Code Switch

I recently met up for dinner with a few friends, including one who had just graduated from an ASL interpreter training program. As we gazed at a kaleidoscope of pictures outside an East Village restaurant, someone asked if the menu looked good to me. “I think so, but I’ve never experienced Japanese tapas,” I said. Suddenly, the interpreter friend declared that I had code switched.

Code switching is a linguistic term for moving between languages. And Code Switch happens to be the name of a new National Public Radio blog about race, culture, and ethnicity. Hearing a piece about it this morning brought me back to that night. Learning that NPR had chosen that title also warmed my wordy heart.

In the scene I just described, even though we were using spoken English, I had used a common ASL phrase and concept (“experienced” – to have tried, be familiar with). I had done it knowing that both of us knew sign language.

Here’s another–much better and funnier–example from a piece on the blog called “Six Moments of Code Switching in Popular Culture” Ironically, it isn’t captioned for deaf and hard of hearing viewers:*

I’m fascinated and tickled that NPR chose a name connected to language for this blog. That choice makes language a metonymous representative of race, culture, and ethnicity. It’s not named for food, behavior, cultural practice, or place of origin. It’s about how we express ourselves. Good and thought-provoking news for a writer.

*The summary is that Keegan-Michael Key, the first guy we see on the phone, is talking to his wife about getting theater tickets for her birthday. Jordan Peele walks into the frame and Key continues the conversation with different words and inflections. The two talk in their parallel conversations for a minute, then Peele walks on. We then hear Peele completely change HIS tone when he’s out of earshot of his cultural compatriot. Their body language probably says as much as their words in this case.

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Filed under Humor, Language, New York

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