If you know someone well enough, you can often identify them by listening to their voice alone. Every individual has distinct ways in which they speak, whether it is what they say, the accent in which they say it, or what inflections they use. The Southwestern Bell Telephone Company’s slogan in 1923 supported this idea, saying that “Your Voice is You” (Fischer 41). In recent days, people have begun to recognize and add another meaning to this motto by using a particular term: code-switching. When people talk in a slightly different way that depends on the audience, they are practicing code-switching. Although everyone keeps certain aspects of their personalities to themselves, code-switching gives people the ability to switch from facet to facet depending on the voice they use. The 1950’s movie Pillow Talk utilizes both the company’s motto and the act of code-switching. Centered around a telephone, the movie’s main character falls in love with a man pretending to be someone he is not. Each character’s voice plays an important role in the plot because of the different ways that each one speaks, and all of the code-switching leads the characters to perceive, or misperceive, who each person really is.
The movie is focused around a party line shared by Jan, a single interior designer, and Brad, a womanizing musician. In the beginning, the two main characters interact only through the telephone, and therefore come to recognize the other’s voice, but not their physical appearances. When Jan and Brad talk on the phone, they use versions of their voices that are particularly for each other. In other words, they code-switch. For example, Jan despises Brad and therefore always talks to him in a raised, annoyed voice. Brad, who finds Jan’s impatience with him rather funny, sounds almost condescending, yet charming at the same time. When the two meet in person later on in the movie, Brad is able to play a prank on Jan by switching his voice to one with a Texan accent and speaking more politely. Because the two originally knew each other by only their voices, Jan does not realize that this man who she is falling in love with is actually the womanizing man who she despises.
Pillow Talk’s example of the motto “Your Voice is You” is one of many that shows the effectiveness of code-switching. In the movie, code-switching proves to be a successful method in figuring out how to slightly change in order to get what you want. Brad wants to be with Jan, so he changes his voice because that is the only thing she knows about him. Because this voice also goes along with one side of Brad’s personality, Jan does not see the Brad she thought she knew but rather the one that he wants her to see. In the end, Brad does actually turn into the polite man he pretended to be and falls in love with the woman he used to argue with. The only thing Brad really changes around Jan is his voice, yet in the movie, his illegitimate voice causes him to transform into the person who uses it.
Despite the major increase in technology throughout the past decades, the Southwestern Bell’s motto and code-switching are just as prevalent in the forms of communication now as they were back then. Though party lines no longer exist, texting, emailing, messaging, and calling have become the main ways that people connect in the twenty-first century. Because of this, we have come to think of our own “voices” as not just what we vocally say but rather anything that we put into words, no matter the mechanism. Many people can identify a person just by a specific text he or she sends because this person’s “voice” comes through in every way possible. Even different sides of personalities can be identified if shown to the right person. Just because you cannot hear someone’s actual voice does not mean you cannot know who it is. In a way, “Your Voice is You” is even more prevalent than before because there are now more ways for people to communicate, therefore allowing everyone to find more ways to express themselves and their different personalities in words. Though the times have changed, and the forms of communication have changed along with them, humans still use certain cues, such as a “voice” to identify others.