“If one language is not enough to convince you, I will use two”: Burkean Identification/Dissociation As a Key to Interpret Code-Switching

Marco Hamam, Università di Sassari (Italy)

PEOPLE ARGUE EVERY DAY. Convincing others, by letting them identify with the way we look at the world, is everyone’s bread-and-butter activity, everyone with his own rhetorical abilities. But how do bilinguals argue? Is the sociolinguistic phenomenon known as code-switching  rhetorically significant? What has Burke to tell us about code-switching? This article is based on spoken language and will try to provide some insights on how rhetoric can offer a coherent reflection in order to understand code-switching. Its intent is to show how the Burkean approach to rhetoric and especially the Burkean concept of identification (and its contrary dissociation1), as a crucial rhetorical concept, have contributed to influence the sociolinguistic reflection on code-switching and, in particular, to the development of the approach to discourse analysis known as “ethnography of communication.” Finally, Burkean concepts such as motion and action will be exploited to describe the distinction between writing and speech as the symbolic “capital” from which code-switching draws. Focus will be place on Arabic for the extreme symbolism of its diglossic system.2

1. Introduction

To begin with, Burke agrees with the main classic Aristotelian goal of rhetoric, which is to persuade: “Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, or a study of the means of persuasion available for any given situation” (RM 46). But more specifically, the term “rhetoric” is mainly used by Burke with the sense of every symbolic interaction: “Rhetoric is rooted in an essential function of language itself, a function that is wholly realistic and continually born anew: the use of language as a symbolic means of inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols” (RM 43). For Burke human beings are rhetoricians because they are “symbol-using animals” (Language as symbolic action 16). Symbolic action, grammar, rhetoric and dialectic are all elements, according to the Burkean system, useful to describe the strategies men use to affect situations and audiences. What can be found out approaching code-switching in the light of the Burkean system is that the latter is a powerful framework to rhetorically understand code-switching. Burke has a lot to say on code-switching. Although, to my knowledge, he never directly dealt with this phenomenon, nonetheless his views are, in many points, convergent to those of other authors who worked on code-switching such as John J. Gumperz, to the extent that one may presume Burkean influences. As far as Gumperz is concerned, we do not know whether he actually read Burke or not. It is not unlikely that Gumperz might have known Burke at the suggestion of Hymes who worked for many years with Gumperz. Both of them are considered as the major contributors to the field of study called “ethnography of communication.” In fact, Hymes could have been the link between Burke and Gumperz because we do know, thanks to Jordan’s work, that Hymes was deeply influenced by Burke’s work, especially in his Ethnography of speaking (1962). Gleaning from both published literature and the correspondence between Hymes and Burke housed at Penn State University, Jordan traces how Hymes was affected and adapted to his theoretical framework many Burke’s concepts such as identification. As Jordan advocates "Hymes could speak about Burke’s work with considerable authority: he had been a student of Burke’s during a critical reading seminar fourteen years earlier and since then had read, advised on, and published various pieces of Burke’s writing, adapting quite a bit of it along the way as he explored the implications of his own work" (Jordan 265).

Although admitting that to many linguists Burke’s enterprise seems unknown, Hymes saw in the Sixties that Burke, not only could offer an important contribution to the new-born field of sociolinguistics, but that, in fact, he pioneered in the sociolinguistic reflection in studying language use rather than language as an abstraction. Hymes writes:

Underlying parallels can be found between Burke’s work and recent trends in linguistics, and there are possibilities of convergence of the two. Indeed, it would seem that Burke has been first in the field, commonly enough by a generation, with regard to standpoints toward language that recent linguists take to be recent on the American scene. He is still ahead of us in some respects (Foundations in Sociolinguistics 136; emphasis is mine)

Burke, Hymes and Gumperz have in common their profound interest in the influence society, topic and speakers exercise on language and in the linguistic settings, communication and speech analysis. They all advocated language as a non-neutral medium. As far as code-switching is concerned, Burke’s rhetorical reflection anticipated in many aspects the sociolinguistic comprehension of this phenomenon.

2. Code-Switching as a Rhetoric, Thus Symbolic, Phenomenon

Code-switching concerns mainly spoken language, although we can find it also very frequently in written texts. A general, broad definition of code-switching to move from and which will circumscribe the kind of approach adopted here for code-switching would be this:

Within the verbal interaction, [code-switching] is the functional transition from a linguistic system to another, in conjunction with a change in the communicative situation: for example in the communicative intent, topic, interlocutor to whom one addresses, functions, key etc. (Grassi, Sobrero, and Telmon 186; translation is mine)

The peculiarity of code-switching is its having an essentially contrastive value: it breaks up the speech flow and draws attention to a change in code and in the symbolic structure of the speech. This contrast allows the speaker to achieve a main goal: emphasize. By doing this he highlights certain speech segments or marginalizes them, helping him argumentatively structure his discourse. It is like using a camera: the speaker continuously focuses and defocuses, back and forth.

There exist dozens of approaches to code-switching and the proposed models are often in competition with each other. Mainly, the linguistic boundaries and the kind of focus adopted represent what differentiates one approach from another. In fact, code-switching may go from a broad definition that includes all the combinations of any grammatical or lexical-grammatical element at any of thelevels of the sentence to a narrow definition that relates to the functional switch from a code or a language system to another at a higher level of the sentence, namely at an intersententiallevel3. Approaches could be summarized in two main: a grammatical approach, trying to answer the question ‘how do codes mix?,’ and a functional/pragmatical/rhetorical (terminology is fluctuating), trying to answer the question ‘why do codes mix?.’ The two main groups of factors at the base of the motivations for which bilinguals switch (rhetorical approach), according to Grosjean are: A) social-related motives and goals,4 B) discourse-related motives and goals.5 Factors often overlap: "Rarely does a single factor account for a bilingual’s choice of one language over another", says Grosjean (143). Here a rhetorical, discourse-related approach will be followed, as already stated in the preliminary definition of code-switching.

Discourse-related motives and goals concern what Blom and Gumperz, who studied language use in Hemnesberget, a small village in northern Norway, called the ‘metaphorical’ code-switch, a code-switching that "relates to particular kinds of topics or subject matters rather than to change in social situation" (Blom and Gumperz 425). The classic example of metaphorical code-switching, provided by Blom and Gumperz, is the one found in a conversation at the local community administration office, where two villagers switch from the standard variety of Norwegian, in which they have been discussing official business, to the local variety to discuss family and other private affairs. It is clear that the rhetoric of code-switching is shared around common symbolism. A shared symbolism makes a common experience and common meaning possible.

It is interesting to notice that Hymes proposed to stick to Burke’s term “symbolic competence” in opposition to the Chomskian “linguistic competence.” For Hymes while language has a universal symbolic peculiarity, it is locally, ethnographically, symbolic: every “speech community” (to use a Hymesian term) has its own symbols to refer to (cfr. Review of Language 667). For Gumperz too, symbolism is the key to interpret code-switching. The individual’s choice of a code has, for Gumperz, "a symbolic value and interpretative consequences that cannot be explained simply by correlating the incidence of linguistic variants with independently determined social and contextual categories" (VII). Gumperz specifies this “symbolic value” by saying that "rather than claiming that speakers use language in response to a fixed, predetermined set of prescriptions, it seems more reasonable to assume that they build on their own and their audience’s abstract understanding of situation norms, to communicate metaphoric information about how they intend their words to be understood" (61) Burke would agree that meaning is created through a symbolic codification and decodification of speech/text and that behaviour, and especially linguistic behaviour, has a polysemic character. The Burkean dramatistic pentad is a tool that helps read and interpret a kaleidoscopic rhetorical situation with many co-existing and co-working factors. For Burke and Gumperz, speakers/writers are not passively influenced by the situation but they manipulate it conveying specific metaphoric information. If objects and events are given meaning through symbolic codification and decodification, then those who possess the right symbolic keys of interpretation will give a meaning closer to “truth.” For bilinguals code-switching is meaningful and represents a communicative resource because they possess these keys while, for ‘outsiders’ who do not share the same “second grammar” as Gee would call it, code-switching would seem unpredictable or unintelligible. At the very beginning of The Philosophy of Literary Form, in 1941, thus very much ahead of the sociolinguistics reflection, Burke gives this example: "Let us suppose that I ask you: “What did the man say?.” And that your answer: “He said ‘yes.’” You still don’t know what the man said. You would not know unless you knew more about the situation, and about the remarks that preceded his answer [ . . . ] There is a difference in style or strategy, if one says “yes” in tonalities that imply “thank God” or in tonalities that imply “alas!”" (1; my emphasis). Burke, not only acknowledges the essential role played by paralanguage in conveying meaning, but also highlights the importance of the rhetorical strategy, as an essential tool to construct meaning. Similarly Gumperz sees, in this regard, that only by focusing on the strategies "that govern the actor’s use of lexical, grammatical, sociolinguistic and other knowledge in the production and interpretation of messages in context" (Discourse strategies 35) in order to convey meaning and to convince, one can really analyse and interpret spoken language. Describing these strategies Gumperz uses adjectives such as “persuasive,” “conversational,” “contextualization,” “verbal.” But, in his well-known 1982 work Discourse strategies, he uses eight times the expression “rhetorical strategies.”

3. Code-Switching’ Rhetorical Function: Identification/Involvement; Dissociation/Detachment

One of the most common functions of code-switching is identification and dissociation. The terms involvement (instead of identification) and detachment (instead of dissociation) are also common in literature. Despite a diverse terminology, identification/involvement (and its opposite, dissociation/detachment) is a cross-function, reflecting what Goffman has described as footing, i.e. changes in alignment we take up to ourselves, others and toward the material or content. While we speak we often shift from one foot to another, signalling this in various way, code-switching being only one of these signalling devices (cfr. Goffman 22). Switches in footing can range from gross changes in social settings to the most subtle shifts in tone.

According to Tannen (Oral and literate strategies 9; Talking voices 25–42), involvement is seen as the product of the following factors:

  1. devices by which the speaker monitors the communication channel (rising intonation, pauses, requests for back-channel responses) (spoken language);
  2. concreteness and imageability through specific details;
  3. a more personal quality; use of 1st person pronouns;
  4. emphasis on people and their relationships;
  5. emphasis on actions and agents rather than states and objects;
  6. direct quotation;
  7. reports of speaker’s mental processes;
  8. fuzziness.
  9. emphatic particles (really, just).

On the contrary, detachment is seen as characterized by:

  1. a higher degree of abstraction;
  2. emphasis on states and objects having things done to them;
  3. impersonal aspect;
  4. while involvement deals with events in an ‘experiential’ and detailed manner, detachment gives a more abbreviated report.

Identification and dissociation are found in many loci. Auer (120) calls conversational loci those parts of discourse, or those rhetorical and argumentative mechanisms, that are particular susceptible to code-switching. In doing this, Auer distinguishes locus from function: in every locus, code-switching produces a series of functions. Thus, for instance: involvement is a function, whereas reiteration and quotation are the conversational loci in which this function can take place. In this sense, when Tannen talks about the importance of reiteration in rhetoric, she states that speakers might try to convince by "instilling in the reader a sense of identification with its point of view" (“Spoken and written language” 7). Quotation is another locus where identification/dissociation are at work. Especially in speech, quoting is used as a tool to identify or to dissociate from a person or an idea, normally to build or to strengthen one’s own argumentation. This rhetorical movement can even be stated explicitly either before or after the quote in a meta-communicative introduction or conclusion or it can be emphasized through paralinguistic elements such as vocal features (voice tone, pauses, emphasis, laugh etc.) or non-vocal features (gestures, facial expression etc.). Imaginary quotes exploit to the utmost this double function: the speaker says something in the form of a quote but, at the same time, he/she identifies or dissociates himself/herself from what is stated. The use of one or another code enables the speaker to personalize/depersonalize the content, attributing it to an external voice. This allows him/her to delegate the responsibility of what is said to another person (whether this person exists or not it does not matter, whether he/she said or not those words does not matter either) and, at the same time, to provide it with greater objectivity and meaningfulness.

Gumperz calls this function personalization vs. objectivization: "The code contrast here seems to relate to such things as: the distinction between talk about action and talk as action, the degree of speaker involvement in, or distance from, a message, whether a statement reflects personal opinion or knowledge, whether it refers to specific instances or has the authority of generally known fact" (80; my emphasis).

Burkean concept of identification is clearly here and confirms the rhetorical value of code-switching. His definition (or it should better be said definitions) of identification is scattered throughout his works. Yet, as it will be clearer through the following excerpts, it seems that the Burkean concepts of sympathy or antithesis, two of the possible ways in which identification can explicit itself, are not only used to create identification between interlocutors/writers and readers, but also with the speech/text. Here the consubstantiality, that is the "common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes" (RM 21) that make men identified in a same substance, is between what is said/written and the speaker/writer who hopes that also his listeners and readers will, by their turn, identify with his identification. There is an acting-together (see Burke RM 21) with the speech/text and then an acting-together with the audience. Commenting on Burke’s concept of identification Jordan states that "identification, ambiguously locating as it does both division and the tendency to transcend division, presents the possibility for rhetoric, figures the inevitability of rhetoric, and stresses the need for rhetoric in language and in social relations" (269).

For Burke identification is the condicio sine qua non one has to fulfil in order to persuade:

You persuade a man only insofar as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his (RM 55; my emphasis)

As for the relation between “identification” and “persuasion”: we might well keep it in mind that a speaker persuades an audience by the use of stylistic identifications; his act of persuasion may be for the purpose of causing the audience to identify itself with the speaker’s interests; and the speaker draws on identification of interests to establish rapport between himself and his audience. So, there is no chance of our keeping apart the meanings of persuasion, identification (“consubstantiality”) and communication (the nature of rhetoric as “addressed”) (RM 46)

Commenting on the importance of identification in Burke’s work, Gusfield states that: "Identification is the key process through which poets and ordinary people further rhetorical purposes in attempts to persuade others. In the use of symbols there is a bid toward others, or to self, to be joined or to oppose the identities which are proffered" (18).

4. Examples of Code-Switching

I.a. Sociolinguistic conventions

I.b. Transcription conventions

/ short pause (less than 1’’)

// medium pause (nearly 1’’)

? interrogative intonation

| conclusive intonation

. . . hesitation

as far as the Arabic transcriptions are concerned

: or :: vocalic lengthening

ɂ glottal stop that is etymologically a /q/

[yixlaɂ à x l q]

/ð/ ḏ

/θ/ ṯ

// ḏ̣

I.c. Glosses and other abbreviations

2 second person

excl part exclamatory particle

imp imperative

f feminine

m masculine

p person

pl plural

poss possessive marker

rel relativizer

s singular

voc prep vocative preposition

EN English

SP Spanish

HI Hindi

SA Standard or Substandard Arabic

NA Native Arabic

EA Egyptian Arabic

YA Yemeni Arabic

4.1. Excerpt 1

In excerpt 1, two Chicano (Mexicans grown-up in the US) professionals are talking. The speaker talks about her attempt to cut down on smoking:

(1) EN à SP à EN dialogue

(Gumperz 83–84)

The speaker talks about her attempt to cut down on smoking.


They tell me “How did you quit Mary?” I don’t quit I . . . I just stopped. I mean it wasn’t an effort that I made (EN)


que voy a dejar de fumar por que me hace daño o (SP)

that I’m going to stop smoking because it’s harmful to me or


this or that uh-uh. It’s just that I used to pull butts out of the waste paper basket yeah. I used to go look in the . . . (EN)


se me acababan los cigarros en la noche (SP)

my cigarettes would run out on me at night


I’d get desperate(EN)


y ahi voy al basarero a buscar, a sacar, (SP)

and there I go to the wastebasket to look for some, to get some


you know.(EN)

Commenting on the latter example, Gumperz states: "The code contrast symbolizes varying degrees of speaker involvement in the message. Spanish statements are personalized while English reflects more distance. The speaker seems to alternate between talking about her problem in English and acting out her problem through words in Spanish" (81; italics are mine). In this passage, Spanish is used to express feelings, convey intimate and personal feelings while English is used to convey facts. This wavering between two linguistic codes show an ambivalence in the attitude of the woman of the example in relation to the question discussed. It appears evident how code-switching can be a bearer of meaning as much as lexical choice. Identification/dissociation here are primarily between the speaker and the part of the message conveyed. But there is also an identification/dissociation with the interlocutor and the linguistic group they both belong to. This kind of identification/dissociation will become clearer in the next excerpt.

4.2. Excerpt 2

This brings to the distinction ‘we-code’ and the ‘they-code’ theorized by Gumperz. The ‘we-code’ is "associated with in-group and informal activities" (66; emphasis is mine) while the ‘they-code’ is normally the majority language (he speaks about situation of bilingualisms) which is "associated with the more formal, stiffer and less personal out-group relations" (ibid; emphasis is mine). The identity opposition ‘we’ code/‘they’ code has not only psycho-social signification. He writes: "Participants are likely to interpret ‘we’ code passages as personalized or reflecting speaker involvement and ‘they’ code passages as indicating objectification or speaker distance. But this does not mean that all ‘we’ code passages are clearly identifiable as personalized on the basis of overt content or discourse context alone. In many of these cases it is the choice of code itself in a particular conversational context which forces this interpretation". (83–84; Italics are the author’s). Gumperz states that in order to really understand the semantic processes that are at work in code-switching, one must see whether code-switching’s direction is from a ‘we code’ to a ‘they code’ or the contrary. He proposes these four examples:

(2) We-code vs. They-code

code-switching they code à we code

code-switching we code à they code


Father talking to his five year old son, who is walking ahead of him through a train compartment and wavering from side to side:

Keep straight (EN). Sidha jao (‘keep straight,’ HI)


Adult talking to a ten year old boy who is practicing in the swimming pool:

Baju-me jao beta, andar mat (‘go to the side son, not inside,’ HI). Keep to the side! (EN)


A Spanish-English sequence taken from a mother’s call to children:

Come here. Come here (EN). Ven acá (‘come here,’ SP).


A Spanish-English sequence taken from a mother’s call to children:

Ven acá. Ven acá (‘come here.’ SP). Come here, you (EN).

In 2/1 and 2/3 the code-switching is from the ‘they code’ (EN) to the ‘we code’ (HI and SP) while in 2/2 and 2/4 the code-switching is reversed. When speakers were asked if there was a changing in meaning, they agreed that the reversal normally does make a difference: "The shift to the ‘we’ code was seen as signifying more of a personal appeal, paraphrasable as “won’t you please,” whereas the reverse shift suggests more of a warning or mild threat" (Gumperz 92). The ‘we code’ and ‘they code’ can have metaphorical extension. They can, in fact, mean the oppositions: warning/personal appeal; causal remark/personal feeling; decision based on convenience/decision based on annoyance; personal opinion/generally known fact (Gumperz 93–94). Here Burkean identification clearly acquires another sense: speakers use a given code to flag an identification with, or a dissociation from a linguistic group. Which, in its turn, is translated as an identification/dissociation with the role the father wants to play with the child. This sense will be better illustrated in the next excerpt.

4.3. Excerpt 3    

Arabic is not far from these mechanisms. The state of diglossia, that is, according to Ferguson (1959), that particular linguistic situation which characterizes the Arabic language, in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (Low), there is a divergent, highly codified superposed variety (High), does not prevent code-switching. On the contrary, it exploits to the utmost the particular symbolic charge of the Arabic linguistic situation.

The well-know Egyptian leader Ğamāl ‘Abd al-Nāṣir (Nasser) is one of those Arab politicians who exploited the rhetorical power of code-switching the most. Here is an excerpt taken from one of his speeches.

(3) SA à EA monologue

(Holes 34); glosses added, transcription adapted

            The Egyptian leader Ğamāl ‘Abd al-Nāṣir (Nasser) addressing a speech.







bi-ntiṣa:ra:tihi /


voc prep

my brethren

we look


With-its victories

Today, my brethren, we look at the past with its victories,







we look

at-the -past

with-its battles

we look


With-its martyrs

we look at the past with its battles, we look at the past with its martyrs,





bi-n-naṣr [ . . . ]


and-we look



we raised them


and-we remember

we look at the flags that we raised in victory [ . . . ] and we remember






our flags


they were stained



our blood stained flags.




xwa:ni /



bi-ntia:ra:tu /


voc prep

my brethren

we look

at-the -past

With-its victories

Today, my brethren, we look at the past with its battles,



bi-maʕarku [ . . . ]





we look


with-its battles

we look



with-its martyrs

we look at the past, we look at our past with its martyrs,

nbuṣṣ [ . . . ]





bi-n-nar [ . . . ]


we look




we raised them

with- the-victory

And-we remember

we look [ . . . ] at our flags that we raised in victory [ . . . ] and we remember










they were stained

with-the- blood


our blood stained flags.

Paragraph 1, in SA, and paragraph 2, in EA, are almost identical. Paragraph 2 ‘rewrites’ paragraph 1 in another code. According to Holes between the two a process of lexical replacement occurs in the first place: ‘today’: al-yawm (1.)à in-naharda (2.);‘we look’: nanuru (1.)à nbuṣṣ(2.); ‘we remember’: nataðakkar (1.)à niftikir (2.). The need to deliver twice the same concept with two different codes is explained by Holes by the fact that the first ‘we’ (nanur, nataðakkar) refers to Egypt on a international level, an Egypt that works for peace and stability while the second ‘we’ (nbuṣṣ, niftikir) refers to the Egyptians themselves, to the public. We will come back to this kind of identification in §4.4.

Here, the coce-choice reflects also a more rhetorical issue: the ‘important’ messages, what are perceived as ‘truths,’ ‘theorizations’ are expressed in SA and are paralinguistically marked by a slow elocution; the ‘organizational speech,’ which is not central to the message, and it is thus marginal, it is said in EA and in a faster way. SA is used by Nāṣir to express abstract, idealized, metaphoric messages, and without any kind of personalization. It conveys maxims, slogans. EA is used, instead, to channel what is felt as concrete and physical and it is strongly linked to the personalization of the facts (see Holes 33). The two varieties are used in tandem: SA conveys the abstract aspect of a question and EA amplifies, personalizes its effects in the real world. Holes summarizes this dynamics stating that "the ʕāmmiyya organizes for the audience in ‘real time’ the ‘timeless’ fuṣḥā text" (Holes 33). Burke refers to a sort of “doubling of language,” which allows for different symbol-systems, when he says

A notable aspect of language is that it makes for a kind of doubling. For language variously refer to, or bears upon, or takes from in “context of situation” outside itself; and it can convert one symbol-system into another, by translations with varying degrees of literalness or freedom" (Above the Over-Towering Babble 88)

In this sense, this repetition/translation is not only meant to stress the same concept but also to convey two different symbol systems. Identification here is with the text and the role: code-switching helps Nāṣir assign a rhetorical function to every segment; moreover code-switching helps him flag the strategic role he identifies with. But also the audience is important in influencing the code-switching: SA marks distance between the leader and the people, conveying the political slogan as an international leader. On the contrary, the EA segment reduces distance and lets Nāṣir put himself in the people shoes, consubstantiating himself with them. EA segment seems more a sentence extrapolated from a conversation between fellow Egyptians.

4.4. Excerpt 4

(4) SA à EA monologue

(Bassioney 174–175); translation is the author’s, glosses added,

transcription slightly adapted

            The ousted Egyptian Ḥusnī Mubārak addressing a speech.


θa:niyan /



fi l-miza:ni

t-tuga:ri /

ʕan ṭari:qi


redressing of




By way of

Secondly, redressing the deficit in the trade balance, by




l-ʔisti:ra:d /




increasing of


and-controlling of


so-issue of



increasing exports and controlling imports. [This is because] the issue of the Egyptian exports


maṣi:riyya /






l-fiʔa:t /



it has to



interest of



is a crucial issue that has to occupy the minds of everyone





ʕibʔ /



fi maṣr /






and-responsibility of


in Egypt

who is involved in Egyptian production.


l-muʔassasa:ti /



min agli


of all





security of

[This issue should also occupy the mind] of all establishments that work for the security of


l-maṣri /





 the Egyptian economy [ . . . ]


da ʔana


ʔana kunt /

fi šarm iš-ši:x /




excl part I


I was

in Sharm El Sheikh

you (pl) know



I was in Sharm El Sheikh the other day. Do you know these kites



fi l-fallaḥi:n

di /


di /



we were

we make them

at the peasants




and-we fix them

with reed

we used to make in the countryside? the ones made from papers, the ones we used to fix with reed



wi-nṭayyarha /


mi l-barazi:l /



and-piece of


and-we let them fly

we bring them

from the-Brazil



and a piece of string and then we would let them fly? They import these kites from Brazil! Of course this


ha:yif /

bi-yʔul lak

wi-da mablaġ? /



masal /



he tells you

and-this amount


I give


is a trivial amount of money. Then someone comes and tells you “is this an amount worth bothering about?” But I am just giving an example.


mi l-barazi:l


they buy them

from Brazil!


They buy them from Brazil! [applause]

Bassiouney discusses this excerpt taken from one of the discourses of the ousted Egyptian president Ḥusnī Mubārak twice: when talking about the role the speaker wants to play vis-à-vis the audience (cfr. §4.3.) and when discussing detachment and involvement. In the first case, she says that code-switching signals the passage from the role of ‘governor—governed’ to that of ‘good old friend’ or ‘fellow Egyptian.’ This brings to mind this other definition of identification given by Burke in his The Philosophy of Literary Form (227):

By “identification” I have in mind this sort of thing: one’s material and mental ways of placing oneself as a person in the groups and movements: one’s way of sharing vicariously in the role of leader or spokesman; formation and change of allegiance; the rituals of suicide, parricide, and prolicide, the vesting and divesting of insignia, the modes of initiation and purification, that are involved in the response to allegiance and change of allegiance; the part necessarily played by groups in the expectancies of the individual [ . . . ]: clothes, uniforms, and their psychological equivalents; one’s way of seeing one’s reflection in the social mirror.

It appears clear, in the previous excerpt and here, how important the role played by the psychological and social aspects is in identification. Man has to deal with multiple identifications which are psycho-socially grounded. Identification would be useless if it were not provided with—Burke uses an amazing image—a “social mirror,” if it had no applause and no objection. As in excerpt 3, here too Mubārak uses code-switching to psychosocially mark different roles, form and change allegiances (namely he doses distance with the audience), vesting and divesting insigna (he puts up the clothes of the president, then those of the fellow Egyptian) etc.

In the second case, when Bassiouney discusses detachment and involvement, she comments on this code-switching by saying that "Mubarak decides to tell a story to explain a fact, which increases the level of involvement of the audience. The story is very appealing to the audience because it involves allusions to shared childhood memories" (212; her emphasis), that is shared symbolism. We encounter again of a triple identification: with a role, with an audience, with a message. Which comes first is difficult to say.

4.5. Excerpt 5

(5) SA à EA monologue

Mattā al-Miskīn (Hamam 262);  glosses added

         Father Mattā al-Miskīn commenting on Mt 25,31–46




yasu:ʕ il‑masi:h


fi kull



wa‑mašlu:l /

he was


Jesus the-Christ

he sees

in every




The Lord Jesus Christ saw in every sick, weak and paralytic





xa:liqihi | /




he was

he sees

in him

image of

his Creator

he was

he sees

isn’t it (that)

the image of his Creator. He saw . . . doesn’t [the Bible say]









come on

we make



our image

so-he was

he takes delight


“Let Us make man in our image” [Gen 1:26]? Christ used to take delight





xayran |




he wanders

he makes



in going about doing good all day long.



fi l‑maʕmu:diyya

ɂal lina






in the-Baptism

he said-to us


excl part


you became

Then, in the Baptism he told us: “Take, then. You have become

wla:di /



ʕamali /


Ɂide:ku /

zayy ma

my children

dress me.imp


my work


your hands


my children put me on, do my works, stretch out your hands, as










I stretched them





wear yourselves out


I did to every blind and poor man, wear yourselves out, night



fi l‑giba:l





in the-mountains



and day, then climb the mountains and pray.

This excerpt is taken from a homily that the contemporary Coptic hegumen father Mattā al-Miskīn (1919–2006) delivered to his disciple monks. Paragraph 1 comes after a brief passage in which father Mattā synthesizes the point that on earth we see Christ under the form of the sufferer (Mt 25:31–46). Paragraph 2 continues the argumentation of the previous passage and adds a link between action and prayer. But here father Mattā lightens up the point: he paraphrases the previous movement and personalizes it in EA with an imaginary dialogue between Christ and believers. These imaginary quotes are extremely powerful from a rhetorical point of view. As Saeed states they "occur in the form of illustrative examples, short stories, episodes and scenarios that support the position of the speakers. This strategy—presenting examples or supporting evidence in the form of dialogic scenarios or narrative-like styles—serves to add vividness and is a device to convince the audience of the logic and sensibility of speakers’ arguments" (Saeed 143). Burke, in his The rhetoric of religion, points out the paradox of theological language: words are borrowed from the material realm to describe the supernatural realm, which then can be borrowed back to describe the material realm in new ways because of the implications gained from the supernatural usages (see 7). 

Moreover, code-switching continues to work as a tool to mark identification. Father Mattā has already said elsewhere in the same homily that we must be Christ-like. Here he repeats the same concept by using, again, a triple rhetorical identification: the role (he identifies with Christ whom he embodies and lets speak in plain language), the audience (he identifies with the listeners to whom he directly addresses with a dialogue), the message conveyed (he wants to stress the link between action and prayer). Here SA in the first paragraph is not used to dissociate from the message but for abstraction, which is, in some way, a rhetorical distanciation, as we have already seen in §4.3. . We will come to this point back later on.

4.6. Excerpt 6

The contrary can happen too. This kind of imaginary quotes can also have the function of "saying something, but at the same time distancing oneself from what one is saying. The use of the other code makes it possible to depersonalize the expressed point of view, attributing it to a voice external to the interaction, with the purpose both of not taking the responsibility for what it is said and to provide it with greater objectivity and meaningfulness" (Alfonzetti 136; translation is mine). This is clear from this example in which direction in code-switching is particularly indicative:

(6) YA à SA monologue

(Saeed 147); Saeed’s translation; glosses added, transcription slightly adapted

         A Yemeni Islamic cleric talking about the Islamic banking



yugu:l lak

bi-šarṭ /





he says to you

on-one condition




After that he tells you: “On condition.” There must be conditions. “What [are they]?.”



ği:b lak

al-muhandisi:n [ . . . ]


he said


I bring to you



“I supply you with the engineers,” he replies [ . . . ]




ʔaz-zira:ʕi /




l-xabi:r |

it came




take it



When an agricultural project comes, [the Islamic bank says] “Take it to the expert.”




he studied



Once it has been examined by the expert:




na:ğiḥ /




fi: l-ʔida:ra /






we will share

with you

in the-management

“Oh, it is a [potentially] successful project.” [The Islamic bank then suggests:] “Let’s be partners in the project. We will administer it together,




ʕank |


for us


for you

a representative from our side and one from your side,



kaða:               wa-kaða:




such and such


and the administration should be as such and such

Here we find two imaginary quotes (story-tellings): between a loan customer and another from a representative of a non-Islamic country or bank (paragraph 1) and between a loan customer and a representative of an Islamic bank (paragraph 2). Saeed says that in the first example, the code used is always YA to "show the loan lender’s deception" (148) while in the second example the cleric switches to SA in order to "convince the audience of the soundness of his categorization of Islamic banks as humane, and Islamic banking as an honest way of banking" (1997:148), within a function Saeed calls ‘iconic.’ "This kind of code manipulation", states Saeed "can be considered a form of iconicity, in that the form of the language mirrors the content [ . . . ] In other words, the H [High] code [SA] is used to express what is perceived to be [+ positive] and the L [Low] code [Native Arabic] to express what is seen as [- positive]" (117). When discussing the function of exemplifying he states that in his corpus Native Arabic (NA)6 is used for hypothetical, non-real examples while SA is used for real examples. This is very common in his corpus. The goal, according to Saeed, is to distinguish what has been highly thought of, or what is very serious (SA) (see 142–143) from what "they do not value or respect, possibly to downgrade its importance, or to ridicule it or its significance" (NA) (131). Once again code-switching flags identification and its contrary, dissociation, in a triple way: with/from the message, with/from the role, with/from the audience.


In conclusion, from the excerpts above it emerges that identification/dissociation is a threefold process: the speaker identifies or dissociates himself with/from a role he wants to play, with/from the audience he addresses to and with/from the content he is conveying. When theoretically discussing the Burkean perspective on identification, Radcliffe interestingly confirms what comes to light from the text analysis: "Burke’s identification contains a personal, a cultural, and a discursive dimension" (54). She then quotes Christine Oravec who expands on this point by stating that Burke’s identification "never strays very far from earlier versions of the three ruling analytically schema of the twentieth century: Freudianism, Marxism, and structural linguistics"; as such, it "tracks the interpenetration of subject, environment, and discourse" (quoted in Radcliffe 54). This “triangle of identification” is what makes the discourse a source of consubstantiality and an effective tool of persuasion.

Burke’s work not only offered a decisive pioneering contribution to the new-born field of sociolinguistics but it might also have had an indirect influence on the first pragmatical approaches on code-switching through his theorizations of the key-concept of identification/dissociation. Burke does not explicitly refer to an identification with a code or a linguistic group, which is an crucial point in the understanding of the psycho-socio-rhetorical processes behind code-switching and without which code-switching cannot be seized in its relational dimension. This is certainly due to the fact that Burke never directly dealt with bilingualism and its rhetorical potentialities. Nevertheless, as textual analysis has demonstrated, his multifaceted conceptualization of identification is so yielding that it lends itself to be adapted and adopted into the framework of a wider rhetorical approach to code-switching.


1. Burke uses both the term division (e.g., RM 22) and dissociation (e.g. RM 34). This latter seems to better fit this sociolinguistic context.

2. The technical term diglossia which describes, since Marçais (1930) , the situation of the Arabic language counts a profusely abundant literature. About twenty years ago, Fernández (1993) published a monograph that examined a vast bibliographic review of works concerning the concept of diglossia from 1960 to 1990, including about 3000 titles. The very term ‘diglossia’ has been intended by the various scholars, from time to time, in various ways ranging from a very narrow definition, referring to the particular situation of certain regions (the German-speaking Switzerland, the Arab world), to a very wide definition that practically overlaps with that of bilingualism (see Berruto 191–204) Ferguson’s “standard” definition of diglossia is the following: "Diglossia is a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (which may include a standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety, the vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation" (Ferguson 336).

3. In particular here the intersentential switching will be the level which will be dealt with. This includes those cases in which an entire sentence (complex or simple) or an entire clause within a sentence are switched. In the intersentential switch, the switching point is between a sentence and another, or in other cases between a clause and another. This kind of switching is normally bearer of rhetoric functionality unlike other kind of switches, generally called code-mixings, i.e. intrasentencial switching where the mixing of segments belonging to the two or more systems in contact happens at the level of a single clause.

4. These may concern 1. participants (language preference and attitude, for instance: a speaker has an ideological or an affective attitude towards one code and prefers it or children of a stigmatized minority may decide not to use their native language with their parents so as not to be differentiated from the children of the majority group; 2. situation: degree of intimacy, for instance: one uses a code only with strangers whereas one switches to another code with friends; 3. social interaction: to create social distance, for instance: one can choose a code different from the one of the interlocutor breaking group solidarity (Grosjean 136 et seq)

5. For instance, topic: "Some topics are better handled in one language than another either because the bilingual has learned to deal with a topic in a particular language, the other language lacks specialized terms for a topic, or because it would be considered strange or inappropriate to discuss a topic in that language" (Grosjean 140).

6. Native Arabic is a more “neutral” term instead of ‘colloquial’ or ‘dialect’: it refers, in fact, to the first variety of Arabic people learn since they are children.


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