Analysis of Brad and Jan’s Code-Switches

According to Matt Thompson, there are five main reasons why people code-switch: our brain does it subconsciously, we have a desire to fit in, we want to get something out of the situation, we want to say something that only a select group of people can understand, and we use code-switching to convey a thought. Throughout the day, we become and switch between a myriad of personalities, all because of five main reasons. In the 1959 movie Pillow Talk, the two main characters, Jan Morrow and Brad Allen, get tangled up in a web of code-switching confusion. After souring his relationship with the other member of his party line, Jan Morrow, through a series of pranks, Brad finds himself in a dilemma when he first sees Jan in person. He finds her attractive and is intrigued by his best friend’s interest in Jan, but knows that Jan would recognize his own voice from the prank calls, and re-invents himself as a country-boy from Texas. Throughout the film, both Brad and Jan engage in seemingly unrelated code-switching; however, the motivation behind their dialect changes is driven by the same single reason, to get something out of the situation.

Fairly early into the plot, Brad’s reasoning for code-switching is blatant and conspicuous. He knows that revealing his true identity to Jan would ruin any chance he has of courting Jan or anything else of that nature from her. Hence his constant switches from his normal, bachelor, smooth-talking, New York to a gentlemanly, rural, Texas boy. He has to keep his identity hidden from her in order to get what he wants. Brad, however, very cleverly calls Jan and switches between his two personalities in order for him to reach his goal faster, calling as Brad in order to lower Jan’s expectations, and then following up as Rex Stetson, who is able to profit off of Jan’s new expected view of Rex, making himself seem even more the gentleman.

Poor Jan Morrow is sadly stuck at the other end of Brad’s ruse; however, he isn’t the only one with a hidden agenda. Throughout the film, Jan finds herself constantly fed up with Brad for always hogging the party line in order to sing an “original” love song to some new young, unknowing girl. During the scenes when she would have to talk to Brad on the phone, her voice has a distinctive change in tone, switching from one that is conversational or amiable to terse and aggressive once she is talking to Brad. Though this might seem like an unconscious code-switch, Jan does have something that she wants to achieve from her code-switch. Jan feels disrespected by Brad and his blatant disregard of anyone else on the party line. Being a woman—especially a successful, single woman—was not an easy thing in the 1950s/1960s. By changing to this more authoritative tone, Jan is trying to gain Brad’s respect and have him view her as an equal. She feels that if she puts down this aggressive front, that she will lose any headway she made in regard to gaining his respect.

Throughout Pillow Talk, Jan Morrow and Brad Allen are posed as two very different characters; however, they both code-switch, ironically, for the same reason. They both pose as a different personalities, a tool they use in a selfish manner. Brad and Jan, however, are not alone. Code-switching is a reality of everyday life, though it might not happen in as humorous of a manner as in Pillow Talk. Hidden agenda or subconscious change in speech, we all code-switch, and as shown in Pillow Talk, code-switching sure does make life more interesting.

One thought on “Analysis of Brad and Jan’s Code-Switches

  1. Jenna,
    Your blog post was entertaining and brought up some new ideas about code switching that I had not before considered. I always subconsciously assumed that people code-switched in order to make their intended audience more comfortable or as to not offend anyone – I never considered code switching for personal gain, but your explanations made a lot of sense to me. Also, I applaud your word choice in this blog post. You are talented at choosing descriptive verbs and adjectives. One thing I would recommend to you for future posts would be to write in the active voice more often versus the passive voice. Great work and thank you for sharing your thoughts!
    Emily Enyedi


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