“Imam Canadian Friends.” The Use of English-Serbocroatian Code-Switching by Bosnian and Croatian Communities in Canada

Mirna Emeršić, University of Alberta

During the war in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, there was a large wave of immigrants who came to Canada. Since most of them have not been in Canada for an extensive period of time, there have not been any studies conducted to establish the influences of the new environment on the language behavior of such immigrants. In the United States, Savić’s study (1995) was limited to the first-born American generation of Serbian community.

This study examines the phenomenon of code-switching, its frequency, and patterns in particular in the speech of the Serbo-Croatian/English bilinguals in the Bosnian/Croatian community in Edmonton, Canada. It concentrates mainly on code-switching, defined as an alternation of two languages within the same discourse, sentence, or constituent. This inquiry seeks to answer the question whether there is any code-switching, taking into account the short length of the subjects’ stay in Canada.

The subjects of this study are comprised of five current and two former university students—two of them men and five women—originally from Bosnia and Croatia, who range in age from nineteen to forty years old. They speak Serbo-Croatian as their first language (L1), yet exhibit varying degrees of bilingualism since they have been living in Canada from one to six years. They were tape-recorded as pairs (e.g., husband and wife, best friends) speaking for approximately one hour in Serbo-Croatian. The recordings were conducted in informal situations such as at their home or in a café.

The results show that code-switching, a prevalent manifestation among bilinguals, abounds in the speech of these Bosnians/Croatians. It occurs even among those who are nonfluent bilinguals. Furthermore, two out of three types of code-switching—inter- and intra-sentential—were found to be present, with the intra-sentential type being the most predominant. A quantitative analysis of their switches revealed that both fluent and nonfluent bilinguals were able to code-switch frequently and still maintain a very high degree of grammaticality in both L1 and L2.

The results of this study of code-switching among Serbo-Croatian/English bilinguals will contribute further to understanding language contact phenomena in bilingual immigrant communities in Canada.


Savić, J. M. (1995). “Structural Convergence and Language Change: Evidence from Serbian/English Code-Switching.” Language in Society, 24:4, Dec, 475–92.