What is the best term to describe the following sentence?

I live in 美国.

I've heard the term macaronic used to describe a mix of languages that use Roman script, but is there a more specific term for when a mix of orthographies from two distinct languages are used?  I've heard the term mixed orthography used to describe the Japanese writing system, but, of course, it is only one language; is the term appropriate for my example?

  • According to Wikipedia, "Macaronic language" is a mish-mash of words from different languages, rather than the mixed orthography of, say, Japanese. Apr 22, 2013 at 22:44
  • 1
    If you live in 美国, surely you must speak 英語. All the Beautiful People do.
    – Robusto
    Apr 23, 2013 at 1:49
  • I support migration to Linguistics. Good luck there.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Apr 23, 2013 at 11:05
  • I'm not aware of a specific term but I guess you could call it code-switching, though that term usually refers to combining elements from different languages in speaking or signing, not in writing. Apr 23, 2013 at 13:57

1 Answer 1


There can be some confusion when we ask about how to describe a "sentence", and then discuss properties of how the sentence is written down. We should distinguish language from writing ; they are distinct things, with independent properties. Writing is (basically) a representation of language.

Let's think of the language first. The key question is, what linguistic utterance is that piece of writing representing?

  • If it's representing "I live in Měiguó" (or "I live in Mei⁵gwok³", etc.), then the sentence displays code-switching, or borrowing.
    • Macaronic is a somewhat more informal term for frequent code-switching, sometimes mixing parts of words. I wouldn't say this sentence looks particularly macaronic, though it could be part of a larger macaronic rant.
  • If it's representing "I live in America"—that is, if the characters ‹美国› are supposed to be read as "America", the way e.g. Japanese read ‹大人› as otona—then there's no code-switching or borrowing going on. It's just an everyday English sentence.

Now we turn to writing. ‹I live in 美国› is a mixture of two writing systems. I believe "mixed orthography" or "mixed writing" are reasonable labels for this phenomenon. This is independent of how many languages are being represented; for example, ‹I live in Америкa› is mixed writing representing a pure English sentence.

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    "Digraphia" is also a word used for a mixture of two writing systems, especially when it's systematic. Oct 10, 2017 at 21:34

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