Code SwitchingI don’t have anything personal against The Pine-Sol Lady. She’s probably a very nice person who has made valuable contributions to society, her community, maybe even her industry during her career as an actress and product spokesperson.

But every time I see one of those commercials, I roll my eyes because for reasons known only to her, she’s been OK with years and years of scripting that have made her come off as a modern-day mammy. In order to lend extra credibility to the power of Pine-Sol, she’s had to oomph it up with a little baby-honey-sugar catch phrasing. I guess, in the minds of the advertising team over there at Clorox brands, if it’s endorsed by someone who looks and sounds like she could be an old-school domestic, then maybe consumers will believe that it really must be that good.

I’m not against the way she talks. Black speak is my first language, too, the tongue I feel most comfortable chatting, even blogging, in. By day, I’m a freelance writer and copyeditor. Though the latter is necessary, it’s certainly not the sexy, artistic, Carrie Bradshaw side of the editorial field. Where writing is creative and freeing and, if it’s good, full of turns of phrase that sparkle with self-expression, editing is like math with words: constructed, linear, exacting.

Personal style takes a backseat to the rules some grammatical superpower established as gospel long before you and I got here and, very often, there’s a conflict between what I know is technically sound and what just sounds right. I’m beholden to standards that feel awkward because lines like “With whom will you go?” come off as stodgy, pretentious and just not something anybody would say outside of a Charles Dickens novel. My native ear is fine-tuned to the linguistic mechanics of my Black, working class background that could give a damn about a dangling modifier and instead makes me want to say, “Who you goin’ with?” And that’s appropriate—in a relaxed, familiar, conversational setting, but not necessarily on a global platform.

Turn with me to Ecclesiastes 3—I rock with the New Century Version these days—which tells us, in so many words, that there is an ideal time for everything. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to be sad and a time to dance. A time to look for something and a time to stop looking for it. And in that beautiful line of thinking, one could argue that there’s a time to talk in dialect and a time to talk like you’re in mixed company.

Code switching used to be one of those rote lessons of Blackness that was passed down in little handbaskets of tried-and-tested wisdom, like not eating at just any ol’ body’s house and avoiding travel through certain neighborhoods after dark. There was an expectation to know when to turn it on and off, especially as education became more accessible. So Standard American English, or at least a wholehearted stab at it, was pulled out for job interviews, classroom discussions, speaking to and in front of White folks and other situations that called for “talking proper.” But I’m not so sure that’s the standard anymore.

A few weeks ago, I volunteered to help high school students here in DC write their college application essays and prepare in-person responses to mind-numbingly pointless, but nonetheless mandatory, interview questions. Some of them came in spirited and jazzed to get their A game together. But true to the form of atypical teenager-ism, many skulked in listless and bored before I even got my introduction out. I was already expecting that, especially because I have a 14-year-old of my own and know firsthand how swiftly disinterested they can be in everything.

What did catch me off guard was their readiness to present themselves and their cases to get into a school just like they would shoot the breeze with one of their friends on the block. The concept of code switching was foreign to at least five of them and clearly, the thought of being obligated to speak in one manner with the people they love and are most comfortable with and another in front of a group of complete strangers—college administrators and educators, at that—never crossed their minds. Clearly, if they were taught how to switch between the two forms of English, it was a lesson they were determined not to apply.

It really made me think. Even in my advising, I was talking just like them. In conversations with random Black folks every day, like the teller at the bank, the waitress at Joe’s Crab Shack or the Verizon customer service rep, I shirk my technical training to fire off sentences with misplaced modifiers, illegal subject/verb agreement and the habit of drawling “girl” into a seven-syllable word. So what was so wrong with being true to the way we’ve remixed English? Why was I so irritated about The Pine-Sol Lady being all sassy sistagirl when, despite the stereotyping, it’s the way my friends, my aunties, the women I grew up with in church, millions of other mothers, grandmothers and big mama-types, and I talked?

Obviously I’m guilty, at least partly, of pandering to the social convention that dismisses the way Black folks speak as sounding uneducated. But that same system of beliefs—and, let’s call it what it is, discrimination—allows Spanglish and other cultural dialects to be exotic or worldly, even endearing. There’s no Rosetta Stone for Ebonics, but that doesn’t make it any less of a viable, authentic language, as undervalued as it is. So let me stop singling out the poor Pine-Sol Lady. She didn’t create the dynamic. She’s just trying to get her life and get a check.

  • Marisa

    For the record that Pine Sol lady is way less annoying than that Pop Eyes woman, that black lady hollering at Flo in that Progressive insurance advertisement, although every chick in that Playtex bra commercial including the white ones were over the to. The title of just Extra for freakin reason is that Briely woman from the Weight loss commercials. When I’m in a professional setting that is what I am professional even when the academic advisors, potential employers want to crack jokes, I give them a little smile that lets them know ha ha but, I’m not falling for this obvious trap your setting.

    I’m about business when its play time sure I can let a curse word or two fly but, I’m not really vulgar or extra when in the presence of anybody white or not. Its not about sucking up or conforming to white people all the time, its about your audience in life is not always the same. Shooting the breeze on the block with your crew, you cant come into a professional/academic setting acting like its Freestyle Friday on 106&Park.

  • Chillyroad

    If I’m among friends I speak naturally. If I’m in a professional setting I speak properly. If I’m around my elders I don’t speak at all. Lol.

  • Rakel

    My sisters and I were raised to talk proper. When I said raised I really mean it (get beat for starting a sentence w/because or saying gonna and ain’t, etc) so lol there wasn’t Code Switching in the house. We learned that from friends and now we can do it at ease. My parents still check me if I say something incorrectly. As I job hunt I do see people talk to prospective employers like they would talk to their friends and the concept of Code Switching doesn’t occur to many. BTW love Ecclesiastes 3, one of my fave passages. There’s a time and place for everything it’s not to appease others it’s for you.

  • Misshightower

    Can someone PLEASE help me understand the “bi-dialectal/bad grammar shift” I notice so often when our gifted, female comedians (in particular…or is it me?) want to be funny. I notice this in particular with the Black co-hosts on the View, the Talk, the Chew, etc. I guess I need to throw Steve Harvey in here too, just to be fair.
    Don’t hate…just asking for your thinking here.

  • Marisa

    Hello I remember when I about 17 and my mom nearly took me to the woodshed for uttering the word LIE about a classmate of mine, in the presence of my grandparents and their friends. She was like you are not to say that word in this house you use the word story. Which is funny because those older folks could compete with anything said on Def Comedy Jam lol

  • Cocochanel31

    My mother always told me with your friends it’s fine, but in public/business no. I have a feeling the young hs children you speak of were not taught that they had to “switch” or the meaning of professionalism. I am glad that people like Janelle volunteer their time to teach them these things since everyone wasn’t raised in a home where the importance of being able to switch to the King’s English when conducting business was stressed.

    The Bible also says our people perish from lack of KNOWLEDGE! Kudos to those spreading the knowledge!

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J. Nicole

    I was always told when growing up, by friends of mine that I “talk like a white girl”, which is funny to me, because the white girls I knew, while growing up in Brooklyn were usually the product of first generation immigrants who didn’t understand the rules of grammer.

    Maybe its the inflections in my voice. Maybe its because I studied literature. But, I speak the way I speak and it does not change to suit anyone. At all. In fact, at my previous job I found myself correcting emails of coworkers-all white for poorly written correspondence. Now, there are times when I’m around friends I may use slang (albeit, something old school like ‘she caughf the vapors’) but I’d say it in front of anyone because I just don’t care.

    It would make sense in a professional environment, EVERYONE speaks in an appropriate way. Just so everyone understands each other. But I’m convinced many people in the younger 18-25 age demographic doesn’t get that

  • Sunnyjade

    Loved this article. I understand the ‘code switching’ and sometimes wonder if I’m wearing different masks and now realize that life is dynamic and different settings deserve different social requirements; I love wearing jeans, but I’m not going to wear them to a Met. ball. Overall, I relate with most of what you’ve written and have given the pine sol lady a pass as well. It’s just the Flava Flaves of the world that need working on.

  • Mademoiselle

    First, Spanglish is only endearing to Americans outside of a professional setting. Spanglish receives the exact same criticism in a professional Spanish-speaking (or all-Spanish) atmosphere that Ebonics or Hillbilly English would in a professional English-speaking atmosphere.

    Second, there’s professionalism, and there’s comfort. When I’m around people I care for the most, I care the least about their grammar when they speak to me (not to be confused with caring about their education). It’s the same way I don’t care about spelling mistakes in comment sections or text messages.

    Third, code switching is about knowing your audience. It’s just as much about word choice as it is about grammar. In an academic setting, the word choice and grammar are much more calculated to convey a sophisticated level of education. In the workplace, the word choice aligns with the field you work in. For instance, depending on where you are, you may be called a guest, passenger, patron, diner, or buyer, etc. by the person you’re about to give money to for the goods/services you’re purchasing even though you’re doing the same thing in each scenario: paying for what they’re selling. In informal settings, word choice is just as important, but grammar rules relax. Code switching is used to put your audience at ease. For the same reason that you wouldn’t disregard subject verb agreements during a presentation, you wouldn’t lace your conversation with rarely used vocabulary in a social setting — not because one setting is better than the other, just because the atmosphere/culture is different and you want to make sure you get your point across.

    An example: when I worked retail as a teenager with teenage coworkers, and the backroom fridge was going to be cleaned out, I wrote on my leftovers “Do Not Discard.” My coworkers looked at me and asked, “why would you write that?” I said because I didn’t want my food to get thrown out when the fridge gets cleaned. They asked me why I didn’t just write ‘Don’t Throw Out.’ Informal setting, rarely used word, and my food still got thrown out (but not because of word choice). All that just to say, know your audience, and code switch accordingly. It’s a tool used by all races, so don’t be ashamed if one of the codes you toggle between is black slang — all races/languages have their slang.

  • Anon

    Who says that it sounds uneducated? IT IS un-educated. I’m not saying that it isn’t common, but it is common because so many in older generations didn’t have access to schools. It isn’t just “how black people speak”.

    So what was so wrong with being true to the way we’ve remixed English? Why was I so irritated about The Pine-Sol Lady being all sassy sistagirl when, despite the stereotyping, it’s the way my friends, my aunties, the women I grew up with in church, millions of other mothers, grandmothers and big mama-types, and I talked?—> You were irritated because that is the MAIN image of BW being pushed right now, overweight, sassy, and unable to conjugate verbs of the English language, despite being American.

    It speaks to lack of schooling, and inability to step up to different social requirements besides working poor/lower class.

    Speaking properly isn’t “pandering to social convention”, it is called having a skill that will get you employed! The Pine-Sol lady, the Popeyes lady, the Progessive Insurance lady are making CHOICES to be in those commercials, so I feel no problem by holding them accountable of being modern day mammies.

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    I believe me being myself and speaking the way I speak works just fine. For everyone.

  • Anon

    You would have done those kids a favor to tell them that they will be judged on the way that they speak and let them practice with you. That kind of lacksidasical prestentation that they gave you probably won’t be looked on with fondness later on in life.

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    I neglected to disclose a few things.

    Although I was around many adults with different levels of education, both of my parents spoke S.A.E. (Standard American English) to me, and as a result that is how I spoke and continue to speak. I also recently graduated with a degree in English and I have news for everyone here – there might be the S.A.E. that makes you impressive and employable or hate-able and resented, but be clear: there is NO SUCH THING as “correct English.” The field of linguistics, centuries of additions to the Oxford English Dictionary (the authority) proves this. Language changes, there are no cut and dry permanent rules. Please accept and embrace this reality before you judge someone’s speech .Learning different languages and and making connections also helps to reinforce genuine appreciation of your culture and others.

    Just wanted to drop some truth and love.

  • Jame (@jameane)

    I always have a problem with this. I don’t code switch. I have one manner of speech. My own. To some people it sounds too “proper” all of the time. And I am sometimes chastised for this by some people. Either it means I am “acting fake,” “uppity,” or “rejecting my blackness.

    It is none of these.

    I like most people, reduce my use of slang in some places. Or only allow certain types of slang (let’s say at work). I don’t call people girlfriend or sister. I couldn’t even get ya’ll down when I lived in the south.

    I understand why we switch, and how speech patterns can influence how you are treated, but hopefully one day we can move past tagging speech patterns with race.

  • ImJustSaying

    A white friend of mine noticed that when Aisha Tyler (the skinny black host) spoke to Sheryl Underwood (the bigger black host) Aisha switched to a dumbed down dialect (in his opinion). We spoke about code-switching and he was very understanding of the concept and admitted to doing it himself. We talk openly about race disparities from time to time. His issue was that she almost purposely dumbed it down to talk to Sheryl but went back to a more proper tone with the other white co-hosts. It made me wonder whether some of us are sliding into a “comfortable tone” or a “less intelligent one”. Even after the conversation went on that point stuck out to me. Is there a difference? Just adding to your discussion, Thoughts?

  • Ladidi

    *don’t get that

    Great comment! I grew up in Nigeria so I learnt (learned in American English) British English and so when I speak, many Black people say I sound ‘White.’ Then White people say I sound ‘too proper’ or ‘British.’

    Its key to write correctly too. My mum used to call me after I emailed her with spelling and grammar corrections. I now appreciate her for that. Regardless, that breaks some of the negative stereotypes that may limit us as Black people when networking in the professional world. First (verbal) and second (written) impressions are everything especially in the real world.

  • Kay

    Ugh. I hate these kinds of conversations because what it ultimately boils down to is proving your Blackness, your authenticity, when how you speak has nothing at all to do with that whatsoever. I used to hear that all the time from people about how Black people are “supposed,” to be. I was in a graduate level course once and a young Black student once had the nerve to tell me, “I mean, Black people, we have a certain culture. Like you and me right? You listen to rap and eat soul food don’t you?” I had to let her know, (lest she go out into the world this wholly misinformed) that Black people express themselves in a variety of ways, and do any number of things.

    I think that we’ve basically been successfully inculcated into accepting the boundaries set by racists long ago. They didn’t want us to read, write, and do any of the things that would open our eyes to what evil douchebags they really were so they told us to stop being “uppity.” We have now taken those boundaries into our own communities and think that we are representing Blackness when we’re just parroting the racist garbage made my the people who sought to keep us in bondage. We don’t need racists to police us through terror campaigns to keep us from owning businesses, making money and keep us in our “place,” some of us do it our ourselves. It’s sad and I refuse to let my child or myself be a prisoner to some warped sense of Blackness.

  • Kay

    I guess people have limited ideas of what White people and Black people in general are supposed to sound like. For instance, my friend’s husband is a Black man from Manchester (really Chelsea, but he claims Manchester because in UK they have their own version of trying to be “down.” *smh*). His first week visiting the South Side he was almost accosted because a group of young men told him to stop “talking funny.” When he informed them of his origins they told him “Ain’t no Black people living in England.”

    It was really funny to me because he has tried adopting the speech patterns of his childhood friends who lived on council estates in some less well off areas of the UK and in his own way wants to prove his authenticity. And yet, an ocean away he is still told he “talks funny.” Just goes to show that even if people tell you things like you’re speaking like a “White girl,” they can’t even begin to comprehend how anyone should really sound and that most people are better off just being themselves.

  • Anon

    Oh, you mean the black police?

    Hahaha! I let them go a LONG time ago. They were spending way too much time trying to tell me what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do while their own lives were a mess. And nine times out of ten, once the BP were exposed to something that *they* liked, it wasn’t a bad habit to have, food to eat, or place to go.

  • Kay

    This is so true! All races have their own slang. I am a Spanish speaker and worked at a hospital that serviced mostly lower income Puerto Ricans. The older people from PR looked down on some of the younger ones who would speak slang to interpreters and such. Many of them knew how to “code switch,” and a few even knew enough Castilian Spanish to be considered “proper,” Spanish speakers. Crazy, I know, but now that I think on it, I guess every group of people deal with this kind of thing, especially any country that has been colonized.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    For me, the most interesting thing about code-switching is that I live in Mississippi. For the most part my grammar is better and I am more articulate than many of the people I’m speaking to. I found myself wondering why until I took a Linguistics course in graduate school. Many code-switchers are bi/multi-dialectical. I was raised in Manachester, MO but spent my summer in the Mississippi Delta (the blackest of black America). I have degrees in Sociology, Communication, and public health with specializations in Criminology, Biostatistics, and Geospatial Analysis. I also worked in healthcare to pay way way through school. On any given day I may codeswitch 5 or six times. One of my favorite sayings is, “there is no black way to say Poisson Regression”. Code-switching is instilled in many of us at an early age. We tend to do it unconsciously. In fact, its one of the buffers against racism that’s culturally transmitted to middle class and affluent African Americans. Research has also shown that bi-delectical people have better communication skills and larger vocabularies than others. Finally, African Americans are not the only people forced to code switch.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    You are referring to orthographic updating and you are absolutely right.

  • adiatc

    ‘Ebonics’ is a language that was derived from ignorance. Ignorance of the proper English spoken at the time. Slaves were taken from different African countries, where there was no common language. They had to learn by listening to the even more ignorant (and uneducated) slave trappers, etc. It wasn’t like our ancestors were able to take an ESL class or something. So for people to be able to learn to communicate with each other with all of the cards stacked against them, is amazing!!

    However, when you know better, you do better! The use of ebonics and other informal English languages further marginalizes us a people and prohibits us from many opportunities. If you have learned the proper English language and happen to be ‘bilingual’ in ebonics, fine. The problem is that we have children and adults alike that have never learned the English language and have been here all their lives!!! My father who is an immigrant, learned English as a second language and speaks/reads/writes it better than a native speaker!

  • beauty85

    Oh shut up!

  • The Moon in the Sky

    I don’t code switch (I never have). I don’t use Ebonics and I hate slang.

  • adiatc

    The truth hurts! I know…

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    Thank you for your thoughts and presence here. Linguistics is AWESOME! I may study it further in grad school myself.

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    On another note, I’m curious to know why you chose to live and work in Mississippi as a professional Black American woman. (Feel free to blast any pre-conceived, outdated stereotypes of Blacks in MS, as I may have a few). I couldn’t see myself living in that state.

  • E.M.S.

    Right there with Moon in the Sky. My family raised me to speak proper english from the very beginning. I took offense that I was given crap from kids at school and even some of my own cousins for “sounding white.”

    Excuse me if I was taught to be like an educated individual. That doesn’t mean I’m denying my blackness.

    And to me, “black speak” isn’t “black speak.” Slang and ebonics are akin to any ethnicity with a less educated background. It’s not about fitting in, it’s about the level of intelligence assumed by your speech.

  • Somebody

    Preach on!

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    On the one hand I take the James Baldwin stance on Mississippi “I love America (Mississippi) more than any other country (State) in the world (US), and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” On the other hand, I stayed to get a free PhD at Mississippi State and I will be leaving before my son turns 4.

  • http://seritatheresa.wordpress.com seritatheresa

    Ebonics is actually African American Vernacular English. It developed because as a process of deculturation slaves were quartered with slaves that spoke different languages. In order to communicate with each other they developed languages. 1st pidgin English, then Creole, then finally a vernacular. Any one who studies linguistics is made aware of this as soon as they learn about syntax and structure. The syntax of AAVE and French are remarkably similar.

  • TajMarie

    Very seldom have I used slang, though I have at times. Therefore, the way I speak to family and friends is not that much different from the way I speak to workers and colleagues. So, I don’t grasp the significance of this “code”-switching. Although some people (at least telemarketers and those over the intercom) have confused my voice as that of a man, no one has accused me of “sounding” white. Furthermore, I have family with the “Charleston” accent (geechie country) and have spoken with international students with all sorts of different accents where I have fine tuned my ears to understand them. However, at the end of the day, common sense should prevail and people must understand that people outside of your circle are not going to understand words made up by you and your friends. It is one thing to pick up terms through your family members. However, it is another case to pick up terminology through group associations. Based on my feelings on the subject, some people use slang to fit in to the point that it becomes a large part of their personality (identity) while others recognize it as just another form of expression. Then when some people walk into certain interviews, they don’t know any other way to act when it comes to a professional interviewer who may not appeal to slang. I don’t have anything against anyone who uses a great deal of slang anymore compared to people who use predominantly standard English. However, if someone can’t understand you, what is the purpose of you opening your mouth in the first place? At least I can understand the Pine Sol lady. However, I can’t understand half of the rappers when they are not rapping and are being interviewed.

  • Determining My Own Diction

    Paraphrasing Dave Chapelle on Inside the Actors Studio: “Black people speak two languages; Ebonics and job interview.” We have always had to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. Speaking our personal vernacular vs. The King’s English (let’s not forget what type of people founded America and their feelings toward us) is no exception.

  • http://www.thinkaboutit-knowaboutit.com/ Danté

    Here in Hawaii, most of the local people (those born and raised here) speak what is known as “Pidgin,” or “Hawaii Creole English.” It’s grammar and vocabulary is based on English as well as Filipino, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc. To a lot of people who come here (especially white folk), it’s “broken English.” I hate that term, because it implies English is a “pure” language, when in reality English could be called broken German or Spanish broken Latin.

    Anyway, local people take pride in speaking their language, because it binds them together as a people. The same is true of black English. However, black English has a stigma attached to it that Pidgin does not. Pidgin is seen as the attempt of Asians and Polynesians trying to speak English, whereas black English is seen as the ignorant slave talk of us negroes.

    I use black English, but I know that when I have to communicate with someone who is probably not familiar with it, I revert to a more neutral dialect. It’s not about changing who I am, it’s about changing how I get my point across. Out here, a lot of local people switch to standard English when dealing with non-locals. They’re not fronting, they’re easing the flow of communication, and they know that sometimes a situation calls for more formal speech. The same is true of black English. A lot of black people are fluent in both standard English and black English. I see no reason to demean black English when we use it. It’s a unique way of speaking that we developed. It’s got soul. It’s got flava. I don’t think it belongs in a forum where there are people who aren’t familiar with it, and I think you should be able to speak a standard english, but when you’re with your people, do what you do.

  • Ads

    I really appreciated how thoughtful and well written this article is. And would also like to add for the record — I do my work in Spanish, and emailing/ texting with people who write like they talk is just cringe-inducing (a reflex, sorry) in any language. And the truth is they are uneducated, not unintelligent, but had only limited access to formal education. It’s one thing if your communication reveals your educational background, it’s another when you have an education but for some reason noone on earth could ever detect it when talking with you.

  • http://www.labelwhorre.com labelwhorre.com

    Are you the Ladidi that had a blog about abuja..If you are…I missed your blog sooooo much. If you are not I apologize and also agree with your comment, being that am also Nigerian and we shared the same experience with our mothers

  • AJW

    I hate that everything that is in reference to black people is considered bad or less than.

  • Whiteprivilegeterminated

    Is all this

    must talk good in white people company (coz because you have to go beg em for a job)

    and

    blacks are not a monolith – (read – I wish I was white, not black) act rightness

    getting black people anywhere?

    Not that I can see. All the negros who live by the act white code are as broke as the rest of us, as powerless as the rest of us, and just as vulnerable to winds of white supremacy as the rest of us.

    So will someone please tell me why we’re supposed to take advice on the proper way to conduct ourselves from a bunch of grovelling race defectors who walk around in DIY mental cages?

    Coz it makes me laugh to high hellick that “act right” “talk proper” negros view themselves as the model of ideal blackness when the simple truth is they’re

    the weakest mentally (because they crave white approval)
    most clingy (on white people)
    most dependent (on white people)
    least creative (culturally)
    least loyal (try to make themselves white)
    least productive (economically – because they rely on whites to look after them by giving them a job)

    and most unwanted by EVERYBODY.

    Which part of that are blacks supposed to emulate and which part are whites supposed to impressed by?

    ROTLMBAO!

  • E.M.S.

    Find it interesting those of us who shared the fact we don’t code switch and why are given negative votes. Someone like to explain what’s wrong with our choice?

  • E.M.S.

    I don’t understand why there’s a negative attitude towards those of us who don’t code switch and prefer proper grammar. That I’m not getting.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    People can be so strange here.

  • Mademoiselle

    It may have to do with you being upset when people assumed you were trying to act white as a child, then turning around and making the same mistake as an adult by assuming someone’s level of intelligence by their use of slang. I don’t think any forward thinking adult has a problem with you not growing up code-switching, but education doesn’t always dictate behavior, habit, or choice. Some very well-educated people use “black speak” in a variety of situations for a variety of reasons.

  • http://crystalspraggins.blogspot.com/ Crystal Spraggins

    Pine-Sol lady be getting PAID, plain and simple. (It cracks me up just to say that.) I saw your headline, read the first few sentences, and just had to write a piece I’d been thinking about for a while. Later I came back to read your whole article. Great piece! Thanks for the inspiration and your viewpoint!

  • Anon

    Well obviously I should be emulating people from the projects. Their lives look stress free.

  • Anon

    Mainly because it is a reminder to those who didn’t have or didn’t take advantage of opporotunities that not all blacks are living the same exisitence. So trying to culturally “shame” people is a mechanism of self-defense and a way to deflect.

    Notice people are saying “act right”. I mean what are people supposed to do, “act wrong”? That obviously hasn’t worked out.

  • http://gravatar.com/heavenleiblu heavenleiblu

    What exactly qualifies SAE (or any other language) as better?

  • http://crystalspraggins.blogspot.com/ Crystal Spraggins

    Perhaps my opinion is tempered by age. Perhaps it’s tempered by years spent in corporate America working alongside white managers who couldn’t write worth a damn, no matter HOW well spoken. I’m not sure. But I think there’s a difference between needing remedial help with the language and on occasion CHOOSING to adopt the more fluid “flava-filled” (to borrow from another commenter) language of your people. Both ways of speaking are authentic, and there’s nothing wrong with either, IMHO. Again, I am NOT talking about slang taking the place of a good education. There is a world of difference between the Pine-Sol lady (who is articulate and speaks with clarity) and the teen who doesn’t know to say “an orange” and not “a orange.” That child needs help, and quickly. But the Pine-Sol lady (and the Popeye’s lady)? Please. A little sprinkling of “honey chile” here and there never hurt anybody! (Or nobody, take your pick.)

  • Humanista

    We tag it with race because we’re black. But speech patterns are actually more of a class thing (thing of all the upper-class blacks you know who speak more formally”. Lower-class whites also have very informal speech patters, and many of them are VERY MUCH like what we considered “hood”.

  • Anon

    When it is the language spoken for international business, I’d qualify it as better.

  • Ladidi

    I do occasionally code switch but not the streets to prove any ‘blackness’ as if my color doesn’t do the job. Too bad young kids got the wrong memo.

    Labelwhore, I am she :)

  • http://www.pamtproductions.com Pamela

    I love the Pine Sol Lady…her “cross-over appeal” is one to be studied. Never thought of her as a “Mammy”…if you’re gonna pick her apart, I guess you can’t stand Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind.

  • Wong Chia Chi

    @marloweovershakespeare

    Exactly. there is only a version of the language that is considered more socially prestigious than another version, usually the version spoken by the upper classes.

    I also enjoy Christopher Marlowe more than Shakespeare :)

  • Whiteprivilegeterminated

    No . . . you should stay on the side you’ve chosen.

  • KnowYourHistory

    In their time, Hattie McDaniel and Stepin Fetchit each drove block-long Duesenbergs; the then-equivalent of a Bentley-Rolls luxury automobile; so, as the Popeye’s, Progressive, and Pine-Sol ladies WELL know, thar’s GOLD in them thar COONIN’ hills !

  • http://Clutch Pam Smith

    When their is only 14% of the population that is black, why must
    other people of other races have to watch and listen to them all the
    time…I have my favorites but many are really ugly, talk like they think they know more then anyone else, do not talk well and are not
    that applealing to even some blacks that are light black and that is why Obama put down the black fathers for years….he seems to like white fathers more, after all his grandfather was white and raised him.

  • loopy

    “grammer”? I drifted away after that. Sorry

  • http://gravatar.com/vonmiwi Vonmiwi

    Amen! it seems like they over analyze everything and label everyone the mammy stereotype who doesn’t seem to fit their idea.

  • Jame (@jameane)

    Everyone has some sort of “slang.” There is professional slang, aka all of the buzzwords and acronyms only people in your industry understand. There is personal slang, aka the manner of speak/colloquial phrases that you use with certain people that represent your own phrases that may differ from the “standard” works. Things like OK representing yes or understanding or agreement. This doesn’t imply a lack of education. What is most important is understanding which “language” will best help you communicate with your audience.

    The real problem with “code switching” is the assumption that someone’s perceived race/ethnicity impacts what sort of language/verbal communication they are able to understand.

  • Nic

    Proper use adjectives, adverbs, as well as coordinating and subordinating conjunctions is KIND of important if you want to brag about how well you speak.
    I have to give you an eye roll for this…

  • Nic

    I agree, too many people pop into these discussions to brag about exceptional grammar skills that they clearly do not possess…”everyone always tell me how good I talk”…
    But the bar is pretty low for correct grammar usage regardless of race. I think the difference is that white people who use bad grammar use it everywhere, and I think some black people confuse themselves with the code switching.
    It’s much easier just to use standard English really.

  • Nic

    I didn’t give you a thumbs down, but I hope your spoken English is better than your written English, b/c yeah, so far everyone who has come in to say how well they “speak” writes English pretty badly.

  • Rakel

    Why thank you Nic. I didn’t know talking about how I was raised was bragging. I was raised to talk proper English, so I’m aware believe it or not. Excuse me if I don’t write that way all the time in a comment section. Smh. Didn’t know it was that serious…

  • http://gravatar.com/designdiva40 paintgurl40

    Me and my mother used to joke that we spoke two languages: English and N-gerese. I don’t work in the corporate field and not around many white folks, I speak what I’m comfortable with. White people will think what they want to think about blacks (which is NEGATIVE) and the only backhanded compliment you’ll get is “you speak so well”. I communicate well either on paper or by mouth so I feel no need to impress people who think less of me from the get go.

  • http://gravatar.com/designdiva40 paintgurl40

    For those checking for grammar…My mother and I. If I’m at a job interview, I speak what they want to hear- proper English.

  • Anon

    Something fitting the “mammy stereotype” is that much of a reach if you could be plopped into “Gone with the Wind” and not look out of place.

  • Anon

    I can’t believe anyone actually gave you a thumbs up on such foolishness. Actually, I can. Rap music has proven there is much a dollar to be made in pushing useless mess.

  • http://www.urbanromanceonline.com UrbanRomanceEIC

    I wanted to give this a thumbs up and couldn’t for some reason. Anyway, great comment! Perfectly sums up what I try to teach my students.

  • Jen

    Is your mom Trinidadian? I remember being told to say “story”, and not “lie” too, lol!. And as far as Caribbean people and the whole “talking proper” issue, that’s a whole other article! :-)

  • Sarah B. Foster

    Janelle, the concept of code-switching (between SAE and AAV- African American Vernacular) developed as a coping mechanism to society at large and to align to the common business and social conventions outside of a person’s community where they speak a language and have social norms of their own.
    I agree, there’s nothing wrong with AAV that Steven Pinker even points out is semantically correct. AAV is a language, or a dialect for personal connection as applied to an “in-group.” To use this as an accepted form of language in the larger social strata diminishes it’s meaningful association with family, friends and community.
    I would say, code-switching is a social art, and one must master it with diligence and grace. SAE will remain the language norm of business, academia and society at large, yet AAV is the language that sustains the spirit of family and community.

  • AW

    Hmmm, I never “talk black”/code switch so this isn’t something I deal with. I do notice that some of my Black (American) friends do…

  • http://gravatar.com/jessiknowsgrace jessiknowsgrace

    I find it fascinating whenever anyone thinks that they don’t code switch – because I do it ALL the time, if in subtle ways. I speak more casually in…er…casual settings. I use more simple sentence structures when speaking to children and try to hold my vocabulary in check if it isn’t context driven.

    Whether we “tag speech patterns with race” or not, there are too many ways that we make determinations about who we are talking to and what will best serve the purpose of communication to stop. Language will always be one of the ways we position ourselves with one another – identifying with or as “other”. It isn’t inherently bad, false or inauthentic. It is a matter of choice – each time and every time.

    I taught my kids (I taught English) to understand the power of these choices, so they could make them intelligently and intentionally.

  • http://www.lillian-mae.com Lillian Mae

    I resisted the urge to correct her after I read her first sentence: “My sisters and I were raised to talk proper.”

    “My sisters and I were raised to speak properly”
    –THERE!

  • Pingback: Code-switchin’ | Cavilaciones

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