Multiculturals & Code-Switching
Have you ever noticed that you have one set of verbal and non-verbal attributes in one conversation and then participate differently in the next? Our accents may change, our expressions, body language and even our whole attitudes can fluctuate between communities. Is this wrong? Does it mean we’re being “fake”? Or is it a sign of the growing diversity here in the U.S.?
Code-switching gets a bad rap most times, but really, doesn’t it demonstrate our growing multicultural identity? Code-switching implies a broader world view and the accommodation of a variety of communication styles. A speaker might present themselves differently in each relationship or community in order to more fully engage their audience. Often it’s not a matter of conscious choice, but more an attempt to create bonds and build comfortable relationships. Many times, without realizing it, we often adjust our actions and words to fit the acceptable standards of the community we’re interacting with or to meet their expectations of us.
For me personally, I’ve noticed that when I’m among Latino friends we are often more friendly, cracking jokes, dishing chismes and throwing out descriptive gestures to exaggerate the dramatic points. With many of my friends from west Michigan we’re loud and use a ton of obnoxious slang, but when I chat with university pals or higher ups I take a more scholarly tone…and of course, I dress differently and have more reserved gestures. Lawyers use one language, school teachers another and it seems that we all have different “codes” established within each community. Our codes are divided by race, socio-economic status, level of education, ethnic background, geography, language and so many more elements. Even a city dweller visiting the south might be hard pressed to understand the manner of speaking, gestures and common courtesies of country folk.
Multicultural families seem to be the masters of code-switching, which makes sense. The more codes you juggle, the more smoothly you learn to transition from community to community. Anywhere that you find a multitude of cultures or languages, you’ll be sure to find a plethora of code-switching going on.
Being mono-lingual or mono-cultural we can sometimes tend to be prejudiced on this topic because the changing back and forth can seem like “fronting” or “posing”, but in reality it’s a skill that helps individuals to compete in a global market and understand the mindset of others who might be different from them. It’s an act of consideration and humility that demonstrates your connection to each group or individual that you interact with.
This article was previously published in April 2011.