Functional complementarity between two languages in ICQ

Judy Woon Yee HO

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of functional complementarity between speech and writing takes on a new dimension as a result of two phenomena in computermediated communication: hybridization of spoken and written forms of a single language and hybridization of different languages. This paper investigates how bilinguals realign to the requirements of communication within the context of modern technology by using a “mixed code”. It is based on a linguistic analysis of 40 ICQ histories (24490 lines, 197579 words) which have been collected from 21 tertiary students in Hong Kong. Most ICQ histories (95%) were written in an admixture of English and Chinese both at intersentential and intrasentential levels. Findings suggest a multileveled functional complementarity between Chinese and English in ICQ texts. There are the typical functional differences between written and spoken language, but at the same time the frequent Chinese-English switch suggests that this is bilinguals’ most effective way of managing the pressure to achieve specific purposes in on-line, real time communication. Particular elements of one language are blended with those of the other to serve various functions, that is, the two languages complement each other functionally. The results pose a challenge to our understanding of emerging language forms and functions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-451
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2006

Bibliographical note

This is a revised version of the paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities, 2 – 5 August 2005, Cambridge, U.K.


  • codeswitching
  • functional complementarity between two languages in ICQ
  • ICQ language
  • language functions


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