15 Things You Didn't Know About Code-switching
Updated: Apr 7, 2022
Code-switching is a part of many people's communication style.
The conversation surrounding code-switching has gotten heated...not just in social and professional circles or the media (see NPR's Code Switch), but in the educational world as well (see the statement by the Conference on College Composition & Communication). The problem is that while this communication act exists, not everyone agrees on the politics of it. People can't even seem to agree on a textbook definition of it...some say it's about switching languages or dialects within conversations, some say it takes place in different settings, with different people, some include the switching of registers.
And then there's the differences of how code-switching manifests among those who are bilingual or multilingual versus how it manifests in those who are bidialectal or multidialectal (yes, these are real ways to speak). Code-meshing has even made its way into the conversation.
So, with all of the controversy surrounding the different ways that people are either strongly encouraged to OR naturally shift, switch, or mesh their communication styles, there are still some things people seem to miss in the argument/conversation.
Below are 15 ideas about code-switching and code-meshing with a focus on African American English aka Black English:
Not everyone code-switches, they simply may choose not to
Not everyone code-switches, they simply may only have one code
Some people will naturally code-switch because both/all linguistic systems feel natural
Code-switching does not always mean switching from say, AAE to MAE
Some African Americans' first code is General/Mainstream American English and that's the code they feel most natural speaking
Code-switching between dialects and languages is not the same as switching your register
BONUS: dialect and slang are not the same thing
Code-switching is not a "panacea" for AAE and other heritage dialects (Appalachian English) that are stigmatized
Code-switching to the privileged code for an interview may or may not get you the job
Asking - sometimes demanding - someone to code-switch into the more privileged code may impact their identity
People judge you differently based on the code they hear you speak first... and then again based on the code they hear you speak next
Code-switching doesn’t make you less Black or more White or anything else in between
In order for some people to be able to code-switch you need to explicitly teach another code or be immersed in another code
Students' cultural-linguistic identities are not always taken into account when they are asked/expected to code-switch
The language used when asking/expecting children to code-switch in the classroom is not a culturally-linguistically sustaining practice - no one's identity should be deemed "informal"
Like any other topic that is talked about regarding people and communication, the conversation cannot simply be Black or White; there is a lot of gray. Mostly because...
Even our former POTUS has been seen code-switching...
So, until the revolution - what do we do with our AAE-speaking children? Help them learn the current code of power? Respect their cultural-linguistic identity? Perhaps all of the above...
No one really has a terrific plan and it's probably because many institutions are still inequitable. See one speech-language pathologist's idea:
To hear some more of my thoughts about code-switching, check out my podcast conversation with Greg Stamper, "How Are You Gregory?" on Honeybee Connection podcast by MB.