Code switching: does it involve switching your identity?

Similar to the way a person who is normally very outspoken and outgoing might try to dull themselves on a first date so as to not intimidate the person, it’s possible for someone to hide or force their language differently.

What is linguistic code switching?

Linguistic code switching refers to purposely changing the way you communicate to be perceived differently. This can include adjusting your accent, vocabulary, syntax, grammatical structure, or mannerisms.

Linguistic code switching can sometimes be subtle or even done subconsciously. It heavily depends on your surroundings: the place, the people, or the situation.

How is code switching triggered?

Often, code switching is related to professionalism or workplace and academic expectations. It can be as simple as, say, repressing yourself from saying curse words in the workplace, when you’re naturally inclined to “curse like a sailor”.

It allows you to present the best and most professional version of yourself.

Code switching can also be linked to cultural identity, allowing yourself to connect with others and comfortably show who you are. This sort of cultural code switching can be triggered by meeting with people of your same group or cultural identity. It strengthens the sense of self and allows a more comfortable approach of displaying who you are.

This entails inserting in words from your native language, for example. Often, people who were born in or grew up in the United States, for example, grew up speaking or listening to a language besides the dominant English.

Many who are either child of or immigrants themselves, and grew up speaking their native language besides English, can tend to slip in certain words or phrases when speaking English. Don’t make the mistake of judging or assuming that whoever does this does not speak English well, however.

People are well-educated on how to handle more than one language enough to do it correctly. Often, there is a slight joy and comfort in knowing that people can not only recognize but appreciate your specific dialect or words.

Beware, however, that doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that it results in incoherent speech. Code switching, in particular slipping in native words or phrases, is often done in an understandable and linguistically appropriate manner.

Overall, code switching doesn’t mean that people lie or hide who they truly are. It’s a way of protecting yourself from judgements or misunderstanding, or simply “fitting in” with your distinct social circles.

Often, it’s simply a natural and unconscious reaction to being around different social groups.

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