Wednesday August 11, 2004

Pseudo-IPA Ads

Having read a few previous posts on other language blogs about the phenomenon of the International Phonetic Alphabet being used outside of linguistics, I was recently amused to see an example in a couple of Qwest banner ads.

The thrust of the ad campaign was twofold: Qwest technology will simplify your life, and also prepare you for the future. These notions were presented via the definitions of two new words, formatted to look like dictionary entries. The two words were decomplexify and futureproofulate, and the ads included pronunciation guides for them. Apparently, we should pronounce decomplexify like this:

...and futureproofulate like this:

Neither of these is really IPA, of course. The first one is a little more convincing: they've used [i] for the correct vowel in the first syllable, and the diphthong in the last syllable is rendered pretty plausibly as [ai]. However, they got a lot more things wrong than right. [i] is used for the wrong vowel in the fourth syllable (it probably ought to be [ɪ], [ɨ], or [ə], depending on your idiolect), there's [e] instead of [ɛ] and [x] instead of [k] in the third syllable, and, most oddly, what appears to be a rho as the vowel in the second syllable. I have no idea what that's supposed to mean—maybe the ad's designer thought it looked kind of like a schwa.

I suspect that a different designer worked on the second ad, because it's not in IPA at all—it's in a slightly mangled version of traditional dictionary pronunciation symbols. This designer did a creditable job for the first three syllables, although I can't explain why the special symbols are so teeny—some kind of font problem, maybe. After the third syllable, though, the designer just gave up and used the orthography.

In both words, the stress markings are all wrong. In the IPA, the primary and secondary stress symbols precede the syllable being marked, and in the tradional symbols, an apostrophe follows a stressed syllable. The stresses marked in decomplexify don't really make any sense—it ought to be secondary stress on the first syllable and primary on the third, I think, but the designer has marked primary stress on the second and the fifth. I thought at first that this might be due to the designer thinking the IPA marks follow the stressed syllables, but it doesn't sound any better that way: de-COM-plex-i-FY and DE-com-plex-I-fy are both wrong. In futureproofulate, the first syllable is correctly marked as stressed, but the third syllable, which should get the primary stress, is unmarked. This fits with the theory that the designer gave up trying to transcribe the word halfway through, and helps us pinpoint where—apparently, just after the [f] but before the stress mark.

Today's lesson: if you're going to use pronunciation symbols in an advertisment, you really ought to coordinate all the graphic designers so they're using the same set of symbols, and then should pay a linguist a few hours at stratospheric consulting rates to make sure you haven't embarrassed yourself. Otherwise, I'll just have to make fun of your ads, and then nobody will buy your products...for such is the power of this fully operational weblog!

[Now playing: "The Hungry Wolf" by X]

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Tracked on Aug 11, 2004 2:45:07 PM


The rho is a horribly botched attempt at the turned script a, which I suppose they got from 'complex', as most people would use schwa in 'decomplexify'. It would be correct if it were actually stressed there.

Posted by: entangledbank at Aug 12, 2004 2:49:29 AM

The size of the double-o could be a result of poor layout rather than font problems per se. Not understanding that the glyph represents two characters with a tie across them, the layer-outer has set the width of it to an en rather than an em.

It's bushbaby-cute, though. Big starey eyes and a monobrow: was this particular poster put together by the 'shoppers at b3ta?

Posted by: jps at Aug 18, 2004 7:40:13 AM

The rho is a horribly botched attempt at the turned script a, which I suppose they got from 'complex', as most people would use schwa in 'decomplexify'. It would be correct if it were actually stressed there.

I've heard what sounds to me like /ɔ/ (which is probably much lower for me, like [ɒ]) in "complex", but I think most of America uses /a/ in that. I do—and I have an /ɔ/-/a/ distinction. It could be complicated by the fact that Seattlites (locals where I live, as opposed to native speakers of my .. idiolect;) always sound like they're using the wrong phoneme in any given word (since the single Seattle phoneme that corresponds to those two for me is apparently somewhere in between the two).

Also, the stress in decomplexify is way wrong. Unless you parse it as [the ungrammatical?] form [[de-[complex]]-ify] or some such, instead of [de-[complex[-ify]]].

Posted by: Jonathan at Dec 14, 2006 10:50:15 PM