One thing a Modern Languages student will always find common ground on, apart from never reading the books which the seminars are based on, is the overwhelmingly inescapable desire to be bilingual. To further intensify this general yearning for fluency, I find myself living in a house where two out of four members are in fact bilingual, and frustrations over my lack of fluency have led me to conduct this interview with my housemates, whose abilities to code-switch continues to fuel my drive to attend at least a few lectures!
Code-switching is a term used to define the action of changing speech. To put it simply, there are two different ways of doing so: the altering of speech depending on your surroundings, for example you wouldn’t greet your mum in the morning with “Sup broski, what’s new?”, and the other more obvious one, changing language, taking the example of my lucky housemates who speak their respective language when at home.
Alas, a slice of Brazil and Sweden has been wedged into the Viaduct, and one Wednesday afternoon I forced them to answer some questions about living out my dream, the luxury of being able to code-switch. Sat on our ghastly sofas, these linguistic chameleons introduce themselves. Gabi, half-Brazilian half-British, and Tess fully Swedish, nonchalantly express how they never really gave much thought to “effortlessly” changing language. Both confidently agree that shifting between languages is not an active decision, and Gabi likens it to “putting on a seatbelt”, you don’t think, you just do. Upon being reassured with confidence that code-switching is like a sixth sense, I inquire further. The question on all our lips, dreams. Do they experience a Wes Anderson spectacle as they recharge their minds at night, unsure as to which language it will be in? In short, no. Tess was quick to reassure me, however, that her Swedish folk do retain their nationality, but it’s not as simple as changing the audio on Netflix.
Running with the theme of night-time, I, myself, have tragically attempted to whisper sweet nothings in an ‘A-level French oral’ mode, resulting in an anything but sweet experience, yet it leaves me wondering if these semi-Romance language pros find themselves slipping into their second language in an attempt to seduce. However, it becomes clear that for these two casual linguists, speaking another language isn’t something to peacock, it really is speaking two languages fluently, simple as, so natural to them that it doesn’t bear this edgy flair which us students give to it. Evidently, Gabi and Tess attend Durham University, and what became even more apparent, is that code-switching enables secret communication, as Tess admits she and her sister will shamelessly talk about people in Swedish, which although morally questionable, is undoubtedly liberating. For Gabi, who learnt Portuguese through her mother, code-switching calls into question identity, and how to maintain that, 'je ne sais quoi', as she highlights the challenges of a gendered language.
Ultimately, my two superior housemates conclude this interview by admitting that their personalities do alter upon code-switching, but if anything, they are set with a pretty cool answer if they are hit with, ‘tell me a fun fact about yourself’.