‘Dawn-hearts’ and ‘Jellyspoons’: Creativity and the Compound Noun

 

ImageAll creativity, including linguistic creativity, is about novel combinations – that is, the marriage of old concepts to form new ones.

Linguistically, this can mean combining any part of speech with another. But while poets and writers might get carried away with fancy combinations of verbs and adverbs, I would argue there’s as much to be said for combining the simplest part of speech: the humble noun.

Compound nouns are formed by combining any number of nouns together to make a new one. They are quite commonplace. English, for example, has “hair-brush”, “moonlight”, “dog-house” and “Facebook”, just to name a few. Of course, compound nouns can be pretty mundane. But what would a holiday be without “sun-cream”, sun-screen”, “sunglasses”, “sun-block”, a “sun-bed” or a “sun-hat”? And what would dinner be without “rice crackers”, “jam donuts”, “potato chips”, “bread pudding”, or a “jellyspoon” to serve your preserve with?

New words, new concepts

Most importantly, such compounds are the source of endless creativity. Say you take any common noun, signifying some concept like “cat”. Then you take another noun, signifying some seemingly unrelated concept, like “fish”. When you put the two nouns together, to create a compound noun, you can’t help but create a new concept by fusing the two old ones together: “cat fish”.

Such compounding in a ripe source of neologisms, particularly to describe new concepts in socio-cultural and political thought. The last decade, for example, has brought us “black swan theory”, “kitchen-table politics”, “prawn-sandwich man” and “choice fatigue”, among many other such compounds. It’s also a lively process in pop culture too, as seen in words like “flash mob”. Not unsurprisingly, quite a few compound nouns have appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year list. Noun combinations include “toy-boy” (WOTY in 1981), “beatbox” (1983), “kitten heels” (1995) and “text message” (1998).

Compounding is also a rich mechanism in poetry. One of the masters of the art of combining nouns was the English poet DH Lawrence. Flick through his collected works, particular his later poems, and you’ll find all manner of hyphenated compounds. I particular like this evocative passage from his 1923 poem, Almond Blossom:

     Sweating his drops of blood through the long-nighted Gethsemane
     Into blossom, into pride, into honey-triumph, into most exquisite splendour.

“Globe-flower”, “fire-mist”, “mother-love”, “lady-smock”, “moon-tide”, “sun-starer”, “sage-ash desert”, “dawn-heart”, and “wound-stump”, for example, are also all his.

Creative compounding

But compounding nouns is not just for writers and media professionals – it’s for everyone.

Here’s a game to try: Take a dictionary, open it at any page quite at random, and write down the first noun you come to reading down from the first entry. Then, open another page, again at random, and write down the first noun you come to directly after it. Now look at the two words side by side. Bizarre as the combination might seem at first, I’m pretty confident your brain, by appropriately re-wiring your semantic system to link the two concepts, will find some way of making sense out of it.

Here’s a few random examples I came up with using exactly this method:

     Material forest (a place where various materials can be harvested)
     Slope alloy (a type of metal used primarily for inclined surfaces)
     Sycamore flour (a low-gluten wheat substitute)
     Runt cricket (a game played by the smallest cub in every litter)
     Toddler necessity (the need for small children in times of crisis?…)

They’re certainly bizarre, and you may not agree with my attempted explanations for them. But somehow, thanks to our creativity,  such combinations are not entirely implausible – at least in our imagination.

Compounds in other languages

Although the Romance languages, like French, tend to avoid them (think “sac à dos”, “salle d’attente” or “pain au chocolat”), compound nouns are certainly not limited to English. Chinese, with its limited inflection, loves to throw whole nouns together to make new ones; the Chinese word for “food”, for example, is “fancai” (literally “rice vegetable”). And even ancient languages had compounds. Sanskrit grammarians had a special word, “dvandva”, for compound nouns where both components referred to the same person (such as “boy-king”, “singer-songwriter” and “girlfriend”).

But German, as everyone knows, is the master of the art of combining nouns. Take a look through any German-English dictionary and you’ll see countless examples of compounds – noun after noun breathlessly strung together without space or hyphen. How about “Fussballspiel” (football match), “Fahrkartenautomat” (train ticket machine) or “Waschmaschine” (washing machine)? Or, how about this particular favourite from my school days?: “Brustwarze”, which means “nipple”, can be literally – and somewhat unromantically – translated as “breast wart”.

The German language’s propensity to shove nouns together to form new ones is a source of great enjoyment for language lovers. In an episode of the US Comedy Series How I Met Your Mother a German character called Klaus has just run away from his own wedding. When he bumps into Ted, the show’s hapless protagonist, he decides to give him a Teutonic lesson in love. Klaus tells him:

“There is a word in German, Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz. The closest translation would be ‘lifelong treasure of destiny’. And Victoria is wunderbar, but she is not my Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz. She is my Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand, you know?”

Ted, understandably looks confused. Klaus is vexed:

“You know wunderbar but you don’t know Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand?! That is something we learn in Kindergarten. I’m sorry, “Kindergarten” is the German word for…”

Both “Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz” and “Beinaheleidenschaftsgegenstand” are made up, of course. “Lebenslangerschicksalsschatz”, for example, is built from the words for “lebenslang” (lifelong), “Schicksal” (destiny) and “Schatz” (treasure). But people with only a modest knowledge of German would get the joke.

The perils of writing them down

But English speakers shouldn’t be so quick to mock. Because, like all the Germanic languages, English is also full of compound nouns – and we have some pretty long ones too. How about “pension fund capitalism”, “container ship”, “ink jet printer cartridge”, “African American” or “sodium potassium nitrate salt”?

The real difference, of course, is how we write them down. Whereas in German it’s consistently alphabet soup all the way, the English convention is that – well – there’s not really a convention at all.

Eric Partridge in his 1947 classic Usage and Abusage (Partridge, 1973), isn’t particularly helpful. Under “Hyphenation”, he writes: “In the life of compound words there are three stages: (1) two separate words (cat bird); (2) a hyphenated compound (cat-bird); (3) a single word (catbird).” And that’s pretty much it. The transition from an orthographic rendition as two words, through a hyphenated middle stage, to a rendition as a single word is to do with how frequent, or well entrenched in the language, the compound noun is perceived to be. That is, somebody somewhere is going to have to make a (fairly) arbitrary judgement either way – just like I have in quite a few places above.

Most importantly, the fact that we write “football match” and not “footballmatch” (like the German “Fussballspiel”) makes no difference to the way the compound noun functions in a sentence. As linguist Steven Pinker writes, about compounds in general (Pinker, 1999, p. 181):

“Do not be distracted by the inconsistent way compounds are spelled in English: sometimes as one word, as in ‘teethmarks’; sometimes with a hyphen as in ‘mice-infested’; sometimes as two words as in ‘geese crossing’. The way to recognise a compound is by its composition, such as being two nouns in a row, and by its stress pattern.”

In compounds of all kinds, when spoken, the stress tends to fall on the first part of a compound noun (we say “workmen” rather than “workmen”). And, however they are written, compound nouns will function, more-or-less, like simple nouns. For example, in the plural form, only the rightmost noun (the head of the compound noun) will get the plural ending added: we have “attorney generals”, “singer-songwriters”, “boy-kings”, and so on. And, although there are a few exceptions, speakers of English tend to avoid plural endings in the middle of compound nouns: we say “anteaters” not “ants-eaters”, for example.

In conclusion

So next time you see a compound noun in print, I would urge you to forget for a moment how someone has decided to write it. Instead, try to admire it for what it is: the ripe fruit of a marriage between two seemingly unrelated disparate concepts and – quite possibly – the creation of something marvellous.

Because, wouldn’t the world be a poorer place without a “dawn-heart” or two?

 

References

Cook, G. (2000) Language Play, Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Partridge, E. (1973) Usage and Abusage. Baltimore, MA: Penguin Books.
Pinker, S. (1999) Words & Rules: The Ingredients of Language. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

 

[Many thanks to John Cowan for pointing out that “jellyspoon” is indeed a functional serving utensil, and not a made up word as I had naively thought, undermining an earlier version of this post!]

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‘A Sort of Verbal Bannockburn’: Language and the Debate on Scottish Independence

ImageFor lovers of language, there will be plenty to watch out for in the run up to the Scottish vote on independence.

In February, Prime Minister David Cameron gave his first speech directly addressing the forthcoming referendum. It was certainly emotive. ‘Centuries of history hang in the balance’, he said, as he told Scottish voters to reject independence. According to Cameron, campaigners now had seven months to save Britain.

In the speech, as you might expect, there was a good deal of rhetoric. According to the classical principles of rhetoric, there are three possible ‘appeals’ that an orator can make to help win over their audience: logos (an appeal to logic and rational argument), pathos (an appeal to the audience’s emotions) and ethos (an appeal based on the orator’s identity).

There was certainly much pathos. In the speech, Cameron said he could not bear to see the country ‘torn apart’.

And there was more than a deft sprinkling of ethos. In his speech, Cameron spoke about his family’s Scottish roots in the West Highlands. ‘The name Cameron might mean “crooked nose”’, he said, ‘but the clan motto is “Let us unite”, and that is exactly what we in these islands have done.’ You see what he did there?

But, in the debate, we shouldn’t expect all such appeals to ethos to be so explicit.

Linguists will tell you that language and identity are almost inseparable. Whenever we open our mouths – whether we mean to or not – we tell our interlocutors something about who we are, where we were born, where we live, even where we were educated. In choosing the language, dialect, register and style we use (what you might generally call ‘code’), we necessarily convey something about our identity (Auer, 2005).

Cameron, speaking to the whole of the United Kingdom, spoke in British Standard English (BSE), the UK’s ‘norm’ dialect, with a southern accent. In doing so, he was signalling that he is educated, part of the mainstream, ruling majority, English but – most importantly – British too.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), spoke immediately after Cameron’s speech. He too spoke in a Standard English (albeit in a Scottish accent) which, in print, would usually be rendered indistinguishable from Cameron’s code. But, in accusing the Prime Minister of running scared (in not agreeing to a direct debate with him on the issue of independence) he chose one word particularly carefully. He told the BBC:

‘I just want the Prime Minister to come and debate with me and stop being such a big feartie.’

‘Feartie’ is a Scots word, not in currency south of the border. Meaning somebody who is afraid, it was a deft choice: instead of simply calling him a ‘coward’, Salmond could take a swipe at Cameron and underline his Scottish – not British – identity.

I think it’s safe to expect plenty more Scots language to enter the political debate in the run up to the referendum – and not just among the SNP. It’s not unlikely that we’ll also see unionists north of the border using the Scots language to mark their Scottish identity as something which is not incompatible with British unity.

And it won’t be just about using one language or the other. We should also look out for politicians and columnists ‘code-switching’ between the two languages.

Scots-English code-switching is not new. For example, it was something Robert Burns used for great poetic effect. But, code-switching can also be used as a powerful rhetorical device. For instance, I spotted a recent letter to The Observer from a reader in Edinburgh. The letter, arguing that ‘it’s not Scotland’s job to save England from it’s failings’, concluded:

‘Are we to understand, then, that the union’s shared values offer nothing to Scotland but more of the same, or that Scotland must remain in the union so that its different values will enable it to become the union’s (England’s) conscience, pace Hutton? Ye’re haeing a laff.’ (The Observer, 9 February 2014)

In linguistic terms the code-switch to Scots at the end is particularly ‘marked’ (Myers-Scotton and Bolonyai, 2001). It carries meaning, beyond ‘you must be joking’: that is, it carries a distinct and defiant Scottish voice.

There were some interesting comments left on the comments section below the BBC report of David Cameron’s speech. Most aptly, one reader wrote:

‘The last thing Alex Salmond wants is to debate issues […] Salmond wants to portray himself giving the English oppressors a bloody nose… a sort of verbal Bannockburn.’

Perhaps, then, that’s what we can expect over the next 6 months: a ‘verbal Bannockburn’, a battle of words between two duelling languages. Whatever happens in the vote, there’ll be plenty of interest for the linguists.

http://www.scotslanguage.com/ is a great resource for information on the Scots language.

References

Auer, P. (2005) A postscript: code-switching and social identity. Journal of Pragmatics, 37, 403-410.

Myers-Scotton, C. and Bolonyai, A. (2001) Calculating speakers: Codeswitching in a rational choice model. Language in Society, 30, 1-28.

“I’m going shop”: Preposition dropping in British youth dialects

Slide1There’s a new trend on the streets of London, and it’s not anything you can wear. It’s a fashion for dropping prepositions.

If you listen to a group of teenagers on the streets of, say, Hackney or Haringey you might catch someone utter a phrase like “I’m going shop” or “I’m coming pub” – something that to many people’s ears would sound totally ungrammatical.

In Standard British English, the verb “to go” is intransitive. That is, it takes an indirect object, via a preposition like “to”, in phrases like “I’m going to the shop” and “I’m walking to the office”. However, in this new form, “to go” looks like its transitive positioned as it is next to a direct object. Both the preposition and the determiner are dropped leaving just the verb and the bare noun – simply: “I’m going shop”.

If you want to know who’s dropping prepositions like this, social media is a good place to look. When I put the phrase “I’m going shop” into Google (on 3 February) it returned 7 genuine examples: 3 from Twitter, and 4 from other social media forums: uk.answers.yahoo.co.uk, footballforums.net and reptileforums.net (whatever that is).

The first hit was from a Twitter user in London.

“Ok I’m going shop!!!! Chocolate and pickled onion monster munch!!! #onthis #munchies” (tweeted June 2013)

The next two, were from Twitter users in London and Leicester (a city 2 hours up the road):

I’m going shop to buy junk then I’m gonna watch loads of films” (October 2012)
“[…] I’m going shop rite now for a wispa gold. […]” (November 2009)

Notice that in the first tweet, the “to” in the infinitive “to buy” is retained; only the proposition associated with the verb “to go” is dropped. Notice too how “I’m going shop” contrasts with the reduced construction involving the auxiliary verb “to go” (“I’m gonna watch”).

I found plenty of other examples using similar Google searches, including:

“Dad I’m going pub can I have some money… […]” (May 2013)
I’m going town now so I can get the Luas back to yours if that suits” (June 2013)
“[…] spice island? That right next to Katie’s, I’m going Katie’s aunties in Kent for a BBQ haha, surprised your not going venue!!(December 2012)
“Looks like I’m going Brighton.. Got 3 hours to get my shit together..” (May 2011)

Although the noun is usually rendered in its bare form (“shop” not “the shop”), I did find some examples of “I’m going the shop”, such as this from a Twitter user in Liverpool:

I’m going the shop. It’s a whole 20 seconds away. Wish me luck.” (August 2011)

And the pattern seems to work for other verbs of movement. For example, I found this result for “I’m coming pub”:

“[…] I’m not going out but I’m coming Pub!!xxxxx” (Jan 2013)

There are plenty more examples (put “I’m going shop” directly into the search bar in Twitter and you’ll get hundreds). Even so, based on the evidence here you might argue that these are examples of ‘text speak’, or that they’re just the result of hurried typing.

But these are forms that young people are genuinely using in speech, and that researchers are already beginning to record.

Sociolinguists from universities in London and Paris are currently carrying out a comparative study of ‘Multicultural London English (MLE)’ and ‘Multicultural Paris French (MPF)’ – language varieties, common among youth speakers in the two capitals, which are heavily influenced by the languages of local ethnic minority speakers (particularly Afro-Caribbeans in London and North Africans in Paris). As part of the study, the researchers are recording hundreds of hours of speech, by urban speakers of all ages, to try and analyse the novel linguistic features of MLE and MPF – features like the preposition dropping in “I’m going shop”, which don’t appear in more traditional dialects.

It’s not clear exactly what’s happening with “I’m going shop”, but preposition dropping is certainly not a new feature in English. For example, “to” is pretty commonly dropped in phrases like “she gave it (to) him”, and researchers have studied the same phenomenon in sentences like “the ozone layer prevents radiation (from) reaching the earth”. At least for some speakers, “because” has recently become a preposition itself as a result of preposition dropping in phrases like “because (of) grammar”.

If it’s anything like these cases “to” might remain optional for a long time, in phrases like “I’m going (to) the shop”, for speakers of MLE. Or, perhaps the verb “to go” will become rigidly transitive, going the way of the verb “to write” in American English (where it’s “writing someone” as opposed to the “writing to someone” of British English). In this case, you might expect to hear derived (question) forms like “which pub are you going?” (instead of “which pub are you going to?”) – though I couldn’t find any examples online.

Either way, the most obvious driving force for this latest linguistic innovation is economy: that is, the removal of redundancy for reduction in effort. In other words, if you don’t need to articulate the preposition to be understood, why bother at all?

MLE has been studied as a youth dialect. It’s too early to say how far it will spread, and to what extent it will take over from more traditional dialects like Cockney. The big question is how many novel forms like “I’m going shop” might be taken up by other age groups, and other speech communities in London and elsewhere. If such preposition dropping is copied by others, given enough time, it could one day become a feature of Standard Englishes in Britain and beyond – just one more step along the endless path of language change.

Now, there’s food for thought. I’m going shop.

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.