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Essay about Code Switching in William Wells Brown's Clotel

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Code Switching in William Wells Brown's Clotel


Everyone has various styles of speaking and various ranges of vocabulary that they utilize depending upon with whom they speak. This concept, known as code switching, portrays an integral part of our lives in today’s society. The fact that different groups of people speak in different ways necessitates the use of code switching. One would not speak to a group of high school students in the manner that one would speak to a scholar, or speak to a prison inmate in the same regard that one would speak with the President of the United States. Speaking in standard American English and then in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or Ebonics, portrays the most prominent use of code switching in today’s society, especially among American youths. Today, people utilize code switching to associate better amongst a group of people. In William Wells Brown’s Clotel, code switching plays an important role in the escape of two slaves, outwitting a train employee, and simply showing the difference between a slave’s behavior with other slaves and the slave’s behavior in the presence of his owner.

People typically change their way of speaking in a manner that is advantageous for themselves. The narrator portrays the advantage of code switching in the way that Clotel and William escape slavery. Clotel and William impersonate a gentleman and slave leaving Mississippi. William does not represent the typical uneducated slave; he “was a tall, full-bodied Negro, whose very countenance beamed with intelligence” (141). William speaks more eloquently than the average slave, portrayed when he tells Clotel, “There, Miss Clotel, you said if you had the means you would leave this place; there is...


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... proper English to receive a higher level of respect from the slave-owner. Sam portrays how someone can change his or her way of speaking based on the surrounding people.

In William Wells Brown’s Clotel, the use of code switching aids in the escape of two slaves and prevents a free slave from paying an unfair price for riding aboard a train. Code switching is also represented by a slave in the manner used by most – to fit in amongst a group of people and to speak on their level. Nearly everyone utilizes the concept of code switching, from scholars to athletes, from Americans to Africans. Code switching portrays a universal concept and an important part of our society. Without the utilization of code switching, people would have a harder time understanding one another, and social gatherings involving different groups of people would not be as comfortable.



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