One day in the life of a “purist”

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39 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on an experimental study. Twelve university students were asked (a) not to speak any English for one day (b) to record examples of English words that they wanted to use but could not; (c) to write up a two-page reflective diary; and (d) to share and discuss their thoughts, feelings and “rich” points of their experiences in a focus group interview. Before the day of the experiment, they were given training on how to record their own language date. A proforma was used to help them capture the key contextual information of a communicative event: who speaks what to whom when and where. The data are constituted by 12 reflective diaries in English and a transcription of the focus group interview conducted in Cantonese-English “mixed code.” The results show that all student participants experienced communication problems and felt inconvenienced by not being able to express their ideas using English words that they were familiar with. Linguistic motivations are empirically supported: the putative Cantonese/Chinese equivalents were either nonexistent, unknown or unfamiliar to them, or perceived as semantically/stylistically infelicitous. English was used, sometimes unconsciously, despite the artificial “Cantonese-only” rule of speaking. These findings suggest that a theoretical model of code-alternation which lays claim to universal validity and explanatory adequacy would be inadequate without taking into account the bilingual's concern for referential meaning. Sociolinguistic and educational implications for the Hong Kong Speech community are briefly discussed in light of the findings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-203
Number of pages57
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • codealternation
  • codemixing
  • codeswitching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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