Darin Johnson breaks down what code switching is

The doctoral student at Annenberg School for Communication explores the mental processes behind code switching and their implications.

Everybody engages in code switching. A person discusses something differently with friends than with parents, and differently with parents than teachers or supervisors. As an Annenberg School for Communication doctoral student, Darin Johnson studies code switching and the psychological mechanisms behind it. His research focuses particularly on the ways that people with marginalized identities code switch their language and behavior.

Darin Johnson stands outside in front of steps.
Annenberg School for Communication doctoral student Darin Johnson. (Image: Annenberg School for Communication)

Johnson is also a member of the Communication Neuroscience Lab, a group of researchers that use the tools of psychology and brain science with the mission of understanding how people coordinate, bond, and influence one another in order to increase health and happiness. Johnson is the first author on a new Affective Science commentary, “Social Cognitive and Affective Antecedents of Code Switching and the Consequences of Linguistic Racism for Black People and People of Color.

“Code switching is adapting the way you might communicate in different contexts like, work, school or even at home,” Johnson explains. “For instance, at work maybe you greet your colleagues by saying, ‘Hi. How’s it going?’ Whereas at home, you greet your parents by saying, ‘Heyyyyyyy, how are ya?!’ Perhaps at school, you fist bump your friends and say, ‘What’s up?’, but when a teacher passes by you simply smile and say, ‘Hello, Professor.’ All of these are examples of code switching.”

Johnson’s paper explores how code switching might look different for a person of color as opposed to a white person. “Perspectives on code switching vary between academic disciplines within and outside of academia,” Johnson says. “In this paper, we take the perspective that code switching, or varying one’s communicative practices across contexts, is largely a universal phenomenon across racial groups.” However, he adds, “we posit that the extent to which a person may engage in self-protective code switching … We posit this understanding that the consequences, not of code switching, but of racism—linguistically or otherwise—are salient for many people of color in society.”

This story is by Amy Solano. Read more at the Annenberg School for Communication.