People “code-switch” with me a lot. They think that if I have an accent, they need to talk slowly and use simpler vocabulary. Even in professional settings this has happened to me. There is absolutely nothing but condescension behind it.

I “code-switch” into a broken Russian when I’m mocking uneducated speech patterns or when I’m trying to affect an uneducated persona for fun. It can be gentle mockery but it’s still always mocking or condescending. It’s never a way of showing respect.

8 thoughts on “Code-switching”

  1. “Code switching” is supposed to be when you slip into a way of talking that’s natural to you, depending on the situation. Like somebody might “talk white” at work but talk a different way among their family and friends. I’m pretty sure AOC doesn’t talk the way she was talking in her speech unless she’s making a sad attempt to pander to black voters. It was painful to watch. People are trying to act like this is how she would’ve spoken growing up in the Bronx, but she moved out of the Bronx and into an affluent suburb when she was very young so this is disingenuous, another part of the fake “AOC has working class roots” narrative.


    1. It was definitely painful to watch. She literally cringed with discomfort. But it’s still not as bad as Hillary’s performance of a Southern accent during her campaign. That one was brutal. I felt vicarious shame for her.


  2. I’m used to a different definition of ‘code-switching’… which has to do with a natural thing that multi-lingual (or multi-dialectal) people do.
    The classic example between dialects might be an African American who uses AAVE informally with (AA) friends and family but GAE in more formal situations (like work).
    Between languages many Hispanics in the US weave in and out of Spanish and English with each other.
    Essentially any time you have people who know the same languages there’s going to be a lot of code-switching – sticking to one language is hard work in such cases.
    What you’re referencing here sounds more like plain old condescension.


    1. If a person suddenly starts using “ain’t” and “y’all” when talking to black people, what is there but condescension? Not all black people talk like this.

      It was painful to watch how every single candidate felt super uncomfortable in front of the black audience at Al Sharpton’s conference. It’s just weird. What’s so unusual or intimidating about seeing black people?


  3. I generally code switch between identities that I’ve actually lived. I think I have four different codes – home Hindi (spoken with friends and family), public Hindi (hinglish), Indian English and American English. I’m often aware I’m doing this only after the fact. Usually the switch between Indian English and American is somewhat deliberate but it’s sometimes difficult to be understood otherwise.


    1. Good point. These ways of talking are natural to you, so you use them. But if I suddenly start imitating the characters in The Wire to talk to a black colleague, that will be very ridiculous and offensive.


  4. OT: The other day I was at an informal meeting with an acquaintance from Ukraine (one of the organizers of the conference I almost went to).
    The talk was mostly non-political but I did manage to ask about the elections. What they said lined up closely with what you’ve said. They think/hope Poroshenko will win and Zelensky is a protest candidate (they attributed it mostly to young voters – which would make it similar to Poland) and backed by Russian interests. They were a little more sympathetic to Tymoshenko than you are but also thinks of her as being past her due date.
    This person is a Ukrainian language specialist from far western Ukraine and made a point of saying that transplants from the East are using more Ukrainian than expecting people to use Russian with them and takes that as a sign of increasing national unity (and claimed Zelensky can’t speak Ukrainian which I thought he could).
    There was talk about travel to and from Ukraine and I mentioned the Ukrainian buses I see everyday
    “Oh, those must be tourists!” said a colleague (not Polish and sometimes in their own little world) and my jaw just about dropped to the floor….


    1. It’s true, Ze can’t speak Ukrainian. Thank you for sharing. My whole family is very pro-Ze (except for my sister), and I don’t understand why. People say he’s like Trump but Trump had very specific, memorable slogans. This guy has nothing. All I have been able to gather is that he vapidly proposes “a dialogue” with Putin. What that is supposed to mean is a mystery.


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