Code-switching remains as an unconscious practice in society. It occurs in almost every situation, no matter the time and place. For those still yet unaware of this timeless expression, code-switching, defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is “the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of languages in conversation.” In other words, it is when an individual adjusts their behavior depending on the setting or audience. For example, a form of code-switching would be the way you act differently around your boss compared to the way you would treat your younger sibling. Code-switching also occurs when you change your tone of voice attending a formal dinner compared to when you are having a girls’ night out with your closest friends. It is important to note that code-switching does not necessarily suggest that you are pretending to be someone else. It is simply a habitual behavior that causes you to bring out certain traits of your personality more than others, allowing you to transform and adapt to any situation.
Numerous forms of code-switching may be exemplified in this week’s recommended film entitled Pillow Talk, starring Rock Hudson and Dorris Day.
In this 1959 romantic comedy film, Brad Allen (Rex Hudson) is a successful music composer and womanizer living a luxurious life in New York City. However, with a simple change in accent, Brad suddenly transforms into Rex Stetson, an innocent countryman all the way from Texas. By faking a new accent, Brad is able to grasp a different persona and trick Jan Morrow (Dorris Day) into believing that he is not the “sex-manic” living upstairs but an inexperienced new-comer to the city life. Brad first takes on his identity as Rex when he encounters Jan at a nightclub. When the two finally begin to talk, Brad suddenly introduces himself in a Texan accent in order to hide his identity.
Through the use of code-switching, the audience is able to see Brad in an entirely different light. He is no longer the playboy who would make phone calls with multiple women, but an innocent and selfless man. Although Brad presented absolutely superb acting skills, his Texan accent was the key factor in his complete change of image. His accent sparked a myriad of stereotypes that caused Jan to misperceive the real “Rex Stetson.”
Jan immediately fell in love with Rex’s mysterious nature. Since he came from a completely different background, she was attracted to his foreign views and values. Immediately after their first meeting, Jan loved how different he was from the other men she had met and wanted to help him adjust to the city.
Brad’s accent not only gave him a nonnative image, but also made it seem as if he were more accustomed to the rural, nature life. This made him look as if he were an innocent man with great inexperience with women. His Texan accent allowed him to speak in a softer tone and helped portray himself as “the perfect gentleman.”
Through the simple practice of code-switching, Brad is able to make astonishing transformations throughout the movie. By taking on a new accent, Brad was able to act differently from his normal self and slowly become more immersed in the character of Rex. This film not only strengthens the audience’s view on the power of code switching, but also allows them to understand the complex nature of human beings.
So the next time, you notice yourself changing your tone of voice or thinking longer about choosing the right words, don’t worry, it’s not the nerves. You are just code-switching.