Code switching: A trivial post

You know about code switching, right?

  • How college students can use all sorts of strange abbreviations when texting and write grammatical, fully-spelled-out paragraphs for school.
  • How you probably speak differently to your 2-year-old child than you do to your 60-year-old boss…
  • Lots of other cases…

This trivial post will add nothing useful to that discussion. I’m just noting that code switching can be accidental and take you by surprise.

To wit, I was reading a quick weather-related FriendFeed note, addressed to the east coast people getting buried in snow, saying Vancouver sure could use some of that, a week before the Olympics, since it was “50” and sunny…

And I immediately thought: “Geez, how could it possibly be 50 in Vancouver in February? Maybe in Phoenix in July, but…”

Because my mind had automatically, given “Vancouver,” done the Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion, given that Canada usually uses Celsius for temperatures. (9/5 + 32, one of the easiest formulas around–and yields 122Fahrenheit, essentially impossible for Vancouver in February unless the sun’s going nova.)

Then I looked at the message again and thought, “Oh, either written by a U.S. person or written for a U.S. audience–they’re using Fahrenheit.” 50F in Vancouver in February doesn’t seem at all unlikely. (It was apparently around 45F in Juneau at that point.)

Unconscious code-switching…I suspect lots of us do it in various areas. Usually, it works just great.

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