by Anna O’Sullivan
There has been a long debate over how appropriate code meshing and code switching is in academic and professional settings. The abundant number of overlapping dialects within these settings cause friction between those who feel there is no exception to stray from standard English and those who feel they should not have to meet these “standards”. After reviewing multiple sources arguing opposing viewpoints, I ask, in what context should code meshing and switching be appropriate in academic and professional settings and in what context should they not? I feel that there are too many factors that play into why an individual or group would use code switching in the first place to be able to label it under something so general as appropriate or inappropriate. Through this blog post I will discuss to the blogosphere why code switching is hard to generalize as appropriate or inappropriate in academic and professional situations.
Numerous authors agree that code switching and meshing should be normalized to object against any literary prejudice due to different racial and cultural backgrounds. Vershawn Ashanti Young in Should Writers Use They Own English, has strong opinions on accepting code switching and meshing as the new standard of English. He believes that writers should be able to express themselves with their vernaculars and cultural dialects no matter the academic context. This stems from John Vance’s viewpoint in journal article, Code-Meshing Meshed Codes: Some Complications and Possibilities. He states that “non-standard” dialects- and, further, has a lot more to do with one’s (perceived) skin color than one’s manner of speaking and writing.” (Vance 282). Which then relates back to Young’s claim “ when folks don’t get no jobs or get fired or whatever cuz they talk and write Asian or black or with an Appalachian accent or sound like whatever ain’t the status quo.” (110). From reading this I can agree that dialects should not get in the way of someone’s profession or academic progression. Anyones cultural background should not put them at a disadvantage because their dialect differs from the “standard English”. I feel there should be no “standard english” definition, I do however believe there are certain degrees of generalized communication that educational and workplace settings need to implement.
Stanley Fish in What Should Colleges Teach?, finds no exception for code meshing and switching and feels standard English is the only appropriate style of writing in any academic and professional setting. I found myself agreeing more with Young in that code meshing should be normalized in the future of literature; however, I also felt that there was some underlying solution in Fish’s opposing argument. Fish expresses his opinion against this when he states “It is because our students come to us unable to write clean English sentences..” (What Should Colleges Teach 1). I question this statement because I am unable to pinpoint exactly what a clean English sentence is in a classroom or workplace that has a diverse group of people. Students and employees coming from different cultural backgrounds have various forms of what a “clean English sentence” means. However, I do see the reality of a situation that in these settings there is a need for a general dialect in order to have a fluidity in communication. Young suggests teaching the basic understanding of what he considered formal writing through using the work of famous authors (What Should Colleges Teach 1). The truth of the situation is that there needs to be a ground level of understanding each other linguistically. This can make teaching a basic level of “standardized english” useful because it provides a ground level of communication in the educational or professional setting. While I disagree that only a white vernacular should be the communication standard, educational systems should implement a course of inclusive basic dialect. A class that teaches general punctuation and literary rules like sentence structure and more while also incorporating lessons on different dialects so every student can understand their peers’ vernaculars while also sharing one between them. If we were just to mesh cultural dialects, it could lead to students not of a certain vernacular to feel ok saying offensive terms only appropriate in a particular culture. For example, a white student feeling like they can use the N- word if they are taught to use African American vernaculars within their classroom. This shows that in some instances the free use of code meshing and switching is not appropriate in academia. Therefore, a basic dialect or “standard” form of communication along with the knowledge of other cultural dialects might be beneficial to students and employees. Learning about different cultural dialects and vernaculars while also having a common form of communication would allow general respect and fluid conversations.
We must take into account the growing diversity in education and professional settings and what this means for the communication level within these settings. The Conference on College Composition and Communication created a position statement on second language writing and multilingual writers. This statement incorporates valid arguments on how teachers and writing program administrators should go about multilingual students. They urge them to “recognize and support multilingual writers’ practices of integrating their unique linguistic and cultural resources into writing both in classrooms and at the level of the writing program.” (CCCC part 1). I agree strongly with this claim and find that multilingual writers and students make up for an important part of the world of literature. To provide support for these multilingual students, teachers should allow them to use footnotes in assignments indicating that they know there is a sentence fragment being broken. As mentioned before, in order to have a fluid communication within classrooms there has to be a general dialect within academia. However, those who learned English as a secondary language should be able to feel comfortable in telling their professors when they need to code mesh or switch to get their point across. Cultural dialect has nothing to do with knowledge and intelligence on a subject therefore, should not hinder the outcome of a students performance. Code meshing should be freely used and expressed socially in any setting but in order for general communication to be passed within educational and professional settings there needs to be a general dialect to create a common understanding between teachers, employers and students.
With considering all opposing viewpoints over code meshing and switching, I feel that in order to claim it appropriate or inappropriate multiple factors must be considered. From Vershawn Young and John Vances’ viewpoints, racial and cultural backgrounds should not hinder any students or employees’ progression in their academic or professional settings. In order to fully adhere to this the Conference on College Composition and Communications urgency to support these multilingual writers must be shown due to the fact that these multilingual writers make up an important part in the world of literature. While I do not fully agree with Fish’s statement on “clean English”, I am able to understand that there must be a common ground of communication within these settings in order to have fluidity in communication with one another. Therefore, I feel code meshing and switching should be taught in courses for students of all cultural backgrounds to understand their peers’ dialects. These courses should also teach a general form of literary procedures so that students have an equal opportunity to contribute their knowledge in these settings without feeling unfair confinement from a “standardized english”. The white vernaculars “standard english” that is normalized today puts diverse students from various cultural backgrounds at a disadvantage and should be remodeled into a more diverse version of english. This English should be inclusive to all dialects and vernaculars therefore, making code meshing and switching a more familiarized concept of communication.
“CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Multilingual Writers.” Conference on College Composition and Communication, 12 June 2020, https://cccc.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/secondlangwriting.
Fish, Stanley. “What Should Colleges Teach?” The New York Times , 7 Sept. 2009.
Vance, John. “Code-Meshing Meshed Codes: Some Complications and Possibilities.” JAC, vol. 29, no. 1/2, JAC, 2009, pp. 281–84, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20866901.
Young, Vershawn Ashanti. “Should Writers Use They Own English?” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 110–117., https://doi.org/10.17077/2168-569x.1095.