Linguistics theory of code switching

Code switching is an interesting phenomenon that I’ve only recently discovered through this class. Code switching is a linguistics theory that people will change the way they speak depending on the context of the situation. Code switching is often used in the case of multiple languages or varieties, but I’ll be talking about code switching only through one language, but many dialects and syntaxes. Code switching for many people has become an acceptable and almost necessary part of life. It’s become acceptable and necessary part of life because it’s considered to be rude or impolite to mistreat people who are in a different position or context. For example, it is considered rude to treat a good friend as a police officer, or vise versa.

Now that I’ve thought about the concept and reflected on my own life, I realize that code switching has become a regular part of life for not only me, but also most of my friends. Code switching is something now that’s natural, instantaneous, and almost a necessity. Even though code switching can be easily overdone, which is clearly seen in the Key and Peele skit, code switching is easily executed in a more socially acceptable way. It’s become a part of daily life. You don’t act the same way around your friends like you would act around a police officer and you don’t act the same way around a police officer like you would act around your friends.

Code switching isn’t something easily taught however, it comes with age and experience, as are most things in life. The act of code switching, especially in my early adolescent years, felt awkward and forced. I had no idea what I was doing. I kept asking myself, “Is this what being an adult is all about?” Talking to my friends’ parents was frankly weird and uncomfortable, but that soon changed as I became older and ‘wiser’. Now, it’s natural and almost effortless, even though in rare situations it’s still incredibly awkward and almost painful. I have to assume that eventually I will master the art, but I may be a long way away from that.

Being from the gritty city of Baltimore, I instinctually knew that I had to have a different demeanor when dealing with strangers versus people I knew, but I think that comes instinctually with growing up in an age where kidnappings and child abductions are consistently covered by the media. I was supposed to be cold and unfriendly to strangers and warm and friendly to the people I knew already. Over time, my code switching categories broadened from just strangers to: teachers, adults, employers, parents, and girlfriends. It’s almost expected in today’s society to code-switch. It’s not socially acceptable to code switch in the way Key and Peele did in their skit, but to a much lesser degree.

It was interesting to see code switching among my peers as we grew up together. Some of my friends completely changed when they talked to members of the opposite sex, teachers, parents, or even to people they were trying to impress. Some of my friends never understood the concept and stayed the same no matter whom they were talking to. Finally, some had almost mastered the technique by the time they were twelve. There’s always the argument of whether or not to be ‘yourself’ no matter who you are around, and many of my friends were called out for changing their personality too much around certain people. I always disagree with that because why would you treat strangers and teachers the same way you would treat your friends? Why would you treat your parents the same way you would treat a police officer? It all comes down to the level of respect or casualty you treat people. Is code switching respectful or is code switching being insincere? That’s for you to decide.

Code switching is simple respect from my perspective. Why would you treat someone in a position of power over you in the casual situation that you would treat your friend in? It’s simple respect to treat someone in a position of power with more respect than you would a friend or even a family member. Code switching is also oddly enough considered insincere by many of my peers, but again I consider it to be much of the opposite. Code switching is often a representation of you that is changed to fit the context of the situation. So yes, it may be not an exact representation, but it surely isn’t a completely different or ‘fake’ representation of you. If overdone, code switching can be very faked and insincere, as shown by the Key and Peele skit, but in the general social context that we use code switching, nobody would completely fake himself or herself. Is code switching respectful? Yes. Is code switching insincere? It possibly is, but in most social situations, no.


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