Linguistics

Alyssa Kapnik Portraiture

We are always adjusting the way we sound. It especially depends on the social situation we are in. Linguists call it "code switching," a term originally used for people who would switch between two different languages like Spanish and English. But the term has evolved to embrace the tone, accents, and inflections that we use when talking to people. Many of us do it.

Growing up, I heard plenty of jokes about the way I spoke. But I couldn't help the way I sounded. It’s a default voice, just how I speak. You see where I grew up, in Las Vegas, there were two types of black kids in school: those who hung out only with other black kids and those who bounced back and forth between black and non-black friends. I was in the second group. With all of that switching back and forth, my voice switched too. And it still does. For example, when I’m on the phone with my sister, the “sistah” comes out. It's not something I’m always conscious of. Sometimes it just sort of happens.

Now as an adult I have fun with it, but as a kid it wasn’t always this way. Finding my voice was just painful. At school, being told I “sounded white” meant only one thing. I wouldn’t be eating my corndog and tater tots at the black kids’ lunch table.

But that was then. Nowadays, in some schools, corn dogs and tater tots have been replaced with tofu dogs and green salad. It got me wondering if the conversation among teens may have changed too. So, I went to a place where I thought I might find some black teens who’ve been accused of “talking white”: the skate park.

Liz Pfeffer

A few hours north of San Francisco is the town of Boonville, nestled in the quaint Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Like Silicon Valley, this place is known for its innovations in communication – but in a completely different way.