“I seek to illustrate how code switching is all about race; how it is steeped in a segregationist, racist logic that contradicts our best efforts and hopes for our students. […] In the end, I promote code meshing, the blending and concurrent use of American English dialects in formal, discursive products, such as political speeches, student papers, and media interviews.”
–Vershawn Ashanti Young

Key Terms: Code Switching, Code Meshing, Dominant Language Ideology

In his article, “‘Nah, We Straight’: An Argument against Code Switching,” Vershawn Ashanti Young defines “Code Switching” as such:

“The prevailing definition, the one most educators accept, and the one I’m against, advocates language substitution, the linguistic translation of Spanglish or AAE into standard English. This unfortunate definition of code switching is not about accommodating two language varieties in one speech act. It’s not about the practice of language blending. Rather it characterizes the teaching of language conversion.” (Young 50)

In his essay, Young sets out to illustrate that code switching is steeped in racist thinking and segregationist history. He characterizes the usual model of code switching as one of “transition,” designed to replace one means of language expression with another. In opposition, Young advocates for “code meshing: blending dos idiomas or copping enough standard English to really make yo’ AAE be Da Bomb” (50).

Young likens code switching to segregation practices in the US, citing the term “double consciousness” from W.E.B. Du Bois, which refers to a kind of “racial schizophrenia” caused by segregation (51). Pointing out that code switching calls for one way of speaking to be left aside in favor of another based on one’s rhetorical situation, Young asserts that “to teach students that the two language varieties cannot mix and must remain apart belies the claim of linguistic equality and replicates the same phony logic behind Jim Crow legislation” (53). Concerning Standard English, he points out:

“If, as linguists propose, standard English arises primarily from the speech habits of middle- and upper-class whites, and students who speak black English are required to give up their variety and switch to standard English in public and in school, then students are simultaneously required to recognize the superiority of standard English and the people associated with it.” (Young 55)

Code meshing, which Young credits to linguist A. Suresh Canagarajah, operates differently.  As he describes it, “Unlike code switching, code meshing does not require students to ‘hold back their Englishes’ but permits them to bring them more forcefully and strategically forward. The ideology behind code meshing holds that peoples’ so-called ‘nonstandard’ dialects are already fully compatible with standard English” (Young 62). He further argues that code meshing, mingling aspects of various Englishes, is not only inevitable but desirable.

“Code meshing, on the other hand, while also acknowledging standard principles for communication, encourages speakers and writers to fuse that standard with native speech habits, to color their writing with what they bring from home. It has the potential to enlarge our national vocabulary, multiply the range of available rhetorical styles, expand our ability to understand linguistic difference and make us in the end multidialectical, as opposed to monodialectical.” (Young 65)

Young also points out that not even the majority of white, middle-class speakers use Standard English. Dominant language ideology, he points out, “demands that we participate in a fantasy that white middle class folks are entitled speakers of public English” (68). Even professors of language have been shown to make significant mistakes when correcting the grammar or usage of others. He concludes the section by stating, “Code switching spells failure for most students–and worse, it’s covered in the residue of racism. Code meshing is a better resolution to the minority language debate because it allows minoritized people to become more effective communicators by doing what we all do best, what comes naturally: blending, merging, meshing dialects” (72).

Citation

Young, Vershawn Ashanti. “‘Nah, We Straight’: An Argument against Code Switching.” JAC 29. 1–2 (2009): 49–76. PDF File.

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