52: i think i’m multilingual, dude

My mother hates it when I “call her dude.”

Funny thing is, I’ve never actually called her “dude” before. Since she reads this blog, I’m sure this will be a revelation for her.

Many know dude as a universal pronoun, perhaps with a predominantly male connotation (though in my view, it’s more versatile and not necessarily mired by gender-specificity).

Dude can refer to a stranger: “Look at that dude over there.”

… Or a close friend: “I appreciate you, my dude.”

But within the context in which I most frequently use dude – that which most frequently offends my mother – dude is simply an emphasizer used to convey heightened emotion.

When I’m pleased? “Dude! Nice!”

When I’m mad/irritated: “Dude, stop!”

When I’m in awe: “Duuuuuuuuude, that sunset is beautiful.”

More often than not, I use dude to refer to no one in particular, and my use of it has become almost reflexive- the product, no doubt, of hanging around exclusively with college peers who frequently used the same emphasizer.

Living away from home for 4 years, in various dorm and apartment settings with others who spoke in the “dude” dialect, it naturally gradually became my primary method of communication at home and in private settings.

I don’t talk like that all the time, though.

In the classroom, at work, or at other professional functions, I was able to switch it off and enter a more formal speech pattern, dropping words like “dude,” “word,” “wack,” and “hella” (among countless others) when speaking to professors, supervisors and other important figures in my network.

But back in my apartment? Dude.

So when I moved home post-graduation, I guess I’ve reflexively continued to toss around my modified home dialect to my roommates – despite those roommates being my parents.

I’ve made little effort to alter the way I talk at home. Too much work, if you ask me.

That formal voice I mentioned?

I’ve become hyper-aware of what I call my “work voice.”

It’s the voice I use when I call a company, when speaking to clients or customers, when typing a professional email, or at a job interview trying to wow some potential employers whom I’ve never met.

I picked it up during my years working part-time at the front desk of a Hilton, where I was hired as a “guest service agent” going overnight from being an 18-year-old high school grad to the friendly face of an international hospitality behemoth.

It’s sort of hard to describe the technique, but it more or less involves acute focus on annunciation and elevating my typical low and mumbly drone to something much higher pitched than what is natural for me.

What’s funny is that it was not at all unnatural for me to pick up this “work voice.”

For the longest time, I don’t think I really realized I was doing it. It wasn’t until someone heard me call my boss on the phone once that it was pointed out to me and I was made aware of this additional dialect of mine.

And it’s served me quite well, I’d say. I’ve been complimented by colleagues for the way I handle communications on the job. [/brag]

So, all that said, I’d like to submit that I am multilingual.

I have a dialect for use around family, one for use around friends, and yet another for more formal or professional interactions.

Given that knowledge, I can only assume I must have other, subconscious manners of speaking that I just don’t know about yet.

What about you? How do you adjust your speech in different settings, with different audiences? How many “dialects” do you use?

Let me know – the more of my own I can identify, the more items I can slap on the ol’ résumé. 😉


3 Replies to “52: i think i’m multilingual, dude”

  1. I think most ,if not all,kids have at least two dilects–home and school.Possibly three as they get older–friend talk. Adults likely acquire a few more as time goes on.one for strangers,another for intimates, and as you noted the “client”or customer dialect. Hw about that? I wonder whether you were inspired by the poet on NPR yesterday who wrote “articulate.”?

  2. Maybe “multi-dialected” would be a better word than multi-lingual.
    As usual, I appreciate the humor, but I still hate being called dude!

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