Almost all of us code switch to some degree – make changes in speech and behavior depending on the situation and audience (such as adults who speak differently with friends and family than with strangers or coworkers, or children with their friends versus their parents or teachers.) I wonder how deeply parents and teachers/supervisors are involved in helping to define that difference.
A few incidents have made me think about this recently. I recently finished the second Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novel and was amazed to find out that well into the 1960s speaking Italian, instead of regional dialect, not only required training and effort, but was considered a snobbish affectation in certain circles, while, conversely, speaking Italian with a regional accent marked one as less educated. The second incident was visiting with my kindergarten-age nephew in a Boston suburb. He enjoyed testing my reaction to saying that he’s in “kindagahden”, as they say in the public announcements at his school. I’m originally from the lesser exurbs of Boston and have always found the accent to be offensive; the real accent only slightly less aggravating than the recent Hollywood portrayals. He reveled in my distaste as he had in his parents’ “We do not speak that way”. But how could we tell him why without insulting the people who do? How do we explain socio-economic class and its signifiers to a five-year old?
So here are some questions for discussion – how do you deal with accents and/or appropriate speech with your children? Do the accents only apply to the east coast, Texas and girls from California? How much code switching occurs naturally and how much does it have to be cultivated by family or serious self-study of higher culture to escape a perceived lower class? How do children (and young adults) learn to differentiate slang and texting from proper speech and written communications?
And at work – is it a hindrance to moving up in your company? Have you ever coached someone to speak/behave differently to get ahead?
Here are a few articles (since we always need links here…) The first is an NPR explainer on code switching, the second is about Hollywood’s golden age of the mid-Atlantic accent.