July 27, 2004

IPA in beer (and other) ads

A couple of days ago, I speculated in a jokey way about how to promote the International Phonetic Alphabet by direct appeal to the general public. One of my silly fantasies involved brewers starting to label their products phonetically. It seems that in Germany at least, reality is running ahead of fantasy.

Abby Shoun writes, with photos, to tell me that

You might be interested in an ad campaign that was run recently here in southwestern Germany - you just may have gotten your wish! A German beer company used pseudo-IPA (adapted for German speakers) in a series of advertisements to highlight their connection to the local dialect, Schwäbisch, and its cultural associations. Here attached are pictures of two of the posters from the campaign. They've obviously tried to adopt genuine phonological notation (square brackets and length marks), but they've also deviated from IPA proper to make the ads more accessible to German speakers (<w> for [v], <ch> for [x], etc.). ...

(For a while, by the way, it seemed that the campaign had run its course; most of the posters have been gone for weeks. But I recently started noticing new placement of the ads on café umbrellas and beer coasters. Who knows - maybe IPA sells!)


I like the angle of using IPA to emphasize a local dialect connection. Local microbrewers all over the U.S. could take advantage of this idea: "Have a [ˈɓɘeɹ]!" "A beer?" "No, dummy, this here is a [ˈɓɘeɹ]."

A couple of months ago, way back in May -- what is that in blog years? -- Steven Bird noted the use of IPA in marketing an Olympus camera in Europe. Unfortunately the same camera is marketed in the US without IPA, but perhaps the seed of a trend is there.

If IPA labels, logos and ad copy can come to be associated simultaneously with high technology, high style and gritty local authenticity, the battle will have been won.

Now I'm waiting to hear about the use of IPA in hiphop lyric sheets.


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 27, 2004 10:39 AM