Everyday Semiotics

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Code switching

Very thoughtful discussion the other day on Tell Me More about "code switching," i.e., the ability or propensity to change the way one talks depending on one's audience. This came up in the context of Sen. Harry Reid's remarks about Barack Obama's relationship with the "Negro dialect."

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes: "code-switching is the standard M.O. for any African American with middle-class aspirations."

Quoth Obama: "There's a certain black idiom that it's hard not to slip into when you're talking to a black audience." Implying, of course, that there is a different idiom, or lack thereof, whose use is dictated by the fact of running for president.

In my line of work there's a form of code switching that comes naturally. The newsroom cant, laced with smarm and profanity, is set aside whenever the reporter picks up the phone to have a polite conversation with a source.

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