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Dude, Alter!

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This paper takes a cross-linguistic look at two notorious examples of contemporary slang: American English dude and German Alter. Both have received considerable attention in the media and some initial sociolinguistic inquiry. It is shown here that both items share a number of properties, some quite obvious, others subtler and possibly less stable. This includes features from all levels of linguistic analysis and covers both formal and functional aspects. The seminal similarity between dude and Alter is of a syntactic nature: while both NPs can occur within argument structure, their default is in vocative position. Based on this structural parallelism, other domains are analyzed, including semantics and bleaching effects, phonological and orthographic variation. Particular attention is given to the sociocultural and sociopragmatic potential of dude and Alter, including their role as indexicals for certain youth groups and their subsequent stereotypization. This paper tracks both the similarities and the subtle differences in the usage and function of dude and Alter. It is argued that this lexical parallelism, albeit coincidental, highlights the role of vocative forms in the discursive makeup of both English and German.
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Keywords: Alter; contrastive pragmatics; cross-linguistic analysis; dude; stylization; vocative

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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