June 29, 2004

Everything you always wanted in a language, and less

Richard Lederer thinks that "... the essential reasons for the ascendancy of English lie in the internationality of its words and the relative simplicity of its grammar and syntax." Trevor at kaleboel thinks that "... English is so popular (and so strongly associated with ideologies of freedom) not because of its status as the world's primary language of intercommunal transaction but simply because it is such a delightful chaos."

I'd bet on Hollywood, GNP statistics and the Pentagon, myself, though Trevor's theory is a sentimental favorite. Anyhow, if languages had commercials, this would suggest a remake of the old Miller Lite debates:

"International and simple!" "Delightful chaos!"

As Adweek points out, Miller's "Tastes great! / Less filling!" campaign provided "a retirement haven for ex-jocks" for more than 15 years (and it's recently been revived using mud-wrestling supermodels). Our version could give aging language mavens something better to do with their time than telling us all what not to say.

An image is beginning to form: it's the bar at the 2005 LSA meeting; William Safire is chatting with Geoff Pullum... no, it's fading, I've lost the signal.

I'm also skeptical that Miller's master slogan will work: "Everything You Ever Wanted in a Language and Less". Maybe for Interlingua; though a quick check with Google suggests that no one has used this modified slogan yet. However, "tastes great" "less filling" is quite popular, with 8,500 Google hits, almost twice as many as "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" with 4,850.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 29, 2004 04:32 PM