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Life and Religion

Code switching keeps slang in its place
Why African Americans should speak another language
Published Monday, July 8, 2013 11:50 am
by Christina Christian

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Christina Christian, author of "Re-Engaging the Village: The Essence of Parenting" says there is a time and a place for using black vernacular. 

As a young girl, I could always tell when my mother’s telephone conversations were with professionals or family members because there was a distinct difference in the words she chose to express herself.

With family members she was clearly relaxed, laughed aloud and often used illustrative words to exaggerate her thoughts and experiences. She sometimes spoke in fragments, and other times she used a single word coupled with an inflection to make her point.

However, when in public or on the telephone with professionals, my mother’s words were no longer elongated for effect. She was concise; her face was expressionless. She rarely showed any emotions during these brief professional encounters.

In time I came to learn that my mother’s alternating use of black vernacular or slang with Standard English was called “code switching.” While it has various meanings, code switching can be defined as the practice of switching between a primary and a secondary language or discourse.

Slang, specifically the use of the black vernacular, is not a sign of ignorance. It’s a cultural language meant for use with and among people of the same culture.

There was a time when slang was restricted for use only among friends, siblings and same-age cousins. It was never, ever to be used in the presence of or while speaking to any elder or professional superior.

Speaking in slang at work or in school was not acceptable because it was understood that it was a language to be used at specific times and with limited but familiar people.

Today, things have certainly changed. The black vernacular, once a secondary language, is now used as the primary or only language spoken by many African Americans.

Parents can often be heard using slang to communicate with their children.  It is spoken openly in malls, grocery stores, churches and schools. This widespread use of slang has made it difficult for young African Americans to speak Standard English without being ridiculed and accused of “acting White.”

Consequently, many African Americans are faced with the need to learn and master the art of code switching when in certain situations with people who do not share our cultural experience.

At first mention, this may seem harmless, especially when the black vernacular has been popularized by music, commercials, sitcoms and even among Caucasians.

However, despite its widespread popularity in mainstream media, the black vernacular remains an unwelcome language in places where the mastery of Standard English counts most: corporate offices, boardrooms, political arenas, banks, etc.

The consistent and proper use of code switching demonstrates flexibility and mental acuity. It shows respect for the cultural differences represented in and across environments.  

Code switching is a way of acknowledging and mastering the language of the larger society, as well as our own. If we recognize this, we understand the need for two or more languages.

As an educator and parent, I am proud to say that I and my family speak two languages – one that allows us to easily and freely communicate with family and friends another that allows us to ascend to higher heights in our academic and career pursuits.

Christina Christian has worked as an educator for 20 years. She is the current Head of School for Bethune Mays Classical Academy and author of "Re-Engaging the Village: The Essence of Parenting."





I would like to read examples of quotations from
both "speaks" perhaps saying the same thing
Posted on July 14, 2013

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