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Monday, April 22, 2024

Code-switching

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Code-switching is the art of making a smooth as silk transition from board room banter to street corner slang. With ease and liquidity, we jump in and out of standard English and vernacular in the blink of an eye.

Some feel code-switching is an indictment on the use of slang. The idea being if a person decides to code-switch, then they must not be living their full, authentic life.

Others feel it is a necessary part of the Black American experience. Certain words or phrases are only appropriate when we are among family and friends.

Lately, the sentiment has grown that there is no longer a need to code-switch. We want to talk in the office the same way we talk at the cookout. We want to be authentic. We want to live out loud. We no longer want to be ashamed of how we speak.

Recently, I was speaking to two other Black women about how we have, over the years, learned to monitor our tone of voice and facial expressions to not appear aggressive or angry. The stereotype of the “angry Black woman” is so prevalent and pervasive that from an early age we adapted our natural voices to appease people whose biases color their views of us before we even have a chance to speak.

What a heavy burden to carry – always making sure each syllable was spoken exactly according to standard English rules in the hopes of being seen as equally human.

As I learned to appreciate African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which is becoming recognized as a legitimate language, I felt less compelled to code-switch. AAVE has a rich history filled with words originating from decades and centuries before us. The words represent the speaking patterns of our ancestors.

Are you ready? Or are you ready ready? The difference between the two being whether you would like to go or you absolutely cannot wait to go. Doubling up words for emphasis is said to be found in some West African languages. While the language changed, the pattern remained.

Some AAVE words were derived from southern terminology that traveled the same path as the Great Migration. Fixing to became finna. Going to became gon. Aren’t became ain’t. These words can be heard across the country.

Other AAVE vocabulary was birthed in jazz, blues, rock, soul and hip hop. Thanks to rapper Lil Wayne, everyone now knows what ‘bling’ is. The term was even added to the dictionary.

Language is fluid. It evolves over time just like the people who speak it.

Whether people choose to code-switch or not, what is no longer needed is the shame associated with how we choose to speak. A person’s speech is not indicative of their goodness, worth or intelligence. Speech is a skill developed over time. Intellect is a trait given at birth.

So, if you are done code-switching or you are done done code-switching, there isn’t, I mean, ain’t no shame in it.

Contact Editor-in-Chief Camike Jones at CamikeJ@indyrecorder.com or 317-762-7850. 

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