Code-Switching

I would say my brother and my mom are two of the most noticeable code-switchers in my life. My brother will do it consciously while it seems as though my mom does it without really knowing. My brother is quite the crowd-pleaser, so his code-switching serves to help him interact with a lot of different types of people in his life. Around his friends he will act as cool as he can, keeping up with all of the new popular phrases and being sure to always be the funniest guy in the room. He will use swear words and act like he is trying to be next up and coming rapper, because that is what his friends think is funny. I can remember specific times when I first entered high school, he was a junior, and I would see him talk to some of his friends at school for the first time. I was surprised by just how different he would act and speak around them compared to how he speaks to me and our family. My brother’s code-switch with me comes from how protective of me he is as his younger sister. Around me he completely censors himself, as if at 18 months younger I am still not old enough to hear certain words. He will never discuss what he does when he goes out with his friends, even though I have been thoroughly exposed to those types of things by this age. He tries to be somewhat of a role-model when he is around me and that is reflected in the way he speaks. Around my parents he still has the same crazy, outgoing, fun personality, but he tries his best to show off his intelligence as we have some pretty insightful conversations over family dinner. Similarly he is very good at impressing professors, employers, or other people requiring a more formal tone. He is the kind of person who can go into any social interaction and feel like he can find a way to not just fit in, but manage to be the center of attention and please whatever crowd he may be in. He knows how to change the way he speaks so that he can entertain, connect with, or charm whoever he is with.

My mother often code-switches without realizing it. When she talks to my brother and I, she will add in phrases that she has heard us say, or that she heard on TV or in a movie. She will make references to popular culture that she doesn’t really quite understand, all in a subconscious effort to connect with us on our level. I often have to stop her and tell her that she is using a phrase completely wrong, or saying the wrong name of a celebrity. It’s then that she realizes what she’s doing and that it is quite noticeable. Another instance of code-switching occurs when she talks to people with heavy accents of any kind. If I listen to one these conversations I can easily hear her start to imitate certain parts of the accent. Afterward I tell her about it and she has no idea.

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One thought on “Code-Switching

  1. You did an awesome job conceptualizing the idea of code-switching by employing personal life experiences. I especially like how you contrasted individuals who code-switch intentionally and individuals who code-switch subconsciously as a means of connecting with others. I think you are correct in saying some individuals code-switch subconsciously. In fact, I believe I am one of these people because I find myself picking up phrases from my friends that I use with them but not with my family; it’s all a part of my subconscious desire to be “in” with the group. In the end, I think those who intentionally code-switch and who code-switch subconsciously are not that different. Both groups are either directly or indirectly expressing the desire to fit in or the need to be loved/accepted.

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