Advances in Literary Study
2013. Vol.1, No.4, 39-42
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 39
Code Switching in Sons and Lovers
Dimin Luo
The College of Foreign Languages, Yunnan Agricultural University, Kunming, China
Received July 14th, 2013; revised August 18th, 2013; accepted October 9th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Dimin Luo. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
Lawrence’s writing is heavily influenced by his social background. He is in an incompatible family, for
his parents come from different social classes. His sensitiveness to class distinctions brought about by his
family background is deeply rooted in his writings. Novel Sons and Lovers is this typical work. One of
the distinctive features of the novel is the use of two language varieties which expresses the bilingual
situation of the Morels’ family in Sons and Lovers. The writer Lawrence alternatively uses two language
varieties in dialogues to reveal the psychology of the characters and the most characteristic of his theme:
class conflict. This study researches into the use of language varieties of three major characters (Mr. Mo-
rel, Mrs. Morel and their son Paul) in Sons and Lovers from the viewpoint of code switching to discover
how class conflict is presented by alternative use of language varieties. To appreciate and deeply under-
stand the novel, it is necessary to know the application of code switching in this work.
Keywords: Code Switching; Sons and Lovers; Language Variety; Class Conflict
With the fast development of sociolinguistics, the research
field about code switching has spread into many fields. It as one
of the essential parts of sociolinguistics is drawing more and
more attention from grammarians, sociolinguists, psychologists,
anthropological linguists and so on.
This study investigates into the instances of code-switching
in Sons and Lovers. The famous British writer David Herbert
Richards Lawrence is quite sensitive to the conflict distinctions.
Sons and Lovers manifests this theme. It is estimated that about
50% of the novel is conversations. If readers only realize the
code switching in the conversation but don’t dig out the conno-
tative meaning of the switching, they may not really understand
the novel. Only when they devote to reading the novel, may
they really appreciate the great work. Thus, the analysis of code
switching in the novel is necessary. It may help the readers
develop a better understanding of code-switching in literature
and arouse the interest of language teachers and learners to pay
attention to the language phenomenon.
Code Switching and Literature
In the past, one dominant view towards code switching stated
that it could not be counted as a research topic. The earlier
studies of language in contact largely considered code switch-
ing as an inference phenomenon, “the performance of the im-
perfect bilingual, motivated by inability to carry on a conversa-
tion in the language on the floor at the moment” (Scotton, 1993:
pp. 47-48), while now code switching is so widely studied,
drawing more and more attention from scholars at home and
abroad in different areas. The following part will discuss the
significance of the theory and the research.
Theory of Code Switching
Definition of Code Switching
From different perspectives, many scholars give quite a few
definitions to this term. R. A. Hudson regards code switching as
the inevitable consequence of bilingualism (or multilingualism).
Anyone who speaks more than one language chooses between
them according to circumstances (Huston, 2007: p. 51). Wool-
ard defines code switching as an individual’s use of two or
more language varieties in the same speech event or exchange
(Woolard, 2004: p. 73). These definitions show that bilingual or
multilingual speakers may change their language because of
some situations or their intentions.
Influential Theory of Code Switching
In their study of switching between standard and local dialect
in the Norwegian village of Hemnesberget, Blom and Gumperz
showed the systematic communication of specific social infor-
mation through code switches (Blom & Gumperz, 1972: p. 305).
They also proposed a functional distinction between situational
and metaphorical code switching that is still a point of depar-
ture for most researchers.
In situational switching, a change of language signals a
change in the definition of the speech event, involving “clear
changes in the participants” definition of each other’s rights and
obligation” (Blom & Gumperz, 1972: p. 424). And R. A. Hus-
don believes that the switches between languages always coin-
cide with changes from one external situation (for example,
talking to members of the family) to another (for example,
talking to the neighbours) (Hudson, 2007: p. 52). Thus, to some
extent, the situation decides the language. For example, an
English teacher in Yunnan high school chatted with her stu-
dents before and after class in Yunnan dialect but lectured in
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
English or Putonghua.
As or metaphorical switching, it is later encompassed under
the label of conversational code switching and is a change in
language that does not signal a change in the definition of the
fundamental speech event. Interactants do not alter the basic
definition of the rights and obligations in operation, but only
allude to different relationships that they also hold (Bloom and
Gumperz, 1972: p. 425). Such allusion is achieved through
transient use of a language that serves as a “metaphor” for an-
other social relationship regularly associated with it. The situa-
tion is less clear, either because it is ambiguous or because the
speaker decides to ignore the observable external situation and
focus instead on less observable characteristics of the people
concerned. (Blom & Gumperz, 1972: p. 426) In such cases, it is
the choice of language that determines the situation. A common
example is for a mother to tell her child to do something in one
language, and then, if the child fails to obey, to switch to an-
other language, thereby showing her stronger emphasis or dis-
pleasure. The switch shows the change of the situation.
Function of Code Switching
The above discussion reveals that switch between languages
can signal the speaker’s attitude towards the listener—friendly,
irritated, distant, ironic, jocular and so on. If two bilinguals
normally talk to each other in language X, the choice of Y is
bound to create a special effect. Besides, to some extent, such
switches can reveal one’s social status or roles.
The Research of Code Switching and Literature
With the fast development of sociolinguistics, its research
field spreads widely, such as advertisement language, teaching
approach, legal language. And it surely influences our literature.
Especially, the code switching plays an important role in it. The
scholars abroad or at home have made some contributions on
the combination with code switching and literature.
In Western countries, Fennell and Bennett analyzed the ele-
ments of ridiculousness in John Kennedy Toole’s work “Con-
federacy of Dunces” with the conceptions of sociolinguistics,
such as code-switching. Peter Melman analyzed a kind of code
switching in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” to dig out the
characters’ internal world. What’s more, sociolinguistics also
was used in the analysis of the female work. The representative
was the analysis of Virginia Woolf’s work “To the Lighthouse
from the sociolinguistic perspective.
In China, scholars pay more attention to the varieties of the
language in the literature work, namely the application of the
dialects. And its research targets are usually novels and plays.
The researchers often explore the effects and intentions of the
use of the dialects. The research content is all too often the
characters’ conversations (Zhai, 1998).
Code Switching Analysis of Sons and Lovers
Brief Introduction of Sons and Lovers
In Sons and Lovers, Mrs. Morel and Mr. Morel were born in
different classes. “Mrs. Morel came of a good old burgher fam-
ily, famous independents who had fought with Colonel Hut-
chinson, and who remained stout Congregationalists. Her
grandfather had gone bankrupt in the lace-marketat a time when
so many lace-manufacturers were ruined in Nottingham. Her
father, George Coppard, was an engineer—a large, handsome,
haughty man, proud of his fair skin and blue eyes, but more
proud of his integrity. Gertrude resembled her mother in her
small build. But her temper, proud and unyielding, she had
from the Coppards.” (Lawrence, 1992: p. 6). She was well-edu-
cated, bright, high-hearted and religious.
On the contrary, Mr. Morel was born in a miner family and
stopped schooling to work in the mine when he was just ten
years old. He was poorly educated, lack of knowledge and rude
in behaviour. He impressed the people that he was a heavy
drinker, four-letter and irresponsible for his family.
Mrs. Morel’s dream was to have a highly spiritual life, while
Mr. Morel provided her a kind of completely realistic life,
which is entirely different from Mrs. Morel’s morality and reli-
gious thoughts. The torture of the life broke her dream. Because
of this distinct social background and the degree of education,
they had different philosophies and values. Thus, they quar-
relled with each other quite often. After the quarrels, she was
disappointed and depressed. She despised her husband. There-
fore, she transferred her whole love to her sons. At the begin-
ning, it was William, and then Paul. Her love to the sons, espe-
cially Paul, made a great impact on his life and love.
Bilingualism in Morels’
It has been observed that in some speech communities, two
languages are used side by side with each having a different
role to play; and language switching occurs when the situation
changes. This constitutes the situation of bilingualism (Dai &
He, 2002: p. 124). One of the distinctive features of the novel is
the use of two language varieties which expresses the bilingual
situation of the Morel family in Sons and Lovers. The following
part analyses the three main characters’ language varieties (Mr.
Morel, Mrs. Morel, their son Paul).
Mr. Morel’s Langua ge
Mr. Morel spoke the local dialect (the local miners’ lan-
guage). There are some common features in Mr. Morel’s
speech community. Generally speaking, it can be concluded as
the following.
1) Ellipsis on pronunciation
a) Wrong pronunciation of /ŋ/
The velar /ŋ/ is pronounced as the nasal /n/. For example,
they pronounce “going” as “goin”, “waiting” as “waitin”, “talk-
ing” as “talking” and so on.
b) Silence of the beginning sound /h/
For some words, their first sound /h/ is silent. For instance,
they pronounce “hear” as “ear”, “have” as “ave”, “happen” as
“appen” and so on.
c) Silence of consonant
In some situation, they don’t pronounce some consonants of
the words, such as, “and” as “an”, “stand” as “stan”.
d) Ellipsis on the unstressed close syllables
Sometimes, they may leave out the unstressed close syllables,
“because” as “cause”, “occasion” as “casino” and so on.
e) Ellipsis or mistakes on vowels
On occasion, they may make some mistakes on vowels. For
example, they pronounce “yes” as “yis”, “should” as “sh’lt”,
and “the” as “th” and so on.
2) Mistakes on Grammars
Double negative expressing the negative:
For instance, they express “I don’t want nothing (Lawrence,
1992: p. 67)” as the meaning of “I don’t want anything”.
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3) Use of “thee” and “thou”
In this situation, the outdated language shows the poor edu-
cation of the speakers.
All of these indicate that Mr. Morel is really poorly educated,
and his language is lower than the standard language. The dia-
lects lack the prestige, while standard language owns higher
prestige. Thus, this also reveals Mr. Morel’s low social status.
Mrs. Morel’s Language
She used the Standard English (also called Queen’s English)
which has a higher prestige outside the mine district. Mrs. Mo-
rel’s standard pronunciation made her more predominant in
front of the persons who were lower than her. For example,
after her son William fought against her classmate, when Mrs.
Morel conversed with the opposite’s, her superior pronuncia-
tion let people feel her excellence.
In their family, once Mr. Morel and Mrs. Morel contended
the rights in their family, which reflects Mrs. Morel’s superior-
“What!” cried Mrs. Morel, panting with rage.
“You shall not touch him for her telling, you shall not”.
“shonna I?” shouted Morel
“Only dare!” she said in a loud, ringing voice.
“Only dare, milord, to lay a finger on that child! You’ll re-
gret it forever.”
(Lawrence, 1992: p. 52).
This is a quarrel between the couple of Morel, which indi-
cates not only the differences of their opinions but also their
largely different languages. One is the Standard English which
is applied by the middle or the higher classes, and the other one
is the miners’ dialects, which states that the two persons are
from the absolutely different world.
In this quarrel, Mrs. Morel got the family’s dominant right.
Not only she but also her three children learnt to speak Stan-
dard English and studied French which was suggested by the
higher class.
Paul’s Language
Under his mother’s influence or because of the Oedipus, Paul
despised his father and kept distance with his father. This gap
can be manifested in the conversation. When Paul went to tell
his father about William’s illness, it reveals their incompatibil-
“Is it thee, Paul? Is’e worse?”
“You’ve got to go to London?”
“E’s niver gonge, child?”
“When wor’t?”
“Last night we had a telegram from my mother.”
(Lawrence, 1992: p. 136)
Their Languages indicate their social roles. Languages usu-
ally demonstrate and form the social identity. Gumperz believes
that communication of social information presupposes the exis-
tence of regular relationships between language usage and so-
cial structure (Gumperz, 1986: p. 220). Different varieties im-
press listeners in different ways. People have diverse attitudes
toward the languages. Hudson regards that the difference be-
tween language (standard variety) and dialect (non-standard) is
that standard variety owns the prestige over the non-standard
variety (Huston, 2007). For the Standard English, it is a term
generally applied to a form of the English language that is
normative for educated speakers. It is usually used in writing
works and closely related to the “well-educated” persons. Since
Standard English is a kind of standard, the non-standard Eng-
lish is considered as the “poorly-educated” or poor persons’
Code-Switching A nalysis of Sons and Lovers
According to the above content, we know that the dominant
feature of Sons and Lovers is the bilingualism. Mr. Morel
speaks the dialect of Bestwood; Mrs. Morel masters the stan-
dard language; Paul can grasp both of the languages. Neverthe-
less, most of the time, Paul follows his mother to speak the
standard language. In this novel, there are many code switches.
The switch between languages can signal the speaker’s attitude
towards the listener—friendly, irritated, ironic, humorous and
so on. And the change of language is bound to create a special
effect. Besides, it also reveals the social status of the speakers.
Mr. Morel’s Code-Swi tching
1) Switching language to attract Mrs. Morel
Mr. Morel followed miner’s dialect. Actually, he could say
some Standard English. When he met Mr. Morel at the first
time, he attempted to approach Mrs. Morel’s language to enter
into her world. Standard English as a higher prestige language
may impress her more deeply. In Chapter 1, it is obvious to
discover his such effort.
“Now do come and have this one wi’me,” he said caressively.
“It’s easy, you know. I’m pining to see you dance.”
“No, I won’t dance,” she said softly. Her words came clean
and ringing.
“I’m like a pig’s tail, I curl because I canna help it,” he
laughed, rather boisterously.
(Lawrence, 1992: p. 12)
This switch indicates that actually Mr. Morel realized the
prestige of Standard English at that time. He intended to use
language to upgrade his social status.
2) Switching languages to emphasize his existence
Mr. Morel “stole” his wife’s money and left, but some days
later he came back and wanted to be impressive. He said in his
wife’s language on purpose:
“You may thank your stars I’ve come back tonight.”
(Lawrence, 1992: p. 125)
In this family, if he wished to emphasize something, he had
to imitate his wife’s language, for his wife’s status was higher
than his. Therefore, he had to utter Mrs. Morel’s Standard Eng-
Mrs. Morel’s Code Switching
Disappointed to her husband, she began to look down upon
his language. She refused to accept that language and also
didn’t allow her children to do that.
However, when she got angry, sometimes she would utter
some Mr. Morel’s language. When the children made her feel
annoyed, she called them “babeys”. When she was upseted by
her husband, she usually said:
“Goodness, man, don’t be so lachrymose”, “Shut that
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
doo-er!” he shouted, so that he could be heard down the Bot-
(Lawrence, 1992: p. 47)
“It’s a pity, poor nesh creature!” Mrs. Morel said quietly.
(Lawrence, 1992: pp. 51-52)
In this family, Mr. Morel imitated his wife’s standard lan-
guage to stress his existence and satire her, while Mrs. Morel
used his husband’s dialect to laugh at him. Both of them
mocked each other’s identity with languages.
Paul’s Code-Switching
Paul could grasp both languages. When he was young, he
was largely influenced by his mother. Thus, mostly he spoke
the standard language. While, with his body and thoughts be-
coming more mature, his male status in the society has been
clearer and clearer. And his father is the person he wanted to
imitate, especially his language. So, once he used his father’s
language to show his male role. In chapter seven, Paul and
Klara went to date in Clifton Grove. Feeling quite quiet, he
used his father’s language for the first time.
“Your flowers are smashed,” he said.
She looked at him heavily as she put back her hair. Suddenly
he put his finger-tips on her cheek.
“Why dost look so heavy?” he reproached her.
She smiled sadly, as if she felt alone in herself. He caressed
her cheek with his fingers, and kissed her.
“Nay!” he said. “Never thee bother!”
“But tha shouldna worrit!” he said softly, pleading.
“Yea, tha does! Dunna thee worrit,” he implored, caressing.
(Lawrence, 1992: p. 309)
At the beginning, he just used a little father’s dialect: “Why
dost look so heavy?” While, after a short time, he expressed
himself in idiomatic dialects: “Yea, the does! Dunna thee wor-
rit”. His language became more masterly. Why? Because when
he was with his lovely woman, his male identity was aroused,
he wanted to imitate his father as the true man.
This code-switching demonstrates the character’s conscious
change. Via this code switching, the psychological conscious-
ness is expressed more clearly. And readers may better appreci-
ate Lawrence’s writing skills or styles.
Novelists shape the persons through the person’s language.
Literature language is not cloud-built but from our social life.
Thus, understanding the novel with the sociolinguistics, like the
instances code switching in Sons and Lovers, may help you go
deeply about the thoughts and skills of the novel. An awareness
of this area will be of great benefit to the language learners in
terms of providing them with possible and efficient strategies in
communicating with the native speakers in the target language.
Through the exchange of the different switches, the psychology
of the characters in the work is deeply embodied. The use of the
different code switching is an effective tool of describing the
psychological change of the characters. This makes the novel
truer and adds the aesthetic implication.
However, except the conscious activity expressed by code
switching in literary work, there are still some parts for us to
develop, such as the aesthetic effect of code switching in it.
The author is greatly indebted to the subjects for their
friendly and honest participation in this study. Special thanks to
her supervisor Prof. Lisheng Li, whose instruction and encour-
agement has contributed greatly to the completion of the paper.
The author is also grateful for Prof. Hu Deying for his helpful
suggestions. Many thanks to my husband, Mr. Bo zhao, the
PhD candidate of the Chinese academy of sciences for his great
encouragement. Sincere gratitude goes to the anonymous re-
viewer for his/ her valuable revising suggestions on this paper.
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