Code switching basically means switching back and forth in a given conversation between two languages. Bilinguals do this all the time but the reasons for code switching are complicated and diverse. At times, bilinguals code switch simply because they don’t know a particular word or term in a given language or when the term in one language doesn’t sufficiently convey their meaning.
On the other hand, bilinguals also code switch because of social reasons like wanting to include someone in the conversation or exclude others.
For the most part code switching is done by choice not as a necessity.
What were your most surprising findings when studying code switching?
Among our most surprising findings in a series of studies that my research assistants and I have conducted in the past couple of years, we have created a situation in an experimental setting that caused bilinguals to code switch when they had been instructed against it.
Where do you see your specialty headed within the next few years, specifically your research?
There is a great deal of interest in bilinguality research these days. For my part, with the help of my amazing assistants, we are trying to study and understand code switching as it occurs in the speakers of different languages and if there are cultural differences that may impact this linguistic phenomenon.
To this end, we just wrapped up one study on code switching among German, Arabic and Spanish speakers.
Currently we have another study in progress focusing on Caribbean dialect speakers and their code switching behaviors and next year we are planning a study on code switching among French and Spanish speakers.
(We at polypsych.org are thoroughly interested in her next research project among French and Spanish speakers!)
You earned your PhD in developmental psychology from the University of Oregon, can you speak on what the experience was like and how did your interest in psycholinguistics develop throughout your academic career?
Being bilingual, I was always interested in languages and how they work, primarily how our cognitive process is affected or influences our linguistic capabilities.
I became interested in psycholinguistics as an undergraduate and took several classes with the late Dr. Peter Jusczyk, a psycholinguist interested in language discrimination among infants.
He urged me to continue my study of psycholinguistics at the graduate level and I completed a Master’s degree in psycholinguistics in language discrimination among infants.
In general, my education at the University of Oregon gave me the opportunity to work with a number of brilliant psychologists, and later I received my PhD in developmental psychology with a focus on infancy and early childhood.
Early in my career, my focus was mostly infants, either in developmental psychology or psycholinguistics. It was fun, but often challenging to work with babies; after all, most psychologists don’t have to deal with subjects that fall asleep or cry during the experiment! Now I work with adults.
What would the layman find most interesting about your research, and how are you contributing to developmental psychology?
Anyone living in the increasingly global community of today’s world can relate to research about bilinguality. We all are either bilingual ourselves or know and interact with bilinguals at school, work, or social settings.
According to the US Census over 160 languages are spoken in the United States and about 20% of the population speaks a language other than English at home.
Historically, bilinguality was considered a disadvantage, but in the last few decades, more and more studies have illustrated that bilinguality has some advantages for speakers including a strengthening of the executive control area of the brain which helps us manage tasks and self regulate in daily life.
My basic area of interest is in the effects of one’s social environment on the acquiring and maintenance of a second language. Often immigrant families move to this country fluent in their native language. Along the way, they improve and master English but at times their native language is forgotten by their children.
In my work, my research assistants and I try to understand the social factors that may cause some of these families to lose or others to preserve their native language.
What is next for Lily Halsted? Away from academia who are you ?
Aside from my endless fascination with languages and bilinguality, I teach and enjoy interacting with our wonderful students at Queens University. I am also the Chair of the Psychology Department, a job that keeps me very busy.
Aside from psychology, I am very interested in diversity and inclusion on college campuses; I am currently serving on our Diversity and Inclusion Council at Queens advising Muslim students.
Away from academia I am married to a psychologist who is a data scientist for Bank of America and we have two children, a son in college and a daughter in graduate school.