The language games bilinguals play: Language alternation at language game boundaries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Working in the tradition of discourse analysis pioneered by Gumperz, this study extends the approach to bilingual conversation. Following other scholars in the field (e.g. Reddy, 1979; Harris, 1981; Becker, 1984c), I am calling into question the code metaphor that underlies much modern linguistics. I extend this criticism to work in 'code-switching' in particular and support this theoretical claim by an empirical analysis of over 20 hours of recorded Hebrew-English bilingual conversation. The study describes the bilingual discourse strategy of language alternation as it is shaped by the many constraints imposed on a particular verbal interaction by the context in which the interaction takes place. Wittgenstein's notion of language game (1953) is tied to Becker's approach to context as a source of constraints on text (1988). As a highly specified instance of the shaping of bilingual discourse strategies by contextual constraints, this study describes the bilingual discourse strategy of alternating languages at language game boundaries. This strategy of language alternation is argued to be one of the features of bilingual discourse according to which speakers negotiate where one language game ends and the next one begins. I close with a discussion of iconicity of the pattern of language alternation (discourse, conversation, bilingual discourse, code metaphor of language, philosophy of language, iconicity, Hebrew-English bilingualism).1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-289
Number of pages27
JournalLanguage and Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'The language games bilinguals play: Language alternation at language game boundaries'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this