Home Class Politics Profound Stupidity About Linguistic Code Switching

Profound Stupidity About Linguistic Code Switching



We Brits are castigated – endlessly – because we do not speak languages other than English. This of course not being true at all but it’s still an accusation thrown at us.

We then get told that we are racist because we speak a number of languages:

In America, a sub-group of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is demanding that teachers “abolish standard English”, which it calls “anti-Black linguistic racism and white linguistic supremacy”. Its manifesto demands that teachers “decolonize the mind (and/or) language” and calls on them to “not dismiss Black Language simply as a dialect of English … it’s not spoken only by Black people who are positioned in a ‘low’ or ‘working class.’ Recognize it as a language in its own right!”. It ends by stating: “This Ain’t Another Statement! This is a DEMAND for Black Linguistic Justice!”

Ebonics can indeed be derided but there’s a fair enough argument to be made that it is indeed it’s own language and is to be regarded as such. This isn’t to say that we must agree that it is it’s own language, only that the argument can be fairly made.

OK, so it’s a real and full language. Cool. That means that we gammons must learn to speak it:

Worse still, the NCTE radicals propose barring white people from using black language, which they say would be “engaging in Black linguistic appropriation”.

Oh, we’re not allowed to do that. We must learn French in order to be able to borrow auntie’s pen on our vacances but must not learn the language of a significant portion of Londoners so that we may converse with them?

Well, so those who speak Ebon must therefore learn the language that we gammons speak then?

Central to all this is the demand that teachers stop asking black students to “code-switch”. This is a technical term in linguistics, meaning alternating between two or more languages during a conversation. It has now become part of our racial identity politics.

Some black people are complaining that they feel under pressure to “code-switch” to conform to white society in language, tone, dress, body language and behaviour.

Ah, no, not that either then.

At which point we shall simply have to declare them all to be cretins. For of course code switching is just how language is used. Who talks to a three year old the same way they do to an adult? OK, politicians and three year olds complaining about sweeties, yes, but adults? Your vocabulary when dealing with maiden aunts is the same as with the lads after the rugby? That there are aunts who would give the post scrum session a run for its money is true but not the normal manner of things.

Or we can consider other languages. German, for example, where near everyone speaks two – at least two – variants, the local and the high national. Or the reason that most Italians speak such execrable Italian, it being the second language for near all those not from middle class Florence.

Last week BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme about “code-switching” presented by Lucrece Grehoua, who was born in Britain but whose parents came from Ivory Coast. She claimed that black people were required to “code-switch” in order to be accepted into middle-class white culture with which, she said, she and other black Britons had little in common.

Sigh. Language is a method of communication. If you wish to communicate with a person you must have a language in common. Sure, it can be gestures, music, anything you like but you’ve got to have that common communication method. So, if you wish to communicate with gammons either you must learn their language or they must learn your. And if you don’t want to communicate with gammons then who gives a shit?

Code switching is just a method of moving closer to that common language so that communication is possible. Using English to ask for half a dozen eggs in Tula (although they’re metric with quantities there) doesn’t work well, code shifting into mime, Russian, possibly even Komi, might work better. “Eggs innit Gahl” might work in Tottenham. Some mutually understood phrase might work better in Twerton – code shifting.

What makes all of this so profoundly stupid is that the initial claim is entirely ignoring what language is about – communication. And no, communication of the fact that “It is coz I is black” isn’t quite the point of the conversation.

Further, if we’re not allowed to code shift then what the hell’s going to happen to Mick Jagger?

“De one dat shut de kitchen do'”

Rhyming with “befo'”.

I mean, really, without Mockney, where would he be?

And where would David Jones be if he’d not code changed out of the Brixton accent of his youth?



  1. I would add that this is yet another indicator that serious racial discrimination is so rare that they have to bitch about trifles and bizarre nonsense.

  2. It’s not as if there is only one flavour of black. Even the ONS has three generic categories – African, Caribbean and Other. To take African blacks; East, West, South and Central African blacks don’t have a hell of a lot in common with each other (including skin colour) – so which takes precedence? Notwithstanding that all this nonsense is to accommodate 3% of the population.

  3. I heard that Radio 4 programme and was angry enough to complain to the Beeb about it. Only a cursory reply so far. A lass who is the first generation British somehow thinks that everyone should accommodate a sloppy, ugly, incoherent load of vocal drivel? Why should any employer be expected to employ someone with a chip on both shoulders who has no interest in their customer? As for code switching, I had to wear a suit and tie, and be half presentable, which is not my chosen code of dress. But the world does not owe me a living. But the BBC was pushing the line that to insist that people interact in a generally acceptable manner was somehow racist! Grrr!!! And we wonder why they continue to underperform the general populace? Aaaargh!!

    Contrast this with the CBBC presenters team on Eggheads. 2 out of 5 were black, spoke perfectly well and were charming and a joy to watch. Unsurprisingly, they have made it on telly. Spectacularly ignorant though (all of them), as they decided the Exmoor, out of a choice of Devon, Sussex or Suffolk was in fact in Sussex! How could they not know? How? I’m genuinely baffled!

  4. Reminds me of the bloke on the bus, years and years ago. He evidently thought he was speaking English, but neither I nor anyone else had a clue what he was talking about.

    It is a plain and obvious fact that if you’re going to live in a foreign country you have to learn the language. Naturally everyone hates this and feels that the local louts should learn their lingo. But naturally the locals can’t be bothered either.

  5. God, I was listening to that programme and was shouting at it most of the time. Code Switching is using the language of the situation. It’s simply communication. You don’t speak French to germans, you don’t speak Japanese to Spaniards. You speak legalise in court because that’s the language that the court uses. You speak sparky when doing electrical work because that’s the language of electrical work. The *WHOLE* *POINT* of communication is, well, duh, communication.

  6. A late follow-up, but all the points above were made on FeedBack a couple of weeks later. Bint doesn’t understand the point of communication is communication. Film at ten.


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