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Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

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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: https://doi.org/10.1515/MULTI.2001.001, October 2006

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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.

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