Prof. Jessica Penner | D493 | Spring 2022

Discussion Question “Mother Tongue & Code Switching: Language and Community”

Think about language and the different ways you communicate or speak. Choose a word or phrase that you use with one group of people (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) that would not be understood by a different group of people in your life. What is the meaning of this word or phrase and how would you explain it to someone who is an outsider to the group who uses it?

Just hit “reply” and add your answer to this post!


  1. Shahat Alam

    I remember when my friends actually introudced to the phrase “valid” as a synonym for “ok” or “cool”. At first I thought it was hilarious and I felt like I was talking to a credit card processor every time I would here someone say “valid”. But eventually it grew on me and instead of saying “ok cool”, when signaling affirmation I began to say “valid bro”. Or instead of asking: what cool restaurants are nearby? I began saying: are there any valid spots to eat nearby?

    Also btw, I think the concept of code switching isn’t particularly new or surprising to any one of us. In a professional setting, shifting our vernacular to something closer to the climate per se is like second nature. Actually I live in fear of a collision between my professional life and home life because I think people would be astonished at how foul mouthed I really am. Honestly, what happens behind the curtains should stay that way, I think it’s perfectly healthy for people to let loose sometimes and not constantly worry about offending others.

  2. Halle

    Halle Bonner

    As I read “Mother Tongue” I noticed that me and the main character Amy have a lot of similar traits. Amy came from an Asian cultural background and since I grew up in a Caribbean household all my life there’s always been a need for code-switching. When I’m with family I speak with an accent and when I’m simply with friends I speak in a regular tone. Growing up in the Caribbean culture there’s have always been phrases or sayings being passed around and used, especially if you were one bad kid. But while I was growing up this phrase always stuck on me which is “ hard ears pickney(children) gonna feel it. My mom used it on me as her grandma used it on her. I never really understood what it really meant when I was little but I sure did later on in life, the phrase means if you disobey or do bad your going to feel the consequences later. While growing up I saw this phrase come to life if you do something that’s not ok and you think it’s not going to catch up to you, you surely going to feel it later.

  3. Luis

    I remember being first introduced to the term “cap”. Instantly I understood what it meant because of the context, emphasis, and overall gravity of the word. I find it hard sometimes explaining words like these to my family that is all Spanish speaking, the word simply just does not translate. I even try saying it with an accent as if was just part of our normal vocabulary but they still don’t understand. It’s interesting that for these kinds of words, I can introduce them to my group of friends and they would instantly understand it and use it in their day-to-day conversations. I guess that comes with the language barrier and the absence of English vocabulary in their life.

  4. Dominic Padon

    The words I use with a special group of people are “goo moo”, “goo een”, and “goo nee”. It’s used within a server that me and my online friends use, it means good morning, good evening and goo night, respectively. It’s pretty self-explanatory, we removed the d from “good” and took the first syllable or so of each word and stretched it into a three-letter word to denote that time. Morning, mo, moo. Evening (we pronounce it as “eening”), een. Night, ni, nee. It started as a joke but it caught on and we always use it as a hello or goodbye in our chats.

  5. Michelle Ramirez

    A phrase I use with my friends that others would not understand is “dumb”. To most people, when you use the word dumb to describe someone, you mean it in a way where they are not very smart. I use it in a sense to describe something as an exaggeration. For example, I could be speaking to my friend and telling her the line for something is dumb slow, and I would mean it is really slow. I know that if I were to use it around my family or someone who does not speak the way I do, they would be confused and wonder what I am even talking about. I would tell someone to think of it as another word for “really” in a sense that something is “really…”. Trying to explain it is hard but its not too confusing as it is a really simple way of adding on to something.

  6. Tania

    Growing up the use of the word “deadass” became so common that I fully replaced it with “are you serious” or as an audible question mark or exclamation point. While I may use this with friends or co-workers I refrain from using it at home or in a more professional setting. One reason is because it’s a curse word and another is because someone who doesn’t have English as their first language may not understand that slang word.

  7. Fedaa Khalil

    My family and I use the Arabic word “yallah” often. We use this word in many different ways. It has a few meanings but is all similar. The word “yallah” can be used as a way to rush someone, like saying “let’s go,” or even just usually saying let’s go. Sometimes my family and I even use it to communicate bye. For example, if we’re on the phone, we’ll say “yallah bye” when we’re about to hang up. We sometimes use “yallah” when we get excited about something and want to go or do that thing we’re excited about quickly. Non-Arabic speakers would be confused about what “yallah” means, and this is the way I would explain it to them.

  8. Abraham De La Rosa

    My family uses the phrase, “burro,” to call a family member a fool or bull-headed. Though it is meant to be affectionate and no one in my family really takes offense to the phrase. In fact, we might laugh at the phrase. My mother calls me and my little brother “burros” all the time. I would explain this phrase to an outsider as a way to affectionately refer to someone as a fool.

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