Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation


Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

Ed. by Piller, Ingrid

6 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2013: 0.226
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.598
ERIH category 2011: INT2 



L2 lexis in L1: Reluctance to translate out of concern for referential meaning

David C. S Li1


Citation Information: Multilingua – Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication. Volume 20, Issue 1, Pages 1–26, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: 10.1515/MULTI.2001.001, October 2006

Publication History

Published Online:


Using evidence from the Hong Kong Chinese press, this paper shows that intra-sentential code-alternation may be due to linguistic, especially semantic, factors at work, which explain why the bilingual is reluctant to translate the English expressions into Chinese, resulting in code-alternation. This observation amounts to a challenge to a tacit assumption behind social or discourse-related explanations of code-alternation, that referential meaning may be kept constant and that code-alternated expressions in the guest language could always be ‘replaced’, paradigmatically or otherwise, by a semantically ‘equivalent’ expression in the host language. The basic premise of ‘translation equivalent’ is illusory. Given the strong social norms disapproving the use of English-only discourse for intra-ethnic communication in Hong Kong, it is argued that intra-sentential code-alternation typical of bilingual Chinese Hongkongers is more adequately explained by the bilingual's reluctance to translate the original English expressions into Cantonese or modern standard Chinese. In this light, Cantonese-English code-alternation in Hong Kong is most appropriately seen as the result of the Chinese bilingual's attempt to guard against unwanted semantic loss or gain.

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.