Sunday, January 19, 2014

Let's Discuss Code Switching and Culture

Layla Azmi Goushey is a beloved Gateway TC.  She wrote an interesting post for Something’s Developing that we wanted to share also.   She graciously agreed, but after reading, we’re sure you’ll want to check out more great thoughts on writing at

I grew up in a code-switching environment in Dallas, Texas. 

I used to puzzle over the Arabic language on labels of my family's Arabic pantry staples; for example, Ziyad Brothers brand of Tahini.
I knew the term Tex-Mex as an identity. The term Tex-Mex reflects a synthesis of Mexican and Texan traditions that result in a unique, vibrant culture.  
 And in Dallas, Texas, who can forget Big Tex at the State Fair, giving us a hearty, cowboy-friendly welcome?  Howdy Ya'll!

These linguistic curios represent subcultural and behavioral norms.

 If we think about it, most of us come from a code-switching environment. Our codes just reside in varying distances from our mainstream American-English code. From my American mother and grandmother, I learned linguistic novelties that most likely hailed from the fields of Alabama where my great-grandmother was from. Active kids were "little fireanzies" (little and full of frenzy) and during moments of levity or chaos we often wondered "what in the sam hill  is going on?!"  I noticed my maternal grandmother and mother liked to add words in-between the syllables of other words; for example, "I guaran (insert favorite word here) tee you" as in "I guaranDARN tee you." 

My father, a native Arabic speaker, taught me basic Palestinian Arabic; enough to navigate my way through a social event: Marhaba (hello), Ahlan (welcome), and biddac ishrab qahawa (would you like to drink coffee)?  He also liked to replace similar-sounding English words such as seat  belt for suit belt.  I still fondly say that I am buckling my suit belt when I get in my car.

Finally, I learned much about mainstream American English from my favorite television shows. 

For that reason, I think it is important to bring the concept of code-switching to the fore when we begin a new semester in writing, reading or communications.  In fact, any course that introduces new vocabulary to students, such as when they are entering a specialized field, could use a good discussion of code-switching to lay the ground work for what is to come in the course.  This way, students understand that they are not negating their home dialects, but expanding their reach into new socio-cultural areas through communication structures.

There are great examples of this concept available in video and audio form on the internet.

For the incoming freshman who has an interest in health care but is not familiar with  health-care settings:

For students whose parents are immigrants, an example that could mirror their own early years, and how they have arrived at their Spanglish, Arabizi or other multilingual dialect.


Multi-lingual (Indonesian, English, French)


For African Americans and all Americans who switch between regional and home dialects.

So as we begin a new semester, let us remind ourselves and our students that our home dialects are not wrong; rather, they are essential aspects of who we are. Home dialects have intrinsic value that honors our cultural heritage.  Learning new literacies, or codes, helps us navigate more social, academic, and professional spheres.


Academic English

African - American Culture

And let's not forget texting and emoticons as an emerging home dialect.

تتمتع الفصل الدراسي الخاص
(Enjoy your semester)

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