I code-switch: an analysis of how I talk

I have three accents. A Māori accent, a Pākehā accent, and a neutral accent. I code-switch between the three seamlessly and without noticing. A few people say and have said I’m just pretending, that I’m just trying to fit in. I promise this is genuinely something I do without thinking. My mum and my girlfriend have picked up on these shifts and, as a linguistics nerd, I thought it’d be interesting to note them down.

Let’s start with the Pākehā accent, as it’s the most familiar to most, in its lack of detail. Mine is usually very Received Pronunciation, and often includes a tad of vocal fry on the ends of words. For an example, check out this video at 0:26 (when I say “for nightlife”). I’m in a video shoot, it’s late and cold, and I’m not extremely comfortable in front of camera, so I tighten up and retreat into a Pākehā accent viewers won’t be made uncomfortable by.

Now, the Māori accent. It’s in this video, at 0:44, when I’m outlining the concept of the video. I’m in a cafe with a close friend (Ella, off screen), and someone I know who happens to have a Pasifika accent (Hama, on screen). So I’m comfortable and I’m surrounded by Pacific voices, but the same could be true of Māori voices, like people have noticed when I’m on a marae, or in reo classes. My plosives soften, my rs roll, and everything loosens up to a massive degree. I’ve never been entirely sure of my cultural identity, and perhaps this particular degree of code-switching is an unconscious attempt to fit in with people I know to be like me but who don’t usually sound like me.

Finally, my neutral accent. Once again in this video but at 4:40. Things have tightened up a bit and it doesn’t sound like I’m forcing anything, consciously or otherwise. It’s a little bit RP but also quite not. I’m no longer trying to fit in, I’m comfortable with who I am.

Looking back on today, in the space of a 50 minute History tutorial, I gave a presentation in my Pākehā accent, spoke with a Māori classmate about race relations in my Māori accent, and had a conversation with my tutor in my neutral accent. I didn’t notice any of those at the time and yet the differences in situation and result are clear.

I’ve been asking myself for months and months if I’m Māori enough for X, Y, or Z. I’ve been catching glimpses in mirrors, listening back to recordings of myself and repeating phrases I hear on Te Karere. I don’t think this is a struggle that will ever end. My whakapapa was hidden from me by the forces of hate, the anger of prejudice and racism meant that my tipuna and my whanaunga kept things quiet. The hiding is over now. I am learning what was lost, and giving the knowledge back to those, even those older than me, who never were given the chance to have it and hold it proudly.

My journey is an intersectional one. Just like in my feminism, there are conversations I should speak in and some I should just listen to. I do not relate to the experiences of all Māori, or to all Māori experiences, if either even exist. But it seems that, even in the year and a bit I have known of my whakapapa, I have experienced a degree of those experiences. I have felt unsure of who I am and where I come from. I have been mocked and spoken over and belittled for being proud of my whakapapa. I have faced barrier after barrier and continue to do so.

I am Māori. I am the descendant of Henare Te Kehu of Mohua, the brother of Erena Te Kehu, the wife of of Tamati Pirimona Marino, of whom Lindauer painted a portrait. I still don’t think I’ll ever stop code-switching. I still think I’ll always be a little bit uncomfortable with how I look and how I sound. I don’t have a conclusion for this post, which feels right.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *