“Finna,” “hella,” and “no cap” are just a few slang phrases (rooted in Black popular culture) that are heard around Berkeley High School hallways. While students use slang in the classroom as well, many students change the way they speak when they’re in class, with their friends, family, and in other situations.
It’s called code-switching: the practice of alternating between different types of vernacular in conversations depending on the environment. Many people alter their tone and word choice whether they’re with their family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and in other situations. But why are some ways of speaking more respected than others? Any vernacular should be accepted in professional environments; people should not have to code switch to be respected or taken seriously.
In Jamila Lyiscott’s TedTalk, “3 Ways to Speak English,” Lyiscott, who refers to herself as a “tri-tongued orator”, performs a spoken-word essay that both celebrates and challenges the concept of code-switching. Those who code-switch are able to communicate with people in different environments. On the other hand, they can feel forced to abandon one way of speaking for another that is deemed more appropriate.
While it makes sense to code-switch and is an instinctual habit for many people, people of color often shoulder the majority of the burden. Different communities of color tend to have different modes of speech and diction. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a manner of speaking, used by roughly 30 million African American people in the United States. Though AAVE is also often appropriated by other groups through popular culture.
Though AAVE and other dialects have become popular and are used widely, 48 percent of African American adults with a college degree feel the need to code-switch, according to the Pew Research Center.
BHS senior Aris Carter said that he code -switches because “Black vernacular English isn’t really seen as work-friendly or as professional.” He often speaks differently when he is trying to impress someone. He is, unfortunately, correct. Black people are less likely to be hired for jobs or are placed in lower level positions when they use AAVE, according to a study done at University of Pennsylvania.
Carter described how he and many other people of color often code switch in professional environments in order to be treated with respect. Most professional and academic spaces operate under eurocentric vernacular which pressures people of color to change their patterns of speech in order to fit in.
“Black Vernacular English shouldn’t be looked down upon as badly as it is and should be more accepted in many spaces,” Carter said.
This applies to more than just AAVE. No dialect should be looked down upon and no one should be expected to abandon their way of speaking to be taken seriously.
Speaking in a way that does not fit traditional eurocentric standards does not mean that one is speaking in “broken English.”
If the message can be understood through the language, then it is entirely adequate to speak in any context.
People should not be forced to leave their accent and diction at the door to exist in a professional environment.