Take a moment and try to imagine a world without language: written, signed, or spoken. It’s pretty hard to conceptualize, right? Language is a constant presence all around us. It’s how we communicate with others; without language it would be incredibly difficult to connect people.
Many people are self-conscious of their speech and worry that the way they talk is incorrect: this simply isn’t true. There are several different types of English—all of which are equally dynamic and complex. However, each variety is appropriate in different situations. When you’re talking to your friends, you should use slang and cultural references—if you speak in formal language, you can easily come off as uptight or rude. If you’re sending a quick casual message—via social media or texting—you don’t need to worry too much about capitalization or strict punctuation. Feel free to have five exclamation points standing alone, if that gets your point across.
However, there’s this thing called Standard American English. This type of English exists for the sake of communication across cultural lines, where standardized rules and conventions are necessary. How many times have you heard people of older generations ask just what smh or rn mean? This is where grammar comes in. Grammar is a set of rules and conventions that dictate how Standard American English works. These rules are simply tools that speakers of a language can use. When you learn how to use the language, you can craft your message to communicate exactly what you want to convey.
Additionally, when you speak or write with poor grammar, others will often make judgements about who you are as a person. As Williams and Colomb say, “Follow all the rules all the time because sometime, someone will criticize you for something.”
Code switching is the ability to use two different varieties (or dialects) of the same language. Most people do this instinctively. If you were writing a paper, you might say something like “The experiment requires not one but four different procedures” in order to emphasize number. In an informal online setting, on the other hand, you might say something like “I saw two (2) buses drive past.”
The most important facet of code switching is knowing when to use which variety. In formal academic writing, standardized English is the correct variety to use. As you go through this module, remember that these are the rules for just one type of English.
- Williams, Joseph M. and Gregory G. Colomb. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. 3rd ed. Boston: Longman. 2012, p. 14. ↵