Actor NT Rama Rao Junior has received backlash for trying to sound American at the Golden Globes ceremony. It’s a criticism that Priyanka Chopra has been facing for far too long. Putting on a different accent is called code-switching and here’s why people do it
The film you starred in could be making history. It may have won at the Golden Globes. But that is not stopping trolls from coming for you. The latest victim of social media hate is actor NT Rama Rao Junior, who stars in the epic action drama flick RRR, which bagged the Best Original score award for the song “Natu Natu”.
What did NTR Jr do? Well, he “faked” an accent. The lead of SS Rajamouli’s superhit was speaking to Variety when put on an American accent. In the 1.15-minute conversation, he spoke about the film and his ambition to feature in a Marvel movie.
The actor was called out for “his mindnumbingly fake American accent”. Some said it was “cringe” but others said that there was “nothing wrong in having a good America accent”.
But NTR Jr is not the only one to put on an accent. Actress Priyanka Chopra too has been mocked for it. And while those in the public eye often get slammed, it is something that happens to many of us. Altering the way you speak in a formal situation is common; it is often done subconsciously. And it is called code-switching.
What is code-switching?
Code-switching is the practice of shifting the language one uses or the way one expresses oneself in a conversation.
In linguistics, code-switching refers to people altering their “code” in certain contexts, depending on who they are speaking to. The code refers to a different language, according to an article in The Conversation. But now the term is widely used to refer to a shift in the style of speaking, changing aspects of how people communicate. It could mean altering the dialect or the accent when interacting with people.
Why do people code-switch?
Code-switching helps people navigate the world. Using a different “accent” helps in bonding or communicating better or simply fitting in.
“In 2021 the BBC presenter Alex Scott was publicly criticised for her London working-class accent. This type of criticism can pressure people to move towards a more standard accent to avoid discrimination. This is where code-switching comes in,” The Conversation points out.
People often move away from their regular accents to appear more professional and advanced. They might take to a style which might be viewed as prestigious or intelligent, the report says.
According to a report in NPR, people often slip into a different accent without realising it. Sometimes people do it consciously or unconsciously to act or talk like those around them.
Some do it to win favours. NRP, which launched a ‘Code Switch’ blog in April 2013 covering race, ethnicity and culture, received a lot of stories from Americans in the service industry who said that a Southern accent got them better tips and more sympathy from customers.
An American woman living in Ireland told the publication, “We lived in Ireland some years ago and noticed there were often two prices for goods and services — reasonable prices for the locals and much more expensive costs for others (Americans). It was not easy, but I practised my Irish accent until we qualified for ‘local pricing’.”
It does. Linguistic profiling is real and often code-switching is a form of self-protection. Writer AT McWilliams wrote in The Guardian, “From navigating job interviews to ingratiating oneself with clientele, there are countless reasons people of color code-switch in white spaces. But historically, code-switching has served as a defense against linguistic discrimination: a form of bias that is partially implicit.”
American television has been making fun of the Indian accent for decades. Since the 1990s, the TV series Simpsons showcased Apu, a corner shop owner, who perpetuated all sorts of racial stereotypes, including the flat sing-song accent. The Big Bang Theory’s Raj Koothrappali speaks similarly.
When people of colour are made so conscious about the way they talk, no wonder then that they resort to code-switching.
Why is code-switching criticised?
Language is a major identifier of culture and people’s background. “… when a person chooses a dominant language like English and speaks it in a way that erases their cultural marker, it translates almost like a betrayal to those who grew up in the same environment as them,” says an essay in The Swaddle.
It is why NTR Jr and Priyanka Chopra have been slammed. Because they are not being ‘real’. The truth as we know isn’t always black or white.
With inputs from agencies
( Source ; First Post)