Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Code Switch Part I : My Life in Languages

Hi everyone! Please take a few moments to appreciate the new logo. Do you like it? It took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing but we finally nailed it I think.

Anyway, onto today's blog post.

Code-switching is a linguistic practice which refers to the alternating between two or more languages, dialects or registers (for example the Queen's English vs. Pidgin English) in a single discourse. Many people do it, including members of my family who'd often switch between our native Ghanaian dialect (Ga - a melodic, tonal dialect) and English in a single conversation. This is also often the case for bilingual people and students of foreign languages.

In as much as many of us do not like to "fake the funk", and prefer to show a true representation of ourselves to the world, any intelligent person knows that having to adapt your speech to suit your audience is sometimes necessary for getting anywhere in life. If you don't believe me, the next time you're at an interview, try opening with "what you saying?", or "you good?" (both are valid greetings amongst certain groups of young people in London). Or better still, the next time you greet your sister, tell her "top of the morning, ma'am" and watch her burst into laughter.

This blog post is not really about the arguments for and against adapting the way you speak, or whether it is even right that it's something we should have to do (that will be the next post). I am here to give the low down of my history as it pertains to speaking, language learning, code-switching and trying to fit in.

Here goes.

I was born in the late eighties to a Ghanaian household in South East London. At home, English was barely spoken. At the age of four, I walked into the classroom hardly knowing how to pronounce any English words. Through the process of natural language acquisition and the realisation that speaking English would make things easier for me in the classroom, I quickly took to speaking English so much so that it started to have a marked impact on my mother tongue. My eloquence in Ga eventually decreased and began to sound very broken. My family, instead of reinforcing what I grew up speaking through continued conversation and encouragement found my accent hilarious and would laugh so hard to the point of extinguishing my confidence in speaking it altogether.

Fast forward a few years, I went to a predominantly white secondary school, somewhere in the suburbs of South London. Being one of the only black girls in my class when I started, I was all too ready to play the "token black girl". I therefore did the stereotypical things I thought would reinforce my blackness. So I'd do the most pointless things like pull out my bottle of Supermalt in the middle of the canteen, and use phrases such as "bun dat" and "bare vexed". When I look back now, my mannerisms were quite abrasive and won me the title of being a loud mouth. Why? because they were contrived and forced upon my teachers and classmates whether they liked it or not. I slowly realised that deep down I was a reserved young lady who simply wanted to speak like herself, not in tones of black or white.

However, even with this false perception of myself that I had built I'd find my black card revoked at the weekends when I would meet up with my cousins at an auntie's house or at a family function. They would tease and taunt me for all sorts of reasons, calling me "the white girl" aka the odd one out, until I'd burst into tears. Even now I ask myself why being labelled "the white girl" would cause me so much offense. I don't think it was so much the phrase itself, but the intention behind it which was to alienate me, and they used the fact that I didn't quite sound like them as their hook. Try as I might, I just couldn't make myself sound as cool as them. I was always behind on the new slang words and sometimes didn't understand their conversations.

Oh, the joy of trying to stand out whilst trying to fit in!

This is a summary of what life was like as a child and teenager. If you've enjoyed this post then you must read the second installment, where I describe how my adult life was shaped in speech and languages, and make the case for code-switching.

Please leave your comments below, and oh, let me know if you like the logo!



  1. I love the logo a lot Madeline. Very simple, clean and suits the theme of your site which is great!! Well nice to meet you again. Ha!! I didn't know you were born in the UK. I can relate to you being called a white girl. My friends call me that sometimes because I'm not a big fan of our food. I love/enjoy eating em but, I hate preparing them because it takes bloody long time. So I cook easy meals all the time. I only cook out meal when I'm REALLY and WANT to eat them. Ha!!

    1. Thanks Missy May. I tied oh! Yes I was very much born here, but I was almost born in GH (another story for another day. ha!) It's so silly how people feel they have to categorise you just because you do not fit the norm. Keep cooking and eating the food that suits you sis!

  2. My favourite topic Madeleine! Linguistics play such a huge part in who we are and who we want to be. Look forward to reading the next installment

  3. And also, great logo (sorry autocorrect changed your name spelling in the above post) Michelle

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the topic so much. Yes linguistics is an integral part of who we are! Next instalment coming soon! Oh, and happy you like the logo :-)

  4. Didn't get to see the old logo, so I can compare it with the new one. But this looks perfect!

    This post resonates with me . . . in an opposite direction. I wasn't the "loud mouth" girl, I was the "never talks" girl. Lol. Looking forward to your next entry. :)

    1. Thank you so much! The old logo was the one I started off with. It was nice but plain. Just my name in black with the middle fonts in pink. (see the tabs on the right). Glad this resonated with you. Next entry coming soon!

  5. First of all, I love your new logo Madeline! It's so sweet and is truly in fitting with your blog :) Secondly, I can imagine how tricky it must have been manoeuvring between the two identities that were placed on you - weekdays, and weekends. I'm looking forward to your post continuing the topic! Have a lovely weekend :) x

    1. Thank you Gabrielle. Glad you like it. It was quite tricky but a burden I had placed on myself! Second instalment will be out soon!

  6. I am LOVING the new logo!x



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