلى رحمته تعالى اختي الحبيبة الغالية سهير MSA/ FB profile picture
My dear beloved sister Suheir has moved to God’s mercy.
This comment accompanied a stock image which I used as my profile picture in which two verses from the Quran are cited along with a commonly used phrase.
2. انتقلت الى رحمته تعالى اختي الغالية سهير كنجاوي ام شذى وأنس وهيفاء. الى جنان الخلد يا حبيبتي. اللهم ارحمها وأسكنها فسيج جنانك وبدل سيآتها حسنات وعظم اجر اولادها وصبرهم يا الله. MSA/ FB post
My dear sister Suheir Kinjawi, mother of Shaza, Anas and Haifa, has moved to God’s mercy. May God have mercy on her, make paradise her residence, exchange her sins with good deeds, greatly reward her children and give them patience.
This post was accompanied with a picture of my sister, which is not the norm in traditional conventional printed obituaries.
3. MSA and English FB post
أمجد كنجاوي وريم كنجاوي فرج وناصر فرج وميس بجبوج كنجاوي ينعون إليكم خبر وفاة المرحومة سهير كنجاوي.
تقبل التعازي من النساء والرجال بأختنا الحبيبة المرحومة الأحد 2 تشرين الاول من الساعة الثانية والنصف بعد الظهر إلى الساعة الرابعة بمسجد ICPC.
Amjad Kindjawi, Reem Kinjawi Faraj, Mayss Bajbouj Kinjawi, and Naser Faraj are holding Azaa for their beloved sister tomorrow Sunday October 2 between 2:30 pm and 4:00 pm at ICPCtraditional.
Following the sociocultural conventions of the printed obituaries and in order to attach some gravity and weight to the initial act of informing MSA is used here in the above three FB posts
4. نتقدم بخالص الشكر لكل من تقدم لنا بالمواساة والعزاء شخصيا أو عن طريق مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي أو الهاتف. شكر الله سعيكم ولا فجعكم بعزيز
MSA/ FB comments
We extend our thankfulness to all those who offered sympathy and condolences personally, via social interaction media, or phone. May God reward your efforts and may you never mourn a person dear to you.
To give the post a formal and religious connotations, MSA is used here.
شكرًا لكل اللي عزانا وواسانا بفقدان أختنا الغالية سهير رحمها الله وأسكنها فسيح جنانه. لا فجعكم الله على عزيز وشكر سعيكم
Code switching/ FB comment
Thank you to all those who comforted us and offered sympathy for the loss of our dear sister (Syrian Arabic). May God have mercy on her and make Paradise her residence. May God reward your condolences and prevent your mourning on a dear person (MSA)
The switch from Syrian Arabic to the Modern Standard Arabic marks a switch from my personal voice addressing my FB friends through a familiar and warm everyday expression of gratitude, to a prayer addressing God with a linguistic code associated with indirectly quoted formal prayers that have started as the voice of an identified or unidentified social source and then have become integrated in our own voice by time and repetition.
6. كان عندي أمل شوفك مرة تانية يا غالية وودعك بس قدر الله وماشاء فعل. عزاءي انك عند رب غفور رحيم كريم وأنك تركتي ذكرى طيبة وأولاد صالحين. رحمة الله عليكي يا سهير. Code switching / FB post
I had hoped to see you again my dear and say goodbye but (Syrian Arabic), ‘God had willed and He carried out His will’ (MSA). That you are by a forgiving, merciful, and gracious God, and that you have left us a good memory and good kids are my comforts. God’s mercy be upon you Suheir (Syrian Arabic).
While the main message from me to my sister is in Syrian Arabic, the quote cited here is in MSA. I have moved from my personal voice, to that of a voice of, an identifiable, concreate personal or textual source, as in Hinrichs Type II.
7. الحمد لله وصلت الرياض بالسلامة. والرحلة كانت مهونة من رب العالمين. شكرًا الكن حبيبات قلبي. بشوفكن على خير ان شاء الله Syrian Arabic/ FB comment
Thank God I have reached Riyadh safely and the trip was made easy by God. Thank you all my beloved. See you well God willing.
Since this message is intended to all my FB friends who have been following my posts and my trip to Saudi Arabic, Syrian Arabic is selected to express warmth and closeness.
In this blog I have attempted to offer my own examples for the use of two different varieties of the same language in computer-mediated communicative acts related to the loss of a family member, in an attempt to link my own experience with the argumentation that Hinrichs offers in his article.