You might have already noticed that you wouldn’t talk to your mom the same way you talk to your best friend However, you might not have noticed in how many different situations you switch the way you speak: diction, tone, emphasis, subject. This phenomenon—of switching between two or more different dialects in conversation—is called code-switching. According to Matt Thompson, there are five main reasons why we, as people, code-switch: switching subconsciously, desiring to fit in, manipulating to get something in return, disguising language so only a select group can understand, and conveying a thought. 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. Brad’s code-switching throughout the film is conspicuous, but Jan secretly and cunningly engages in code-switching herself.
Which one of Thompson’s five reasons does Jan use, you might ask? Unlike Brad, whose motives behind his code-switching are obvious, Jan code-switches in order to get something out of the situation. 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, Jan’s voice has a distinctive change in tone, switching from one that is light and conversational to shrill and aggressive once she is talking to Brad. One might think that this is an unconscious code-switch, but Jan is using her change in tone in order to achieve something: respect. Some might argue that Jan’s character is simply fulfilling the 1950’s stereotype of an unmarried woman—aggressive, depressed, and unapproachable; however, when you take a closer look at Jan Morrow, the notion of her fulfilling a stereotypical unmarried woman seems illogical. First, let’s examine Jan and Brad’s (when he is being Brad and not Rex) relationship, you would be able to see that 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 1950’s/1960’s, and Jan not only doesn’t seem to be intimidated by being single, but also seems to enjoy it. Jan does not change her tone to be shrill or uptight, but rather is trying to be authoritative. By switching to this tone of voice, Jan is trying to gain Brad’s respect and have him view her as an equal. She feels that if she ever doesn’t use this aggressive front, that she will lose any headway she made in regard to gaining his respect. Morrow is not a stereotype, but rather a strong and resilient feminist.