Is Code Switching linked to Classism in Jamaica?


So you've landed your dream job or you are probably at your current job for years! You've learned your co-workers or you're getting to know them and you've read all those books or articles on how to be a great employee! There are different types of people at work who fall into various groups including race, class, education level and even language and the interesting thing is you speak to them differently! Have you ever wondered why? It's called code-switching and believe it or not we all do it except for that one guy who speaks to everybody the same way --that guy is a unicorn, literally! 

Code-Switching according to Linguistics Dictionary is:



 "The practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of languages in Conversation"

I'm Jamaican and while our main language is English or if we are to get more into Linguistics "Standard Jamaican English", I also speak Patois/Patwah which is a dialect or the vernacular that is spoken by 80% of the population. This language dates all the way back to slavery as when our ancestors were brought to the Caribbean from Africa (which has multiple languages) they had to create a unique language along with their native tongue so they could communicate with each other and their owners. As a result, there are several languages mixed in to create my dialect. If we are to go even deeper there are levels to Patwah depending on where on the Island you reside -- I live in Kingston so my Patwah is mixed with more Standard Jamaican English (SJE) while another person from a more rural part of the Island's Patwah would sound a lot different from mine because of their geographical location (Can you tell I did Linguistics in University? lol ) Anyway! We code-switch a lot in Jamaica and I'm sure you do too in your part of the world! Patwah is generally what we use to tell stories (it just sounds better), what we use with our friends and sometimes at home .. it's generally more informal while Standard Jamaican Language is formal and what we use at work and school with people who are more authoritative like Teachers and our bosses.

Now that our little language lesson is out the way and you understand a bit more about my language let me share how code-switching can be used in a more formal setting may be at work and how you can use this to your advantage once mastered. 

"Language is the vehicle that drives change" is what one of my Professors would say and to this day I finally understood what it means. You see, here in Jamaica we have what is known as "classism", racism is not a big deal here as our motto is "Out of many one people" so we don't care if you are black, white, Indian or Chinese as all are welcome here. They do however care about your class and the way you are treated is pretty much based on this. How do you know what class a person belongs to you might ask -- it's by the way they speak! People from the upper class or Uptown as we call it in Jamaica speak more SJE and less Patwah in most cases. When you go into a job interview for example and you are from a noted University, have the required skills for the job and speak "well" you are in! (along with other requirements of course).



I'm going to be completely honest here and let you know that since this is a brand based on verbal and written communication, whenever I look for writers and people to join the team, the ones who have mastered SJE are usually short-listed. Patwah is a beautiful language and is so much fun, and associated with vibes and even color. I want to ensure that when they write, people all over the world can understand it. In the work world, I find that people who speak more SJE are taken more seriously and people in upper-level executive positions will even put them on more projects and introduce them to shareholders and have them sit in on meetings.

In Highschool, it was even worse! I remember one instance when my friends and I went to a store after school and decided to ditch our SJE and use Patwah when a lady suddenly emerged from the other aisle and said "Wow, this is how you ladies speak -- how will you get jobs?" we all looked at each other puzzled, embarrassed and somewhat ashamed after thinking she was just too faas (or nosey) but what she said had some truth. We slip back and forth between SJE and patwah because of classism and fear of not being considered worthy of opportunities because of the way we speak. 

Have you ever seen a Jamaican guy trying to "shoot his shot" at a Jamaican woman and notice how he uses a "twang" as we call it -- he wants to be taken seriously by her and by speaking this way he will be deemed as more worthy. 

I know that I code-switch because of socialization and simply to relate to my peers and it just sounds better! As I've mentioned before, daily interactions with friends and stories just sound better in Patwah. Look at this storytelling example with SJE vs Patwah:

SJE: I was going up the steps at the mall and I fell
Patwah: Mi sey, a piece a embarrassment ketch mi yesside! Mi did a go up di steps a di plaza and mi drap flat pon mi batty! 

Though we are very laid-back people and our Patwah is quite expressive and colorful! I think it's a beautiful thing to be able to switch based on the situation or person.

Let me know if you think Code Switching is linked to classism and if and why you code-switch. 

*No hate please, interested to know your opinions*

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