Growing up Geechee, I heard this statement a lot from teachers, family members and people in my community. I learned at an early age that the language I spoke was considered bad, broken and improper English in certain settings. However, with my friends, some family members and at home it was okay for me to be Geechee. I didn’t have to think about my sentence before I said it. I was free to talk naturally. I was in a space where Geechee was not viewed as inferior to Standard American English. But, in school that was not the case. In school, Geechee children have to abandon their language, culture and a part of their identity in order to survive. In other words, we have to code-switch.
In order to survive a system that views American English as the only standard, Geechee speakers code-switch. Codeswitch is defined as jumping from one language to another. I’m from Charleston, SC which is one of the southern cities where you will find Geechee speakers. Geechee is an English based creole language derived from Gullah. Gullah is the mother language to Sea Island Creole and Geechee is the daughter language of Gullah. Just like any other forms of African American Vernacular English or AAVE, Geechee is not respected as an official language even though Geechee has its own set of grammatical rules and structures.
Geechee speakers who know how to code-switch effectively are often praised and awarded for their ability to assimilate. Geechee or AAVE speakers code-switch in order to avoid language discrimination. We code-switch in order to secure a job or pass standardized testing that is based on mastery of Standard American English. But code-switching is nothing to celebrate.
We code-switch to survive, not for praise or approval.
Check out our video below on code-switching