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Social-Cognitive and Affective Antecedents of Code Switching and the Consequences of Linguistic Racism for Black People and People of Color

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Abstract

Linguistic racism shapes the psychological antecedents of code switching and its consequences for Black people and other people of color. We highlight mentalizing as an antecedent of code switching. We posit that stereotype threat arises in contexts where racism is salient, prompting scrutiny of others’ mental states (i.e., mentalizing) when making choices about linguistic self-presentation. Additionally, we posit that sustained appraisals of stereotype threat add cognitive load and reinforce self-protective code switching. We highlight potential consequences of linguistic racism for Black people and other people of color, including reduced opportunities for authentic self-presentation, increased emotional effort, and stress. Finally, we outline paths forward for research and practice: (1) recognizing the heterogeneity of language and thereby reducing linguistic racism, (2) implementing changes that promote racially affirming environments that reduce demands for self-protective code switching, and (3) adapting and creating scalable psychometric tools to measure linguistic choices and linguistic racism.

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Notes

  1. Note: The ideas we lay out here also apply to other minoritized individuals along various intersecting dimensions including class, gender, and sexuality. The focus of this piece is on race and linguistic racism, but parallel ideas apply to other identities.

  2. Flores and Rosa (2015) transition from the use of the term minority to minoritized and use the term racialized when writing about students and their linguistic practices in the U.S. education system to highlight the fact that people actively socially construct these distinctions. In line with that logic, we use the phrase dominating instead of dominant here when describing cultural norms used in different spaces to bring to attention the active and ongoing processes underlying how these norms remain predominant.

  3. Research about code switching in relationship to Black Americans has traditionally been examined in the context of language and specifically bidialectalism (Standard English: SE and African American English: AAE; e.g., Sledd, 1969; Young & Barrett, 2018). This research includes research about linguistic profiling, a form of bias commonly directed towards Black people and people of color (Baugh, 2003, 2010). As a consequence of linguistic profiling, these populations are often subjected to negative stereotypes that they are less credible or informed because of perceptions of their speech practices (Baugh, 2003).

    Many Black Americans are perceived as code switching between Standard English (SE) and African American English (AAE), two commonly referenced dialects of English (e.g., Pullum, 1999). In 1979, AAE gained public recognition as a dialect of English within the USA in the Martin Luther King Elementary School Children vs. Ann Arbor School District court case (Labov, 1982; Yellin, 1980). Further discussions about the use of AAE gained traction within the field of Education in 1996 when the Oakland Unified School District passed a resolution recognizing AAE as a legitimate form of speech that could be used within schools during language instruction, prompting an uproar by community members (Wolfram, 1998). Oakland residents were outraged largely due to negative perceptions of AAE, which have been explored in research about language practices traditionally associated with Black people (e.g., Baugh, 2003; Doss & Gross, 1994).

  4. An in-depth treatment of the multiple contributors to racial trauma, and adverse health outcomes, is beyond the scope of this paper. However, while we focus on linguistic racism and code switching here, we note that it is one process in a broader cultural context.

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Correspondence to Darin G. Johnson or Emily B. Falk.

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The authors acknowledge the support from the NIH/National Cancer Institute Grant 1R01CA180015-01 (PI: Falk) and from the Army Research Office under MURI contract W911NF-18–1-0244 (PI: Falk).

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Johnson, D.G., Mattan, B.D., Flores, N. et al. Social-Cognitive and Affective Antecedents of Code Switching and the Consequences of Linguistic Racism for Black People and People of Color. Affec Sci 3, 5–13 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42761-021-00072-8

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