Code switching and communication

My Library Word of the Week on my other blog (my work blog) is “code switching.” Code switching is when people use more than one language to communicate. I see this often with students who speak Spanish. They can switch mid-sentence from one language to another. Sometimes it is for emphasis, sometimes it is to ease communication, and sometimes it is to keep a conversation more private since not every other student and teacher speaks Spanish.

I find code switching to be fascinating. I think it expands beyond languages and into language choice. For example, if I stub my toe at work, the worst I’ll say is “ow.” Meanwhile, if I stub my toe at home, I’m going to swear. We modify our language based on who we are around and who we are talking to. I’m more likely to use proper English at work than at home. I feel that I have an extended vocabulary when I’m around highly educated people, such as some of my friends and my dad. Meanwhile, I have no problems switching into a limited vocabulary around people, or children, who don’t have the knowledge of language that I do. In fact, when I help students edit papers, I need to be careful to not suggest too much language that they wouldn’t know. Last year, I taught a student the word “shrew” to use in a speech in regards to The Scarlet Letter, and his teacher thought he had plagiarized.

Code switching is common in one of my favorite sci-fi shows, Firefly (which also has a movie: Serenity).  The characters switch between English and Chinese, generally to add emphasis. My favorite is probably:

Holy Mother of God and All Her Wacky Nephews
我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都 ・ Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shung

(from here: Firefly’s 15 Best Chinese Curses (and How to Say Them)

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