Do you use the same language when speaking with your grandma or boss as you use when speaking with your friends? Chances are you don’t. NPR has been looking into the phenomenon termed “code-switching.” Code-switching refers to how individuals express themselves differently through language depending upon the niche they are attempting to fill. That is, the voice is still the individual’s, but it is a different version of the voice suited to the particular conversation or situation. For example, you may say, “What’s up?” to your friends, and “How are you?” to your grandparents. There are many reasons why people code-switch, but NPR identified the more common reasons to be the following: when our subconscious takes over and causes us to use a different language or accent, when we attempt to fit in with a particular group, when we are trying to get something, when we want to say something in secret, and when we aim to convey an idea that is best expressed through a certain language or accent.
Prior to reading NPR’s articles “How Code-Switching Explains the World” and “Five Reasons Why People Code-Switch,” I had not given much thought about how I speak to or what language I use with different groups of individuals. Much less had I ever heard the term “code-switch.” Some individuals who do not want to accept the idea that they change their expression of themselves based upon their audience will probably argue code-switching does not exist, but now that I know what code-switching means, I cannot deny it is an aspect of our everyday lives. What these individuals should realize is that code-switching does not change who we are, rather it is an expression of our various identities.
How is code-witching an expression of our various identities? Let’s take a look at the five most common reasons individuals code-switch as identified by NPR and how these reasons relate to or identities. Where you were grew up and the dialect spoken there as well as the language used by one’s peers and family becomes part of one’s subconscious, and these factors are a part of their cultural and social identity. For example, one may transition between English, Spanish, or a blend of the two depending upon to whom they are speaking. Likewise, the employment of code-switching as a means of fitting in reflects one’s social and human identity, since all humans have the basic need of love or being wanted/accepted. Furthermore, our use of code-switching as an end to getting something we desire or wanting to say something in secret depicts our moral identity and identity as creative and cunning beings. If an individual cares little for exploiting others to get what he or she wants, then he or she will “sweet talk” or assume a different character until the other individual convinced to give him or her what is desired at the least cost or effort. Lastly, we code-switch to better convey certain ideas, thereby displaying our identity as intellectual beings.
Ultimately, is code-switching a bad thing? I don’t think so. Code-switching is an expression of my different identities at different times. My identities are all a part of me; it’s who I am.