50 Shades of Grey, 44 Shades of Blue, and “Narrow Lane”: The Colourful World of Paint Names

Paint BlogThe languages of the world used to be a pretty drab. As linguist Guy Deutscher explains in his book Through The Language Glass, our ancestors – somehow – managed to make do with barely any words for the colours. The Ancient Greeks, for example, didn’t even have a word for blue. In his epic poetry, Homer instead refers to the “wine dark” sea and “wine-looking” oxen. In the evolution of languages across the globe, the development of our various colour lexicons have followed a similar path. Black and white tend to come first, then red, then yellow. Then comes green, and finally blue.

But, of course, the development hasn’t stopped there. As the societies we live in have become more complex, successive generations have demanded more and more names for the various hues, tints, shades and mixtures around them. The linguistic labels needed have come from a variety of sources. Taupe, for example, comes from the French for mole. Orange comes from the name of the fruit. Sienna, umber and magenta are all derived from place names.

As a result – from amber and cyan to silver and teal – the English language is now a very colourful one indeed. It contains enough colour words, surely, to keep ten Turners happy.

Not, it seems, if you are selling emulsion.

If you’ve ever visited a reasonably sized home improvement store (and, like me, come out confused, exhausted and clutching a pot of magnolia) you’ll know exactly what I mean. On the shelves you will find a seemingly endless array of colours, covering every inch of the colour spectrum, from Apple Blossom to Whipped Cream.

Dulux (one of the world’s largest paint manufacturers), for example, lists a mind-boggling 565 different paint varieties on their website. Although we’ve come a long way from Homer and the Ancient Greeks, there definitely aren’t 565 colour words in the English dictionary. It’s clear that Dulux’s branding department is home to some pretty creative people – and not just with different shades of paint, but with language too.

So how do you go about inventing that many names for shades of emulsion? Being the linguist that I am, I thought I’d do a quick corpus analysis of Dulux’s range to investigate. Here’s what I found out:

  • Only 14 of the names comprise a single word, such as Conker, Butterdish and Black (reassuringly, there is just plain old black), and only one of them comprises three (Pure Brilliant White). Since combinations (of words as much as of paints) are at the heart of creativity, it’s perhaps not surprising that rest of the names are all made up of two words.
  • In terms of their syntax, just over half of the two-word combinations (316) are formed of an adjective and a (head) noun, such as Perfect Praline and Mystic Mauve. Most of the others (225) are compound nouns, like Flame Frenzy, Orchid Opera, Bongo Jazz, formed by two nouns placed side by side.
  • It’s perhaps not surprising that many (97) of the head nouns are colour words themselves. Within Dulux’s range there are 44 shades of “blue”, 25 shades of “purple”, and 26 shades of “green”. Somewhat disappointingly, however, there are only 9 shades of “grey”. Many of the colours are modified by place names, for example, Oxford Blue and Pamplona Purple.
  • But that still means that 80% of the paint varieties don’t have dictionary colours as a head noun. It would obviously be difficult to sell 565 variations of Rich Black, Salsa Red, and so on.
  • Assigning some basic semantic categories (like “flora”, “fauna”, and so on) to each of the component words, it’s interesting to see what other concepts and physical objects Dulux’s branding department have generally tried to conjure up for us. After lexicalised colour words, the next most common category is “flora”. 75 of the paint varieties refer to trees, plants and fruit of all kind, from Olive Grove to Heather Bloom. There are also a few (15) varieties of fauna, from humble Field Mouse to Proud Peacock. Why bother leaving the house when you can bring the great outdoors to your feature wall?
  • The next most common category (56 paint varieties) is “food”. Rock Candy, Nougat Slice, Melon Sorbet and Whipped Cream, for example, are surely the stuff of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Another 16 paint colours relate to drinks, some more tempting than others. Anyone for a Sincere Brew?
  • Also well represented are the basic elements. There are 53 paint names relating to the category “earth”, 41 in the category “water”, 16 in the category “air”, and 6 in the category “fire”. In the latter, how about Warm Graphite, Marbled Sands, and even Creative Coal? Relating to “water”, Delicate Seashell and Teal Ripple, anyone?
  • As you might expect there are some poetic images in there, conjuring up some deliberately wistful moods (indeed, there is even a Wistful Mauve). How about Lost Lake, Undiscovered Forest and Porcelain Solitude in your living room?
  • But as well as the poetic, there’s also the down right ludicrous – from Intrepid Cave and Sapphire Salute, to Narrow Lane and Overtly Olive.
  • Talking about poetry, there are certainly quite a few rhetorical figures among the names. Around a fifth (107) – such as African Adventure, Blue Breeze and Curious Crimson – involve alliteration.
  • And finally, four of them (Russian Rouge, Blush Noisette, Blue Belle, Citron Sunrise) involve code-switching to French – no doubt to add a certain Gallic je ne sais quoi.

Whether or not it’s possible to tell the difference between Classic Black, Rich Black and (just plain old) Black, coming up with 565 different names for paint is certainly creative work, linguistically speaking.

Dulux, I raise my paint roller to you!

Fifty Shades of ’Fifty Shades of…’

Slide1The film adaptation of a certain best-selling erotic novel is shortly to hit the screens in the UK. Whatever you think of the subject matter, or the quality of the prose, it’s clear Fifty Shades of Grey has at least one thing going for it: a catchy and versatile title.

Much like the slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, ‘Fifty Shades of…’ lends itself to an endless number of adaptations, variations and parodies (or ‘creative linguistic variation’ as Artificial Intelligence research Tony Veale calls it), from ‘Fifty Shades of Dre’ to ‘Fifty Shades of Grape’.

And that’s surely no bad thing.

To illustrate just how creative writers, advertisers and bloggers have been with ‘Fifty Shades of…’, I used an online corpus search engine to crawl the web looking for examples. Here are the results: in no particular order, fifty of the seventy-five or so examples that I found – if you will, fifty shades ofFifty Shades of…’.

The list includes the replacement of ‘Grey’ with other colours (‘Green’, ‘Pink’), with proper names (‘Miley’ as in Cyrus), with rhymes (‘Spay’, ‘They’), and even with food-stuffs (how about cookbook ‘Fifty Shades of Kale’?). Notable mentions go to ‘Fifty Shades of Bacon’ (apparently, and somewhat intriguingly, an ‘erotic cookbook’) and ‘Fifty Shades of Gravy’ (whatever that is). Of course, there will be many other examples out there, and plays on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ aren’t restricted to replacing the final word (for instance, who can resist the garden-based parody ‘Fifty Sheds of Grey’?). If you know of any better ones, do stick them down below.

So, without further ado, here they are.

Enjoy!

  1. Fifty Shades of Green
  2. Fifty Shades of Buscemi
  3. Fifty Shades of Dre
  4. Fifty Shades of Kale (a recipe book)
  5. Fifty shades of Brown (on race and politics)    
  6. Fifty Shades of Green (a whole foods market)
  7. Fifty Shades of Beige (about set design)
  8. Fifty Shades of Graying Workers (on the elderly labour market)
  9. Fifty Shades of Men (an advert for ‘male revue catering’)     
  10. Fifty Shades of Grape (wine sellers)
  11. Fifty Shades of Dubstep (compilation CD)
  12. Fifty Shades of Chocolate (a book)
  13. Fifty Shades of Matt Gray (sunglasses)
  14. Fifty Shades of Van
  15. Fifty Shades of Rust (a book)
  16. Fifty Shades of Cacao (health tips)
  17. Fifty Shades of Grace (a guide to Christian living)
  18. Fifty Shades Of Chocolate
  19. Fifty Shades of Miley (Miley Cyrus, who else?)
  20. Fifty Shades Of Lego
  21. Fifty Shades of Spay (apparently, February is ‘spay and neuter month’)
  22. Fifty Shades Of White With A Touch Of Red
  23. Fifty Shades of Deadly
  24. Fifty Shades of Putin
  25. Fifty Shades of Ink
  26. Fifty Shades of Glow
  27. Fifty Shades of Pain
  28. Fifty Shades of Rust
  29. Fifty Shades of Johnjay!
  30. Fifty Shades of Ray
  31. Fifty Shades of Me
  32. Fifty Shades of Silver
  33. Fifty Shades of Grain
  34. Fifty Shades of Beer
  35. Fifty Shades of F*cked Up
  36. Fifty Shades of Saffron
  37. Fifty Shades of Racism
  38. Fifty shades of Pink
  39. Fifty Shades of Gravy
  40. Fifty Shades of They
  41. Fifty Shades of Bacon (an ‘erotic cookbook’)
  42. Fifty Shades of Geek
  43. Fifty Shades of Gay
  44. Fifty Shades of EWWWW!!!
  45. Fifty Shades of Funny
  46. Fifty Shades of Gary
  47. Fifty Shades of Black
  48. Fifty Shades of Jigglypuff
  49. Fifty Shades of Finance (‘financial erotica’)
  50. Fifty Shades of Milk Tray

 

Has your advertising slogan got ‘it’?

ImageHave you noticed that, in the world of branding, there’s a lot of it about?

By which I mean, of course, the pronoun ‘it’ – the gender neutral, third person pronoun that can stand for just about anything.

Take, for example, Jaguar’s ‘Don’t dream it, drive it’ or L’Oréal’s ‘Because you’re worth it’. Or how about EA Sports’ ‘It’s in the game’. ‘It’ clearly gets around a lot.

But what’s it all about?

At its most basic, ‘it’ can be used as what linguistics call an anaphor, used to refer to something that’s already been introduced. For example:

Ronseal. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
VISA. It’s everywhere you want it to be.
American Express. Don’t leave home without it.
Red Bull. It gives you wings.

Other times, ‘it’ can be used to refer to that culturally-conventional concept of ‘desirability’, ‘sex appeal’ or ‘X-factor’ that people either have, or they don’t:

Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
Virgin Atlantic. You airline’s either got it or it hasn’t.

But in the cleverest cases, ‘it’ doesn’t have a clear reference. Instead, it can mean exactly what the customer wants it to mean.

Ebay. Buy it. Sell it. Love it.
Argos. Don’t just shop for it. Argos it.
Interflora. Say it with flowers.

In the first two cases, ‘it’ neatly stands for pretty much anything you can buy or sell. In the second, ‘it’ becomes any human sentiment.

Three brands stand out as the masters of using ‘it’ in this way.

In Burger King’s ‘Have it your way’, the restrictive sense of ‘have your burger with or without gherkins’ opens out into a more general statement of customer empowerment. In McDonalds’ ‘I’m loving it’, the notion of enjoying ones burger becomes a broader associative statement of happiness and positivity.

Then, of course, there’s Nike’s classic ‘Just do it’. Now more than 25 years old, and inspired by the last words of a death-row criminal, this one phrase most clearly demonstrates the powerful potential of ‘it’. Here, is ‘it’ that 10 mile run you’ve been putting off, or that 5-aside football final your office team is desperate to win. Or does ‘it’ extend to referents outside the sporting world? Is ‘it’ that tricky conversation with you’re boss you’ve been putting off, of that flat-pack shed still waiting to be assembled?

It doesn’t matter, of course. ‘Just do it’ is a slogan that inspires you to do whatever it is you need to do – though not before buying a pair of trainers first.

Finally, if you still don’t believe the powerful potential of ‘it’, try putting that two-letter word into this random slogan generator. Here’s just a few examples it threw back at me – all of them, I’m sure, would make the Mad Men proud:

You’ve always got time for it.
We’re serious about it.
Every kiss begins with it.But I’d rather have a bowl of it.

So next time you need to find that winning slogan for your brand, remember that simple, two-letter, flexible friend.

And just use it.

 

The Story of ‘Bo!’

ImageAs I was walking home the other day, I saw a poster on the side of a bus stop that caught my eye. It was an advert for a new music catalogue service from the BBC, called ‘Playlister’. But it was the text itself that grabbed my attention.

The tagline, ‘be selecta’, is a neat, if obvious, creative linguistic variation on the phrase ‘bo selecta!’. To anyone who doesn’t know the phrase it plays on, the lack of article between verb and noun will still be suitably evocative, accurately or otherwise, of some kind of pidgin or creole relative of English. And its core meaning will still be transparently – in this context at least – ‘you be the DJ!’.

However, to anyone that has had at least one eye on popular culture in the UK throughout the nineties and the noughties will spot the reference immediately.

Like many people, I’ve been familiar with the phrase ‘bo selecta!’ since it first appeared in the UK Number 2 hit ‘Re-rewind’ some 15 years ago. The track, by British garage artists The Artful Dodger, featured vocals by the shortly-to-be-famous Craig David and included the suitably-schwa’d lyrics:

    With Craig David all over your […]
    DJ it’s all up to you
    When the crowd go wild
    Tell me watcha gonna do

    Re-re-wind, when the crowd say ‘bo selecta!’
    Re-re-e-e-e-e-wind, when the crowd say ‘bo selecta-ta!’
    Re-re-wind, when the crowd say ‘bo selecta!’
    Re-re-e-e-e-e-wind, when the crowd say ‘bo! bo! bo!’

The track marked a crossing of the music genre (known simply as ‘garage’) to the mainstream. At the same time, it also brought to the ears of the masses the Jamaican patois infused, urban dialect of English, representative of the predominantly black community in London that UK garage sprang from.

Importantly, to white, middle-class ears the words ‘bo’ and ‘selecta’ had a mystery to them – and an obvious sense of ‘cool’. They weren’t the kind of words you would forget.

And so it was for many more of my generation – not least for comedian Leigh Francis who, between 2002 and 2004, used the phrase as the title of a popular TV sketch-show. One of the programme’s main characters was a less-than-subtle, rubber-masked Craig David pastiche speaking in a broad Northern English dialect. Most of the humour of the sketches the character appeared in arises from the pure incongruity of the character’s Yorkshire accent and its pairing with the vocabulary of London’s garage scene. One particular catch-phrase was, for example:

    ‘It’s proper ‘bo’, I tell thee!’

The thorough lampooning quickly dismantled any sense of cool that ‘bo selecta!’ (and Craig David) had, at least among middle-class British audiences. That, I guess, was the point.

Now, more than ten years later, the BBC are using the phrase – or at least a clever spin on it – to advertise their new music app. But, walking home, I realised I still didn’t know what ‘bo selecta’ means. So I looked it up.

I found the answer in Simon Reynolds’ 1998 book: ‘Energy Flash: a Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture’. In the UK garage club scene, which had its roots in the reggae dancehall culture of the Caribbean, the MC (as in ‘master of ceremonies’) was an important figure who effectively mediated between the crowd and the DJ (the ‘selecta’). If the crowd liked a tune they would cry ‘bo!’ at which point the MC would ask the DJ to ‘rewind’ the tune – that is, play it again. The track conjures up the ritual cleverly, from the narrative in the verses, right down to the electronically stuttered (‘re-rewind’) refrain.

As for ‘bo’ itself, it turns out it’s not the same word as ‘beau’ as some sources on the internet suggest, although in this context it does imply approval of the selecta’s selection. Instead, it’s onomatopoeia: somewhat like ‘boom’, it echoes the celebratory sound of gun fire.

And that’s it. However, there’s one interesting side-note to all this. While I was researching this blog, I found this internet discussion forum about whether non-Jamaican DJs should ever speak in patois at gigs. Should a Swedish DJ, for example, ever shout ‘bo!’ to the writhing crowd? Or, in the terminology of linguist Ben Rampton (1995), should anyone ever ‘cross-over’ to assume someone else’s identity, except perhaps in jest?

Perhaps the best response I read was from someone called Danny Fyah. It read:

‘I would say: each one as best as he can. Means, if one chats a horrible patois creole, along with an European accent, it might be better to just speak Standart English. If one is able to speak the creole fluently why not using it then..?! The question is more: how much percent of the audience in – let’s say – continental Europe or Japan does understand patois? It is not even bad to switch between Standart English and Patois sometimes, if you feel like the crowd is getting a better glue of what you want to express.’

As well as enjoying a taste of his patois, I found Fyah’s comments heart-warmingly balanced (especially since they are framed around proper linguistic notions of ‘creole’ and ‘standard English’). Anyone that advocates code-switching to get the party started is OK with me!

So, that’s the story of ‘bo!’. Given the time of year, I could perhaps also write about the true meaning of ‘Crimbo’, as we like to call Christmas ‘round our way

But that, of course, is a whole different story.

References

Rampton, B. (1995) Language crossing and the problematisation of ethnicity and socialisation. Pragmatics, 5, 485-513.

The ‘I Want To Sell You A Music App’ Construction

ImageAs we all know, advertising folk like to get creative when they are trying to sell us things, not least linguistically. As a result, one of the joys of sitting on the London Underground is, for me at least, the advertising. 

One of the most striking campaigns I’ve seen recently is one for a new music app, called Bloom.fm. Like the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ phenomenon in the UK, it hinges on creative linguistic variation around one very simple grammatical structure: what you might call – for want of a better term – the ‘I want to sell you a music app’ construction.

The picture above is just one example of a series of adverts for the app in which the words ‘the _ music app’ are written in bold lettering on a plain yellow background; the only difference between them is what is written in the slot between the determiner ‘the’ and the compound noun ‘music app’. Here are just a few examples that I have spotted out and about: 

The absolute steal at £1 music app
The I may even subscribe music app
The trust me fam music app
The all-in-one music app
The borrowing music?? brilliant idea music app
The best thing since sliced bread music app
The there’s a bunch of good things I could write but since I’m a lazy tapper I just want to say download it music app
The I recommend this app for music awesome save money 5 star quality like it very much thanks for the app music app

The ad campaign is interesting linguistically because it shows – in English at least – just how many things you can shove into that slot between the determiner (like ‘a’ or ‘the’) and the noun (‘music app’) within a noun phrase (like ‘the music app’).

‘Absolute steal at £1m’ is an adjective phrase, for example; ‘best thing since sliced bread’ and ‘absolute steal at £1‘ are noun phrases; ‘I may even subscribe’ is a clause or a sentence. Otherwise, the compact conversation ‘(are you) borrowing music?? (that’s a) brilliant idea’ is effectively two sentences back-to-back, each with bits implied but stripped away. And, finally, ‘I recommend this app for music awesome save money 5 star quality like it very much thanks for the app’ is a sentence, then an adjective, then a sentence, then a noun phrase, then two more short sentences: it might be ungrammatical nonsense but, in the context of the ad, it’s carefully constructed nonsense.

The point is, of course, that the possibilities with this slogan are quite literally infinite. In other words, the construction is a goldmine for linguistic creativity – which is why it’s such a clever advertising campaign.

In this blog post, I want to focus particularly on the case where a sentence is placed within this slot – that is, on the particular syntactic construction where a fully formed sentence is embedded within a noun phrase to modify it in some way. Linguists, if they wanted to get technical, might express this kind of construction as follows:

     (1) NP -> Det S N

What this means is that, within a grammatical expression in English, a noun phrase (NP) can be assembled from a determiner (Det), followed by a sentence or clause (S), and a noun (N) (the head of the noun phrase). Here are a few examples, of my own devising, where the noun phrase (Det S NP) is written in bold:

That person has a real ‘I hate everything’ attitude
What was that ‘wake me up before you go-go’ song?
I hate all that ‘I love you’ stuff!
The ‘I like embedding sentences in noun phrases’ construction

You can imagine many other possibilities. Indeed, if you put search terms like ‘the I am’, ‘the I love’ or ‘the give me’ into your search engine will find plenty of other examples. Semantically, most of them would seem to have some kind of quotative function. That is, in each case, the sentence evokes something that somebody (or bodies) might say or be thinking; as a result, when writing such expressions in English, it makes sense to use quotation marks. In other cases, the sentence might correspond to a proper name. For example, ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’, for a brand of margarine, or ‘The Boy With An Arab Strap’, for an album by the band Belle and Sebastian, as in:

Do you remember the ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ controversy?
I loved their ‘The Boy With An Arab Strap’ album

In each case, the role of the sentence (S) is to modify the noun (N). However, it’s worth noting that the sentence is not acting like an adjective, which you would usually associate with the modification of a noun in English. You could, for example, modify a noun with an adjective (Adj), or even adjectives, and a sentence (S) at the same time. However, any adjective would have to come before the sentence, otherwise it would be ungrammatical. For example, you could write:

That person has a genuine ‘seize the day!’ spirit

But you couldn’t write: 

*That person has a ‘seize the day!’ genuine spirit

Formally, therefore, you would write (noting the order):

     (2) NP -> Det Adj S N

Because of subtleties like this, a full discussion of this type of construction would probably take up quite a few pages (and get linguists like me really excited). However, I’m just going to cover one other feature of this type of construction – something that lends itself to even more creative possibilities.

As we are all taught at school, any sentence (S) must consist of at least one noun phrase and one verb phrase (VP). Again, to get technical:

     (3) S -> NP VP

Notice that there’s a noun phrase (NP) within the sentence or clause (S). As Noam Chomsky famously pointed out, one of the basic tenets of any language is ‘recursion’ – that is, the possibility of embedding a thing within another example of that thing (Chomsky, 1957). This might sound terribly complicated but is actually something we do all the time when we speak. In this case, it simply means that you could take a sentence containing this kind of construction and shove it inside another example of the construction. For example, take the following sentences (possibly spoken at two very different stages of the same relationship):

I really like all that ‘I love you’ stuff
We had one of those ‘we need to talk about stuff’ conversations

Now imagine trying to combine them. You might end up with:

We had one of those ‘we need to talk about all that I-love-you stuff’ conversations

Admittedly, it’s a little far fetched (and a little awkward to render in written English given the limitations in punctuation), but it’s a linguistic possibility. Not only can you add almost any sentence between a determiner (like ‘the’) and a noun (such as ‘music app’) to modify that noun, but within that sentence you can also embed another noun, itself modified by another sentence. And, so on. Until your head turns to mush… Now, that’s really creative!

This limitless productivity, as Chomsky calls it, of such seemingly simple grammatical constructions, is a fundamental part of human language. It’s also, as I hope I’ve shown, a fantastic (and literally inexhaustible) platform for linguistic creativity. I have no idea what Bloom.fm is like as a music app, but there’s no denying the cleverness of its marketing slogan.

When it comes to the boundless creativity of the English language, there’s no better advert.

If anyone knows any research about this type of construction, where it comes from into English, how long it has been around, and whether it has any equivalents in other languages, I’d be really interested to hear about it! 

 

References

Linguistics Girl is a great online resource for more information on the various ‘parts of speech’ in English, like noun phrases, clauses, adjective phrases, and so on: http://www.linguisticsgirl.com/

Chomsky, N. (1957) Syntactic Structures. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

‘C’est Cidre. Not Cider’: The Creative Use of Code-Switching in Advertising

Image

Code-switching is broad term referring to the alternation between two or more languages, dialects or styles, within and between utterances and sentences. When it comes to linguistic creativity, code-switching provides a wealth of opportunities for the speaker, beyond those available in any single language or dialect. As well as being a creative mechanism in literature, music and film, it’s also a very creative tool for selling things – in branding, marketing and advertising.

And, as I also hope to show, code-switching in advertising is not something that requires fluency in a second language. Au contraire. Even people who would call themselves monolingual are probably more used to code-switching than they think – so much so, in fact, that they have probably stopped noticing how often the ‘(M)ad Men’ use it to tempt us.

The main role of code switching in marketing and branding, of course, is to evoke a foreign and desirable lifestyle – from a part of the world where the particular language is spoken – which thus becomes associated with the commodity in question. Outside of the Anglophone world, English in particular is employed to give brands an international or western feel. The example that Professor Penelope Gardner-Chloros gives in her book on code-switching is from Germany. Here, in a poster advertising McDonald’s latest culinary creation, English is combined with the local language to ‘evoke a cosmopolitan – or American – lifestyle’ (p. 6, Gardner-Chloros, 2009):

‘McCroissant: The American Antwort auf Croissant. The lecker warm Croissant. Geschnitten in two Teile, this is very praktisch. So is genug Platz for weitere leckere things.’

[‘McCroissant: The American answer to Croissant. The delicious warm Croissant. Cut in two parts, this is very practical. So is enough room for further delicious things.’]

The text of the advert combines grammars, as well as words, from both languages. It also cleverly employs words like ‘so’, ‘warm’ and ‘in’ which are lexical items in both languages; this helps reduce the effort required by the reader to understand what is written, at the same time maintaining the pervasiveness of the English throughout the text.

If you travel anywhere outside of the Anglophone world – from Chile, to Kenya, to Beijing – you are likely to find similar examples. On a recent trip to Russia, it was noticeable that many restaurants in downtown St Petersburg and Moscow had Russian-English names, often switching languages in their signs (‘Restoran Meat Head’ was a particular favourite, and not just for the steak). And code-switching wasn’t only to be found in the catering sector. The business newspaper I picked up in Moscow airport was called the ‘RBC Daily’, which even switches scripts (from Cyrillic to Latin) in its title. Here, of course, (American) English is evocative of international business and commerce.

But code-switching is prevalent in the Anglophone world too, and English speaking consumers like me are just as likely to be taken in by it.

In the UK at least, French is especially common, partly because it is traditionally the most taught second language, but also because of the perceived attractiveness of the French lifestyle – and its connotations of elegance, sophistication and taste. As such, French is used to sell everything from cars and clothes, to perfume and beer.

Stella Artois, for example, is a Belgium beer, brewed in the Flemish speaking city of Leuven. However, to the US and UK market, it advertises itself as very definitely French. Recently, the company launched a new advertising campaign for its cider using a simple code-switch in the tagline:

C’est cidre. Not cider.’

[It’s ‘cidre’. Not cider.]

Such a tagline, of course, cleverly hinges upon the (perceived) superiority of everything French – including the language itself.

For obvious culinary reasons, the restaurant industry is arguably the place where code-switching to French is most common. Walking around any English speaking city, you’re likely to find plenty of French: here, a chain of French restaurants advertising ‘bonnes tables et vins’; there, a bistro advertising its ‘plat du jour’. If you’re an English speaker in the Anglophone world, you’re perhaps most likely to see code-switching in restaurant menus. And you see it so often, in fact, that you’ve possible stopped noticing it.

Take, for example, the menu for the Michelin-starred La Chappelle restaurant in London. The majority of the language may look like English, but the register is decidedly Francophone. Starters are labelled ‘Entrées’, main courses as ‘Plats principaux’. Appetisingly, there’s ‘ballotine of quail’, ‘pavé of halibut’, an ‘assiette of Herdwick lamb’ (what’s wrong with ‘plate’?), and ‘summer vegetables en cocette. There’s certainly a soupçon of code-switching going on, and that’s only in the à la carte menu.

Because of the status in Europe of French cuisine, French has dictated much of the English vocabulary for food and drink (‘restaurant’, ‘bistro’, ‘café’, ‘menu’, and so on). As such, it’s worth being careful to differentiate between code-switching and lexical borrowing. In borrowing, a ‘loan word’ is taken from a donor language and incorporated into the recipient language. However, in practice, it’s quite difficult to separate the two phenomena. In reality, there is a continuum between the two extremes: loans start off as code-switches and then gradually become established phonologically, morphologically, and so on, into the lexicon of the recipient language (Gardner-Chloros, 2009).

For example – for most English speakers I know at least –  ‘restaurant’ is a fully fledged ‘English’ word. However, there are still certain speakers, usually from among the British upper classes, that refuse to accept its English phonology. They still pronounce ‘restauranten français, without the terminal /t/ and with the final consonant Gallicly nasalized. That is, they refuse to borrow and, instead, are absolutely resolute in their code-switching.

Code-switching to another language like this can be used, of course, as a device to demonstrate how sophisticated we (think we) are. Interestingly, I once heard a particular member of this group – a food critic on a popular TV cooking competition – pluralise the phonologically-French ‘restaurant’ by adding a terminal /z/, as in English. Critics might say that this particular speaker, in an overtly pretentious effort, was failing to be as clever as he thought he was(!). Technically speaking, you would say within the speaker’s own idiolect the integration of ‘restaurant’ was complete morphologically, but not phonologically.

At the other end of the spectrum, even within the food business, there are those that are more resistant to code-switching. James Martin is a British TV chef who presents a popular Saturday morning cooking show in the UK. Albeit in jest, I once heard him say of ‘crème anglaise’ (BBC One, ‘Saturday Kitchen Live’, 5 October 2013):

‘Back where I come from, that’s called “custard” […] The difference is twenty quid!’

But, whatever you feel about code-switching in advertising – sophisticated, pretentious, or simply unnecessary – you can’t disagree that it’s everywhere. In fact, it’s so ubiquitous, that it’s very easy to stop noticing that it’s there at all.

Since, when it comes to the business of selling, there’s nothing like a bit of code-switching. Often, the difference is at least a few extra bucks.

References

There’s a short blog and interesting video about code-switching in advertising here (http://lindazonderop.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/code-switching-in-advertising.html).

Gardner-Chloros, P. (2009) Code-Switching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.