I recently read Appalachian Code Switching, a guest blog post for The Revivalist, in which the author, Chelyen Davis, talked about how she can (and does) adopt the accents of people around her. Davis is originally from Southwest Virginia, although she currently resides in Richmond. Though she tends not to talk any differently from one context to another, she does share that in formal speaking situations, she tends to lose the accent.
I found this article intriguing because I think many people from the South and/or with country roots may do this to some degree, especially those who move away from their home communities. It is called code-switching, as Davis describes in her post.
Leaving home for college was when I first began thinking about how my accent and way of speaking might cause someone else to define me. When I decided to pursue teaching as a career, I knew that I had to complete a speech screening, and if the screeners from the Communications Department did not like what they heard, I would be required to take speech classes prior to student teaching. By this time, though, I had worked on my “standard” or neutral speech, so my accent was less noticeable, and I successfully completed the screening.
For a long time after I completed my undergraduate degree, I would tend to lapse back into my natural accent when I was upset, especially if I was angry, or when I visited home. A friend once told me that he could always tell when I had traveled home to visit my family because for a few days he could hear the ‘southern’ in my voice. How lovely! And similar to what Davis witnessed her mother doing. Interestingly enough, I was not generally aware of changing the way I spoke, whether at work or at home.
Back then, I was afraid of not being hired for a job because an employer might judge me unqualified because of how I sounded. And while I know that some people still hold onto the stereotypes, I have, over the years, developed a love of accents and regional expressions. One day I will write about some of my favorite colloquialisms. Why, just the other day, one of my colleagues used the expression, “I’m fixin’ to…” and I just had to smile because it sounded like home.
Much of the writing that I have done in the last five years or so has been academic writing (dissertation, anyone?) or professional writing. I find because that is the type of writing that I have grown accustomed to using that I tend to use it every time I write, including on this blog, which should definitely not be so formal! I even self-correct every contraction!
What have been your experiences with code-switching? Have you a strong accent? Do you find them fascinating and fun, too? What are your favorite colloquialisms? Share with me in the comments below.
If you want to learn more and be entertained at the same time, check out these two TED Talks below.
I grinned throughout the entire performance!
The HuffPost blog discusses this TED Talk and offers an explication of the Reggie Watts performance.
Three Ways to Speak English. This is a spoken word TED Talk by Jamila Lyiscott. I like this because it underscores the idea that being articulate changes from setting to setting.