21 responses to “Code Switching (aka: Adventures in Verbal Communication)

  1. Very nice post, and such an interesting topic! I have mixed feelings about dialects, because I love a lot of things about dialects, about the creativity and inventiveness of various expressions, and the wonderful accents, for example, in the Caribbean, with the mix of French and Spanish and English that can be combined in wonderfully expressive ways. I’m also taking a fantastic class called The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins, and one of the themes is how language is constantly changing, and the meaning of specific words is constantly evolving, and numerous new words and expressions are entering the English language every year. At the same time, like most people who read a lot, there are certain usages that make me cringe. Further, after spending a lot of time with Marcus and Marcel, I have a greater appreciation for the ability to learn and use and even master Standard English first, before letting slang dominate one’s usage, because the way we speak has such a big impact on the way they are perceived professionally as well as personally, the way people judge our intelligence and socio-economic class, and they way people perceive our abilities and competence and even aggressiveness in life.

    So even though I’ve usually been on the more lenient end in the way that I evaluate the use of language, I find myself now being a little bit more uptight.

    At the same time, I’m still charmed and amused by lots of non-standard/regional formulations: “I was going to buy that saw, but it was too spendy”; “Honey, please grab a buggy and a sack for the groceries”; “I’m fi’n (fixin’) to do dat now”; “I need to get shook of him” ….

    • A buggy and sack? O.o Haha…maybe that is a southern thing? Same with spendy…here in Cali, most people would call an expensive thing “pricey.”

      I have always been fascinated with language. Although I fail in certain types of code switching, I can happily slide into a Valspeak dialect, though I rarely do now except to be silly. I agree with you about how certain usages of grammar may make one cringe, due to their negative associations. I think that I never managed to master the Southern-inspired, urban slang of my relatives, because it is often associated with a lower socioeconomic class, or with a less educated or competent people. Even as a child, I preferred to speak like the more successful people whom I encountered or read about.

      That sounds like a fascinating class. Very appealing to someone who is a writer and a linguaphile (not a real English word, but perhaps it should be πŸ˜‰ . Have you every studied Shakespeare? He was not only a prolific writer; he invented a great number of words and phrases that became a regular part of the English language. Isn’t it an amazing thing that one person’s imagination can increase the vocabulary of so many millions of people for ages to come?

      I love that the English language is constantly changing and growing, like it is a living, breathing thing. And yet, I have a strong appreciation for the hard, fast rules of grammar and vocabulary that anchor our language and keep it from evolving too quickly. It is already one of the most difficult languages in the world for people to learn, let alone master. Better to slow down its growth and teach the next generation the importance of the fundamentals before communication is lost in the creativity of the masses.

  2. Actually, the first time I heard “spendy” was in N. Cali & Southern Oregon! Isn’t it funny how we assume incorrect usage is probably Southern tho’? LOL. At first, when I heard it I was appalled, since expensive is so clearly the word they want. And yet, spendy is so intuitive, you just know what it means. And, speaking of intuitive, it looks like linguaphile has made it into the English language (or is at least in common usage)! Another word I first heard in N. Cali was “hella,” as in “hella good,” which is amusingly translated by non-swearers as “hecka good.” I guess it probably came form the phrase “hell-of-a-good _____,” and then the usage changed slightly, as in “that burrito was hella good” rather than “that was a hell-of-a-good burrito.” For some reason the term “buggy” for “shopping cart” is hilarious to me – that’s something I’ve only heard in the South.

    Yes, Shakespeare’s tremendous inventiveness with language, which sounded like slang to people at the time, is one of the things that makes me hesitant to judge the words that people are making up now – whether they’re coming from lower socioeconomic status individuals, or upper middle class creators of words, like “flexitarian,” which I love (or, as is frequently the case, beginning with lower socioeconic class creativity and being adopted by upper middle class users, like “bling”). πŸ™‚

    • How funny! And here I thought I was an “expert” in NorCal slang. πŸ˜€ Well, I am still more likely to say “pricey” than spendy. And yes, I am verrry familiar with “hella” and “hecka,” having grown up in the Bay Area around the time of the word’s inception. I am almost proud to say that I took part in spreading the word, haha. Though I probably was more like to say that something was totally rad or way cool than hella fresh. πŸ˜‰

      See, I know exactly what you mean about judging the use of slang. Shakespeare, if he were at the height of his career in this time, would probably have been the one to invent words like bling, spendy, and bromance. I’m convinced that he would have been a huge contributor to Urban Dictionary. πŸ™‚ And yet, we look back at his accomplishments and consider him a genius of language and literature. We praise Noah Webster, who, in creating our first standard dictionary in this country, forever changed the way that we Americans spell and pronounce a number of English words, in order to set us apart from England. Knowing the rich history of our use of language and how accepted words have changed over the centuries makes it very difficult to judge those who wish to continue changing it through creative words and grammar. As long as we continue to value a pure form of our language in professional or political use, then I am all for linguistic creativity. (As long as I don’t have to learn how to verbally code switch in order to be understood).

      On a related note, did you ever see those TV commercials starring James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell? They were hilarious! They are both famous actors who tend to play refined, educated roles in films. But in the commercials (for Sprint, I think?), they are acting out text messages between different people using a more common language that seems clearly out of place, like classical musicians playing Metallica songs, or vice versa. πŸ˜€ Loved it!

      On Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 3:17 PM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:


      • It strikes me that you would have made an excellent linguistics professor!

        Although I believe there was a small error in your initial Code Switching presentation – you said that when you were a kid you “were” a know-it-all, while I believe you may haven intended to say that you “are” a know-it-all?!? LOL πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

      • Haha, very funny. πŸ™‚ Perhaps every now and then. It’s a trait that’s hard to outgrow. But I prefer to think that I am no longer so arrogant as to assume that I am always right, or that it is my place to correct everyone on their grammatical errors. πŸ˜‰ In fact, when I deflate my sense of self-importance and just listen to people with an open mind, I find that I can learn something from just about everyone.

      • I wasn’t meaning to imply arrogance at all. I think sometimes being a know-it-all simply comes from having an intellectually curious mind and reading a lot, observing a lot, and thinking a lot.

        Freeman Dyson, the genius physicist who invented the mathematical tools for understanding the quantum electrodynamics diagrams of the even more legendary physicist and mathematician Richard Feynman (who subsequently won the Nobel Prize for this work), was asked how it felt to be so much smarter than everyone around him. He said that from his perspective, he didn’t feel especially smart. It was just frustrating that other people didn’t see the things he saw. (His son later wrote a wonderful book called the Starship and the Canoe, about making his own kayak and paddling it up the coast of British Columbia to Alaska). πŸ™‚

        Johan Cruyff experienced a similar frustration when he was inventing Dutch Total Football. He simply saw things others didn’t – better ways of passing and ball movement, better runs, better movement of players and tactics.

        I think you would have made an excellent professor/intellectual because you naturally like to read and think and observe and express yourself in writing. If you were 16-18 and you were my kid, I would have encouraged you to get a PhD and go into academia, where your thoughts and studiousness and ability to synthesize information would have been well appreciated and well rewarded. πŸ™‚

      • Ahh…yes, I understand your perspective now. I think that I am just used to the term “know-it-all” being applied toward me with contempt on numerous occasions, usually as a way of telling me that it was arrogant of me to correct other people when they were not seeking correction. Even though, as a child, I probably just thought I was being helpful by correcting the grammar (and spelling) of others, I suppose that to other people, I came off as rude or conceited.

        I have often wondered where I would be today if I had had parents who had pushed me to be more ambitious with my education and career. I was always the self-propelled type, but there were so many things that I did not know at the age of 16-18! When you’re young, you sometimes only see doors A, B, and C, not even realizing that there are, in reality, hundreds of doors one can choose. I wish that, when I was still in high school, there had been a program at my school like AVID, which takes average students with high potential and guides them toward high educational and career goals. But those days are behind me now. At least I have the ability to guide my own children in a way that my own parents could not.

  3. p.s. Perhaps with the loss of your microwave you’re recognizing a long-hidden Luddite appreciation for the old-fashioned LOL

    • Me, a Luddite? Ha! As if! πŸ˜€ Actually, I do have a great appreciation for the old-fashion, low-tech ways of living. I am quite content with making quilts and homemade bread and canning foods the way my mother taught me. However, I like modern electric appliances, computers, and televisions, too. Guess you’ll have to call me well-rounded. πŸ˜‰

      On Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 3:19 PM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:


  4. I think you’re right (of course!), the best way to do it is to pick and choose useful, cool technology, and forego the rest. With medicine, for instance, it would be silly to go back to the old days. On the other hand, does every kitchen really nead a range, an oven, a microwave, a toaster, a toaster-oven, a coffee maker, a coffee grinder, a blender, an electric can opener, a food processor, a mixer, a portable mixer, a single-cup smoothie maker, under cabinet lighting, an ice maker, filtered water, bottled water, a dish washer, a crock pot, a pressure cooker, a rice cooker and a garbage disposal? And many people who have all these items in their kitchen don’t even cook – they eat out most of the time! Reasonable minds may differ as to which of these electric devices is useful and truly worth buying, but at some point a threshold of excess is reached.

    Most other countries in the world seem to do fine with much less. And the effect on the environment from making and packaging and distributing and regularly replacing all these items is enormous.

    • Well, let’s see…I do not own a food processor, electric can opener, single-cup smoothie maker (those exist?!?), an ice maker, stand mixer, or pressure cooker, and our tiny toaster oven is built into our toaster. πŸ˜‰ Good point though — this is definitely a culture of excess, and it does seem as though the people who can even afford these luxurious appliances are the ones who can afford to eat out more, or perhaps lack the time to use those pretty appliances to prepare meals, since their time is more invested in working outside the home. But I do enjoy the convenience of some modern appliances in my kitchen, and I absolutely use every single one on a regular basis, since we rarely eat out, and I cook a lot from scratch. Perhaps that is the important thing — not whether it is good or bad to own toaster ovens and rice cookers, but whether those things actually add value to our lives. If I own something that only serves to clutter our home, or take up space, or requires more of my time or attention to clean or maintain, then I would rather throw it out or give it away. But if owning that appliance makes it easier to do something that I already do often, and gives me less stress, and more time with my family, and helps me to make something even better, then it adds value to my life, and is worth keeping.

      When it comes down to it, I could choose to do without a great deal of luxuries which we consider to be “necessities” in our culture. I have lived for years without my own washer and dryer, or dishwasher, or even a vehicle. And so I can understand how life can be lived just fine without them. But I also see how owning these things has given me back so much precious time — time that can be spent with my children, or earning money, or blessing others, or even on my own recreation. And so just for that, those luxuries become a worthwhile and desirable addition to my life, and, I imagine, to the lives of many others, as well.

      On Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 8:18 AM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:


  5. I agree completely – if a person actually uses a device regularly and it’s helpful, I’m all for it!

    It’s the clutter, the things that never get used, the items that are purchased merely because they indicate wealth and high social status (the $80,00 media room and the $30,000 temperature-controlled wine closet bought by partners at the law firm who aren’t even really into wine, but just show off once a year when they invite colleagues over), that inspire me to scale back and simplify πŸ™‚

    • Wow! :O That’s a lot of money. And here, I was thinking it would be excessive just to own a little wine refrigerator, even though I enjoy wine. An $80,000 media room? Yikes! I still don’t even own an LCD television. Or even a stereo. You are describing a different world. πŸ™‚

      • Yes, it’s a different world, one that repulses me. The guys who I used to work for would buy those kinds of ostentatious things, to go along with their $500,000 lake houses, while downtown where I walked to work there are numerous homeless people who are eating spoiled McDonal’s out of the trash cans. Or they would “downsize” to a $5,000-per-month luxury apartment! Oh well.

        So, you don’t have an LCD TV or a stereo – you really do have some Luddite tendencies – woo-hoo!!! πŸ™‚

      • Well, I don’t want to judge the wealthy any more harshly than the rest of us, but yes…that level of excess and luxury makes me shake my head. I am reminded of Pip from Great Expectations. :/

        Haha…not Luddite – never that! *runs away screaming* πŸ˜€ But yes, I am not much into materialism and consumerism. (And The Theory of the Leisure Class is on my must-read mental list).

  6. Yes, you should definitely read The Theory of the Leisure Class (it’s available online as a free pdf :)). I’ve actually been reading an edited volume called The Real Price of Everything, which includes that one and Thomas Malthus’ wonderfully sobering and engaging Essay on the Principles of Population. Michael Lewis is the editor and he does a really nice job on the biographical sketches of each author. Fascinating stuff …

    As I was commuting this morning (yuck!), I remembered how the usage of “ain’t” used to grate on my nerves. I had a law professor who liked to curse and said “ain’t” in class – I think he just liked to be provocative. As I got to know him better, I learned that he was a wonderful advocate for worthy causes, a great constitutional law and civil procedure scholar, and had a great sense of humor. Anyway, I was reminded that the more one studies linguistics and literature, the harder it becomes to judge non-standard usages and dialects, because one realizes that his or her own prejedices are just as parochial as anyone else’s (and the historical resistance to new forms of words seems hopelessly futile and narrow-minded).

    For instance, from an objective perspective, why is “ain’t” any less correct than “isn’t”?? And although we don’t see it too frequently anymore, the old contraction “I amn’t” is relatively common in Irish literature.

    Thus, “I am not” = “I amn’t” and “He is not” = “He ain’t.”

    Why should that be less correct than “He is not” = “He’s not” or “He isn’t”?

    And really it could be regarded as an elegant simplification to use “ain’t” as the contraction for all forms of the verb:

    I ain’t
    You ain’t
    He ain’t
    She ain’t
    They ain’t

    Rather than:

    I amn’t (or I’m not) going
    You aren’t going
    She isn’t (or She’s not) going
    They aren’t going

    Interesting how language evolves, it’s an organic and relatively uncontrollable process, somewhat a result of unpredictable contingency, similar to real evolution πŸ™‚

    • I just read the Wiki on Essay on the Principles of Population. It looks interesting, and his ideas seem familiar. I’m sure that I must have heard them discussed before, perhaps back in university or something. It is funny that he does not appear to mention the concept of a population checked by affluence. πŸ™‚ Perhaps that simply did not happen during the time he wrote the essay. Of course, it is that affluence often results in later marriages and consistent use of birth control, rather than the wealth itself being the actual cause of population decrease.

      The use of ain’t still grates on my nerves a little. πŸ˜› Luckily, my kids never say it. I don’t mind it occasionally, or in music lyrics or poetry. I think that for me, I am very sensitive to the overuse of substandard English among Black Americans, because there are already so many prejudices against people of my ethnic group as a whole. It is embarrassing and difficult to be associated with a culture that is historically looked down upon as inferior, or poorly educated, or undesirable by those of the mainstream culture. The way that one chooses to present him or herself, such as style of dress, or manners, or use of grammar, are often the ruler by which others will judge us. So when I encounter young black people speaking with poor grammar, swaggering about in sagging pants, and behaving in a crass or rude manner, I just want to scold them and make them clean it up – have some dignity. Get educated. Pull up your pants. πŸ˜› (Judging, I know).

      • I have to admit, the use of “ain’t” grated on me this weekend. Marcus had a “formal” at school and one of his (non-black) friends says “ain’t” and uses double negatives, like “that don’t mean nothin’.” It was painful to hear, perhaps because he doesn’t know any better.

        Maybe it’s like art or other forms of creativity – Picasso was actually an incredibly technically skilled artist before he embarked on cubism and surrealism. Similarly, Brazillian soccer players become technically skilled at ball control and accurate passing and shooting before they have the ability to bring to life creative combinations on the field. I used to make pottery, and the foundation for being able to make cool, creative tea pots and lanterns and mugs was the basic set of “throwing” skills – centering, lifting, shaping, proportions, etc. And Zora Neale Hurston’s writing is the same way – she uses dialect, but the reader knows that she has technical fluency and a solid command of the English language first.

        On a linguistic note, an interesting new usage (or at least new to me) that I’ve been hearing the kids use is “thirsty” to mean someone who is desperate for romance. As in “she’s thirsty,” which means, roughly, “she’s desperate to go out with me.”

      • Code switch: “…because he doesn’t know any better.” becomes “’cause he don’t know no better.” πŸ˜€ Well, if the ability to code switch is a form of art, I guess I lack that particular artistic talent. I can write it with no problem, but just speaking those words aloud feels uncomfortable and wrong, like eating a bowl of Cheerios with Coke instead of milk. :/ Bleah.

        My kids don’t use a great deal of slang, so I have to depend on whatever I come across online to keep up with the latest expressions (which I try to do, since, should I ever return to serious novel-writing, I write middle-grade and young adult fiction, and want for their language to sound natural).

        You used to make pottery? Very cool, though it surprised me, only because it is an unusual hobby for men in this culture.

        On Mon, Mar 3, 2014 at 8:16 AM, The Girl From Jupiter wrote:


  7. Yes, I took an art class in 7th grade and started to learn, and just got more and more into it. By junior and senior year of High School I was going to the art room during lunch, most French classes, art and study hall. πŸ™‚ Being an introvert, it was perfect for me to relax and have my own little sanctuary. I would bring my NY Times and make pottery and read articles, and the art teacher humored me since the kiln and the throwing room were tucked away behind the regular class room, and I was always willing to teach any other kids who were interested and I always cleaned up and kept the tools organized. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    It’s funny how little these inclinations change :).

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