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Switching Gears - Keeping It Real
By Mamie Webb Hixon
Let's get rid of the notion that there's always a correct way—a fixed way—to talk. There isn't. Very few people speak the same way all the time. Most of us have one way to talk to our friends and family (Hey, y'all! or Yo, Wassup!) and a completely different way to talk to our colleagues and business associates (Hello, how are you?); one way to talk in the living room, another way to talk in the board room.
We have our home English and our office English, what the Reverend Jesse Jackson calls our "cash English." We switch gears—back and forth between the two, depending on the audience and the occasion. We switch gears because we know there's no one way that works in every situation. We use our T-shirt English in one setting and our Tuxedo English in another. And most of us do it with ease and dexterity. In the living room, "we get the 411"; in the boardroom, "we research the information." In the living room, "this is on the down-low"; in the boardroom, "this is confidential." "We be down wit dat" at home, and "we are cooperative and agreeable" at work. It's "aw-ight?" at home and "all right?" in the office. We "chill" at home and "relax" in the office. At work, "we are practical and realistic"; at home, "we keep it real." We describe a co-worker as "laid-back" to a friend, but in a letter of reference we describe the co-worker as "a person with a relaxed demeanor."
Just as we have a clothes
closet with varied attire from casual to dressy, we should have a Language
Closet, a language repertoire with language choices from informal slang
and colloquialisms to formal, dressy English. According to language
specialists, there are approximately 1,560 ways to utter any English sentence,
giving us the ability to convey a message on any level—from informal to
formal. A speaker or writer of English who is hopelessly locked in to only one
method of delivery (slang, for instance) is just as inept as the one who can
communicate only on a strictly formal level. Our language repertoire should
contain enough vocabulary from all levels to ensure that we can in fact
communicate with kings, queens, and Presidents or the average Tom and Mary
Citizen on the street. The ability to switch gears allows us to express the
same idea in several ways:
The ability to switch gears allows us to make these distinct language choices depending on the situation:
T-shirt English - First Gear - is our own familiar
language that many of us use to relate to one another. It's the language we
use during those unguarded conversational moments when we're not "minding
our language." It's conversational English that comes in all forms—from
slang to dialectal expressions.
Dressy English - Second Gear - is the language of
news print, textbooks, and formal correspondence. It's the language that's met
with universal acceptance and approval; and it is favored by public figures,
television and radio announcers, and most professionals.
Tuxedo English -Third Gear - is the language of
formal documents and academic and business correspondence; it is an elevated
and formal level of second gear and is favored by many legal professionals and
some state and national public officials. Second and third gear speech offers
us unlimited professional and academic access, while first-gear speech offers
Shifting gears! It's what we do well. It's what we do best. We adjust our language. We change our speech depending on the image we wish to create. We may come from a "Hit don't matter to me, honey chile" background, but we should be able to "keep it real" and say "It doesn't matter to me" or "The fact of the matter doesn't alter the situation."
Switching Gears from the Living
By Mamie Webb Hixon
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