It’s just so common to hear someone saying, ’I am not that kind of person’, or ‘I will never…’ in our daily lives. For me those statements are actually inaccurate because they imply that people never change, while they do. As far as I am concerned, we all switch the way we speak according to different circumstances, and yet most of us simply tend to ignore these shifts in our tones and vocabularies. In fact, before reading about code switching and watching the movie ‘Pillow Talk’, I was also one of those people. But now I start to observe intentionally the ways others and I talk, and am always surprised of the frequency we apply code switching every day.
I find the discussion about code switching especially meaningful for realizing and rediscovering ourselves. Since we usually switch words unconsciously, revealing this phenomenon would likely point out that we are not necessarily what we think we are, because the various ways we speak undeniably reflect the ‘diversity in ourselves’.
After paying attention to this topic, I realize that I have experienced a lot about code switching. As an international student in an American university, I shift between Chinese and English so naturally that before this class I didn’t always recognize that I was bilingual. I speak English most of my day, but when I chat with my Chinese friends, I would change into Chinese. And I notice one interesting fact about this, that whenever I change the language, my tone changes according to the characteristics of the languages as well. For instance, I am more expressive and emotional in English, while I am more modest and polite in Chinese. (I am neutral about the tone changes and I love both languages)
Another aspect of code switching that I am experiencing is that I would use English to talk with my Chinese friends whenever I am in a public place. Because I feel weird and disrespectful speaking a language which people around me can’t even understand a word. And normally when I do this, my friends would also switch into English like a chain effect.
While the previous example is about language shift, there are also changes in the ways people speak and the words they choose. Many find ‘Pillow Talk’ to be hilarious, but they are not very likely to analyze seriously what makes this movie so funny while they laugh with the popcorns. But I think it’s really significant to emphasize on the code switching element within the scenes of telephone conversations. Before Brad had a crush on Jean, he had been speaking rudely and frivolously, and yet he created another identity after falling in love with Jean, acting so gentle and polite. Interestingly, Brad played two roles, constantly changing the way and tone he spoke, to convince Jean that the attractive Texas guy she loved was another person. And he manipulated the personalities impressively well, knowing exactly which word to select. I think these scenes remind us how code switching impacts our lives and some possible motivations for the shift of speaking styles.
Like the movie Pillow Talk, switching codes in real life is also related to what kind of goal people wish to achieve. I will take my dad as an example here. He is essentially rather quiet, but whenever he meets his colleagues and business partners, he would act like another person. He would suddenly turn to be really eloquent and humorous, because he has the desire to succeed in work and to achieve more transactions. That’s why people from work always regard my dad to be an impressive leader, while I know he create this personality for a certain goal.