May 17, 2004

Marketing to grammar victims

Steven Bird's picture of the International Phonetic Alphabet on the packaging of a new Olympus digital camera is heartwarming -- may it be the first of many similar examples. Unfortunately, the µ[mju:] 400 appears to be the European packaging of what is marketed in the U.S. as the Stylus 400. This may be related to the fact that recent British dictionaries for the European market use IPA in their pronunciation fields, while the American versions of the same dictionaries not only provide American pronunciations, but translate them into a non-IPA pseudo-orthographic system concocted for the occasion.

Still -- who'd've thought that the way to popularize linguistic analysis might be... marketing?

Continuing with Steven's idea that IPA=hitech, I fantasize about seeing kəˈʧɪŋ digital headphones: "Now with infinite impulse response!". Trying for some orthographic fetishism, a line of sandals branded /ˈwʊʤəz/. Or for that southern flair, /ˈwʊʤɔl/. We need some fonts in general distribution that make IPA look more elegant, though. When I look at IPA in unicode through a standard web browser or text processor, the mixture of styles and the poor hinting usually make it look like a ransom note (even without all the problems of diacritics...)

I don't expect that Britney Spears will replace her "Hebrew" tattoo with an IPA inscription, but maybe some future Hollywood guru will promote incantatory mantras in IPA. Or maybe some analytical hiphop innovator will start using IPA on liner notes and in song titles.

Then there's a popular women's clothing store called anthropologie. Maybe linguistique has potential? Or more confidently, linguistics. Selling anaphora perfume, part of the binding theory product line. Or aphasia eye make-up ("when speech just doesn't work") -- maybe that's a bit insensitive, though opium is still in the stores... How about clitics piercing studs?

There are plenty of opportunities for catchy slogans -- fill out the list (and fill in the products) for yourselves:

epistemology: how you know.
split ergativity: it's all about the participants.

The list of suitably evocative terms, ready to be recycled into mass-market products, is a long one: anti-passive, bilabial, causative, deixis, diglossia, fluency, illocutionary force, implicature, irrealis, labiality, onomatopoeia, perisylvian, voiceless ...

Not likely. But a nice daydream.

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 17, 2004 09:16 AM