July 27, 2004

IPA in Japan

A couple days ago, Mark Liberman suggested some ways in which International Phonetic Alphabet might infiltrate pop culture, creating a more universal awareness of phonetic transcription. He might be pleased to know that in addition to British cameras and German beers, such an effort is also underway in Japan and Korea, where IPA transcriptions show up from time to time on product labels and in commercials.

I first became aware of this phenomenon a few years back. One day I was watching Japanese TV, and was startled to see the following commercial: a dog is shown sitting and looking attentively, while a woman's voice off-screen says "I love you..." The dog cocks its head, looks puzzled, and then barks "roof rooooof roof". The screen fades to black, and we see in neat block letters: [aɪ lʌv juː]. This is repeated several times. (If I ever knew what the commercial was actually for, I've forgotten by now.) I asked a Japanese (linguist) friend of mine about it, and she assured me that IPA familiarity is very high in Japan, because it is used in foreign-language dictionaries. (It has apparently been used in English-Japanese dictionaries since the 20s.)

I had thought the fad was pretty much over by now (decorative writing in French and Italian seem to be the new vogue), but recently I encountered the mysterious drink called [woː], manufactured by Kirin (picture above). It comes in Salty Cat, Monkey Fizz, and Bloody Wolf flavors, modeled on various cocktails. If you're curious and can read Japanese, there is a review here.

Kirin is also responsible for a drink called B-flat (bii furatto), which is written simply with the flat sign: ♭ Maybe their marketing division is actually a bunch of former opera singers?

Posted by Adam Albright at July 27, 2004 01:54 PM