The links between code-switching and emotions
Emotion Based Code-Switching
1. Cognitive control
Cognitive control allows the brain to make conscious decisions based on goals rather than habits. Bilingual/multilingual speakers have more than one language to choose from and would ideally proactively control which language they speak in which context, but heightened emotions can interfere with this process (Williams, Srinivasan, Liu, & Pearl Lee, 2019). For example, if Yanmei were to fall and hurt her knee, her ability to actively choose to speak in English with her educator could be diminished. Due to emotional distress, it would be natural for her to speak in her home language, even though her relationship with her educator is in English.
2. Emotional regulation
Bilingual/multilingual speakers also use code switching as a form emotional regulation, using their home language to express intense emotions and their secondary language for less intense emotions (Pavlenko, 2012). Even without multiple languages, the way children express themselves at home can be very different form the way they express themselves at kindergarten. Home life can be filled with deeply felt and intense family relationships. It is often a private space where children feel free to express themselves openly, which then can be emotionally tied to the language that is associated with that particular space. The public space of kindergarten can evoke different emotions and forms of expression which can be tied to the dominate language of that secondary space. For example, Yanmei may feel comfortable speaking about the weather and colours during morning circle in English, or even about who is her friend in class, as these topics may not evoke intense emotions for her. Whereas she may struggle to speak in English if something is affecting her on a deeper emotional level, such as how she feels about moving away from China and living in a new country.
3. Culture frame switching
Bilingual/multilingual speakers may choose one language as more appropriate than another language for conveying their emotion consistent with a particular cultural frame (Panayiotou, 2004). Emotional terms are not universal, so it can be difficult to find exact translations to convey the speakers intended emotion. Therefore bilingual/ multilingual speakers may code-switch so that their emotions will not be lost in translation.