Shared Lexical Items as Triggers of Code Switching

Shuly Wintner, Safaa Shehadi, Yuli Zeira, Doreen Osmelak, Yuval Nov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do bilingual speakers code-switch (mix their two languages)? Among the several theo-ries that attempt to explain this natural and ubiquitous phenomenon, the triggering hypothesis relates code-switching to the presence of lexical triggers, specifically cognates and proper names, adjacent to the switch point. We provide a fuller, more nuanced and refined exploration of the triggering hypothesis, based on five large datasets in three language pairs, reflecting both spoken and written bilingual in-teractions. Our results show that words that are assumed to reside in a mental lexicon shared by both languages indeed trigger code-switching, that the tendency to switch depends on the distance of the trigger from the switch point and on whether the trigger precedes or suc-ceeds the switch, but not on the etymology of the trigger words. We thus provide strong, robust, evidence-based confirmation to several hypotheses on the relationships between lexical triggers and code-switching.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1471-1484
Number of pages14
JournalTransactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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