Code Switching

Graphics by Eric Estibeiro

Language is a mode of communication through which feelings are expressed and messages are delivered verbally. Every country across the globe has its official language while some countries have regional and local languages, which make them multilingual. From the 16th century, the Britishers started making their moves to expand their kingdom overseas. Capturing the territories of countries like Hong Kong, Africa, Canada, North America, Barbados, Singapore, Malaysia and India, they established their influence and became a superpower. Over the years, the political dynamics gradually altered, and the colonized countries gained freedom. But the influence of the British government in certain areas of life remained the same. Native languages became a minority and the speakers of these languages had to adjust their style of speech, behaviour and appearance to survive in the regions outside their vicinity. This shift of spoken language and alterations in behaviour according to social context is called ‘code-switching’.

The population of countries like Africa, Canada, India, Singapore and the USA is multilingual. The citizens speak two or more languages While conversing with their peers and associates, they consciously or subconsciously switch between two languages according to the need of communication. This code- switching proves to be useful for elaborating the true essence of sentences. It generates a sense of coexistence among different communities and protects the distinguished identity of every individual. People who tend to switch languages are likely to be more open in their approach to intercultural relations and grow to be compassionate members of an enlarged society. A social environment or an institution that supports code-switching, helps in the eradication of cultural barriers. Ideas are freely put forward and bilingual people feel at ease while interacting within diverse communities. The speakers get a wide range of choices of words and the minority languages get preserved and widely protected. Code-switching provides representation to people of colour and minority language-speaking citizens, and helps to convey thoughts beyond the first languages. In the USA, 14.4 percent of the population comprises international migrants. If educational institutions like schools, colleges and universities support code switching, the students that hail from minority communities would get a chance to express their ideas and thoughts freely. While doing the school work, projects and assignments or answering any question, they won’t feel the pressure of sticking to the language of majority. This exercise of code switching will prove beneficial to the secondary language speaking students and encourage them to protect their individuality. It would make them feel included and their linguistic recognition would be celebrated.

As the old saying preaches, every coin has two sides. This applies to code-switching as well because it too has some drawbacks. The bilingual community faces a dilemma while sharing space with people belonging to the majority population. They are conditioned to believe that, if they don’t switch from their mother tongue or spoken language to the language of the majority, they would be outcast. To fit with the dominant language-speaking people, they modify their behaviour and switch their language. This code-switching sends a message among the masses in order to fit into the certain criteria of the community, you must cover your true self. The African American, Latin American and Asian communities are forced to code-switch because the social environment makes them believe that only “being white” makes any race superior. This code-switching is the by-product of colonization that leads the minority to shift into survival mode in the white supremacist society. In the USA, African American women deliberately code-switch and change their appearance, dressing and way of speaking. They have been oppressed for centuries so long, which makes them change themselves around the majority community. Their existence in the communities outside their own has a border of fear which drives them away from their own culture and identification.

In a world where countries are divided by borders and wars are at a constant stake, code-switching creates solidarity between different social groups. But at occasions, it encourages discrimination of communities that has been oppressed since the colonial period. It is the right of every human being to live the way he or she desires . At the same time, no person shall claim superiority over himself/herself by depriving others of their basic rights. Every cultural and individual identity needs to be celebrated and safe space must be created where citizens would be no one but unapologetically themselves.

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