May 17, 2004

Marketing the International Phonetic Alphabet

I was interested to discover recently that the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) has escaped from its usual place in the pronunciation field of dictionary entries to show up in the name of a camera: Olympus μ[mjuː] (Olympus Europa). I doubt the IPA is so well known that it clarifies the pronunciation of the Greek letter μ to the general population. Nor can it be a case of orthographic fetishism, such as the gratuitous use of diacritics intended to make a word look chic, e.g. Lancôme. The [mjuː] has nothing more exotic than the colon made of triangular dots. Instead, I suspect the IPA, right down to the use of the square bracket delimiters, helps the name look technical. Alternatively, an out-of-work phonologist landed a job in marketing; what other species of individual routinely uses the IPA and Greek letter variables after all? (Read more about the IPA in Bill Poser's recent piece.) Posted by Steven Bird at May 17, 2004 03:30 AM