Code-switching is when someone changes their language based on who they are with, typically to fit in better with that group. There are many reasons why people code-switch. People switch their pronunciations of words and their dialects around to better fit in with a certain group.
They also change their behaviour.
In linguistics, code-switching or language alternation occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. But its much more than that.
Multilinguals, speakers of more than one language, sometimes use elements of multiple languages when conversing with each other.
In dress and food – choosing to dress in the mode of the people you are with, learning to eat the same food in the same way the others do is another type of code switching .
Why do people do this ?
Often to do with work. In the UK people switch to the codes of the straight white southern public-school-educated male in order to get the best jobs.. And all places have their equivalents.
But what do they switch from?
- Being Northern – whilst having a Northern Accent is not the slur it was, it can still be prejudicial in building the connections. Dropping the northern sense of humour in order to be understood, removing terms of endearment and being over-friendly.
- Being Female – it is possible to get on as female, but many have to adopt ‘boy’s behaviours’ to climb the ladder.
- Being of Foreign Origin while raised in Britain. – In many ways having to have two different cultures – the ones you use at home and the ones you use at work. Those that don’t follow the subtleties and indirectness of the polite British society can ‘scare the natives’ with their directness or loudness.
- Being Foreign – being aware that the accepted behaviours at home may not be acceptable in your new location. Observing and copying the new ‘norms’.
- Being LGBTQ – being ‘straight acting’ or so you think.
There are dangers
So, at least historically, wearing the traditional uniform of white man’s business – Grey or Blue suit, white shirt and tie, no beard is a way of ‘belonging’. But it can be cultural appropriation – white people wearing dreadlocks or Arabic dress is asking for trouble.
The more you code switch the more you become the person you are switching into. And then you go ‘back home’ and everyone thinks you are now too posh to talk to. So you switch back. Which is the real you? It is so stressful and exhausting.
Intercultural Globality is a method by which you can learn to be all things to all people. And still be true to yourself. Understanding your communication preferences is a good start. Just ask .