Code-switching.

February 23, 2007

Working at a university means I get to meet people from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds. It also means that I have to spend most of my time speaking in something resembling a more proper English, so that people understand me.

We Scots are so used to code-switching that we barely notice ourselves doing it. The ability to transparently switch between a well-rounded, well-pronounced English when talking to a colleague, and the more fluid local accent when not, is astoundingly interesting to me. It’s surprising just how much I might vary my chosen words based on my current audience, rarely ever having to concentrate on doing so, and certainly never having to think about the basic meaning of what I’m talking about.

There are simple things, such as choosing whether to pronounce t‘s; “Butter” is the prime example of this, though there are obviously many others. There are entire word substitutions: “aye” vs. “yes,” though perhaps the former slips out more often than I’m aware. There are sentences which might be worded differently: “head up Byres Road” instead of “drive along Byres Road.” These little differences quickly build up, so something as simple as “Yes, that’s correct, then drive to the end of the street, and turn right, please.” turns into something more like “Aye that’s right, an’ ahm on your right at the end of the road, cheers.” when talking to a local taxi driver.

Working in this multicultural environment makes me feel intensely proud of being Scottish. I buy right into the modern Scottish identity, knowing perfectly well that some of this identity was crafted in part by the then British Monarch at a time in the Union when it became okay to embrace the history of the nation. I love haggis, Burns’ night, Highland bagpipes, kilts, tartan, Highland dress, whisky, etc. I love the history. I love the colour of the Saltire, even though there’s no officially agreed blue for it. I love the people. Central Scotland is, and always will be, my home. This is despite aspirations to work elsewhere for at least part of my lifetime.

Unusually, however, I sometimes spend so much time talking in a more proper English than a more proper Glaswegian that I actually find myself surprisingly tired by it all. I begin to notice how I’m talking, as if my brain is crying to me “why can’t you just talk normally?” Perhaps I should teach my colleagues some of the local Glasgonian vernacular. Ken?

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