Take a walk through any upmarket shopping mall (frequently referred to as a ‘gallery’ implying artful displays of precious, highly desirable and – to many – unattainable objects) and you will find numerous instances of carefully designed, aestheticized brand names, logos and advertising slogans which make use of relatively unfamiliar alphabets – new letters that make it problematic, if not entirely impossible, to read out loud the words. Of course, we can read out these words, we know what they ‘mean’ – or, more appropriately, what they index – but the increasing blending of the linguistic and pictorial modalities blurs the boundaries between words, pictograms, hieroglyphics and isotypes on a new scale – the global scale.
Ingrid Piller (2011) has postulated the emergence of a new ‘non-language’ that is primarily constituted by brand names dominating the semiotic landscapes of shopping malls and airport terminals (often likened to shopping malls), ‘a corporate-controlled global consumer register divorced from the physical space surrounding it and linked to other hubs of globalisation around the world (p. 106). Other, similar locations such as motels, chain hotels, motorways, theme parks, and refugee camps have also been referred to as ‘non-places’ (Augé, 1995). Typically conceived of as spaces of mobility, non-places have been disparaged for their architectural and environmental uniformity, blandness, and sterility. But contrary to this negative view of ‘non-places’, these are infused with meaning by the buzzing semiotic activity of branding and multilingual displays (Jaworski and Thurlow, 2013). Even more silent minimalist places communicate a kind of branding of luxury (Thurlow and Jaworski, 2010)
I believe that it is these islands of concentrated displays of made-up, highly aestheticized brands, logos, advertising slogans and other emplaced texts that manifest a sociolinguistic change towards greater de-nationalization or de-ethnicization of corporate imagery. While multilingualism remains an important resource for the localization and authentication of commercial goods, tourist destinations or personas, new linguistic forms come into prominence in the construction of imagery, identities, and indexicalities on a global scale. Though English and a handful other high-status languages may still be used for this purpose, cosmopolitan-minded consumers may not even associate brand names with any specific (national) language, or they may think of them as ‘belonging’ to different languages (Tufi and Blackwood, 2010).
However, not being immediately recognizable as ‘English’ or any other ‘ethnic’ or ‘national’ language, does not, in my view, turn these forms to non-languages. Rather, they may be more adequately considered to be instances of a multimodal, spectacularized and, indeed, commodified register indexing the global, adaptable to any linguistic repertoire, combining elements of visual arts and metrolingual play (Jaworski, 2012).
Let me illustrate this global, commercial register with a few visual examples, all involving non-traditional, innovative uses of punctuation marks and tittles. The former are typically regarded as an imperfect device for transcribing selected prosodic and pausal features of speech. In the instances quoted in this paper, the link between punctuation and prosody comma tempo of speech is severed. Rather, due to their unusual morpho-syntactic placement and prominent emplacement on store fronts, shop windows, advertising posters, and so on, these punctuation marks are imbued with broader symbolism, and their emphasis on form and artful design (giant size, colourful displays, and ‘fun’ or ‘posh’ materiality) shifts their function from referential to poetic. The same is true of the tittles, here represented by ‘fancy’ dots of the letter ‘i’ as well as diacritics such as umlauts, and several other invented, made-up orthographic markings that appear as embellishments of traditional letters drawn from the Latin alphabet. (Similar practices can be found in commercial signage in non-Latin scripts, too.)
Of course these are just a few indicative examples and there are important overlaps across these ‘categories’. But these indicate the possibilities for this kind of research (Jaworski, forthcoming).
What follows are examples of new, creative typographical designs concentrating on ‘new’ uses of punctuation marks, diacritics and tittles. The emphasis here is on the relative breadth of these typographical practices to note how they are pursued by ‘true’ multinational corporations as well as ‘local’ businesses.
Dot (full stop, period, point)
Although the dot has been used for centuries in a variety of social domains from ‘plain’ writing, to maths and finance, to music, it has recently made an impressive career due to its widespread use on the internet, particularly as part of the ‘.com’ or ‘dotcom’ suffix in the ‘addresses’ of numerous internet-based businesses. The de rigueur internet presence and associated modernity has led many ‘traditional’ companies to display their internet ‘address’ that includes the ‘.com’ (or similar) suffix as part of its name or logo. Such is the prominence of the web-dot that in one of their ads, Sun Microsystems claim ‘We’re the dot in.com’ (Franklin, Lury and Stacey, 2000:66; original bolding).
The changing function of the dot in writing, from typically, but not exclusively, indicating the end of a tone unit (sentence) to an index of late modernity and internet-linked globalization is evident in its absence to mark the end of a syntactic sentence when used as a brand name. For example, neither the name of a trendy London clothes store ‘THIS SHOP ROCKS’ (Figure 1), nor a clothes store chain ‘I am’ (Figure 2) owned by the musician will.i.am (William Adams, who clearly knows a thing or two about how to use dots), contain a sentence-final dot.
For many other businesses, the dot is not a prosodic or syntactic marker but a metalinguistic resource for creating brand image (Figures 3–4), the same being true for the other punctuation marks discussed below. In fact, the actual image of the punctuation mark itself (‘.’) does not need to appear in the brand name at all, as shown in Figure 5.
More often than not, however, the image of the dot (or dots) is present in displayed marketing discourse for a variety of reasons. In a recent conversation about marketing strategies of an IT business, one of the company’s managers told me of a discussion with his colleagues about whether to add a dot at the end of a new promotional slogan (not a syntactic sentence), for ‘impact’. This suggests that the use of the dot in brand names like ‘EAT.’ (Fig. 6) or ‘the place.’ (Fig. 7) is divorced from its syntactic or prosodic function and veers towards a pragmatic function of ‘making a statement’, assuming the function of ‘pragmatic particles’ found in a variety of languages (e.g. German and Japanese). As Fred Blumberg (pc) reminds me, the dot in everyday speech goes from mere punctuation to emphatic word as well. For example, to convey the idea that nothing will change the speaker’s mind: ‘I am not going with you. Period.’
Drawing on the imagery of URL addresses in which the dot is used to separate syntactic elements, the dot is increasingly used as a framing device between words, instead of the empty spaces conventionally used in writing (cf. Figures 8 and 9). In commercial usage, this convention appears largely aesthetically motivated. Thus the slogan ‘peace.love.shoes’ can be intertextually linked to the cachet and nostalgia of the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the contemporary ‘dot com’ script.
With its traditional ‘meaning’ of emphasis, the exclamation mark is a convenient resource for creating visual impact, not unlike the full stop. In Figure 10, the exclamation mark is used to that effect at the beginning of the name of a clothes store. The poetic function of the exclamation mark derives from its unusual, initial position in the sign, and the visual rhyme of the ‘inverted’ exclamation mark created by the letter ‘i’ in ‘Solid’.
The idea of emphasis is clearly taken to an extreme in the name of a Japanese restaurant in Figure 11. The name is possibly derived from the Japanese sentence-final particle yo used to make assertions. The exclamation mark at the end of the word echoes this pragmatic meaning visually, and finds additional manifestation in the use of exclamation marks in separating the three words in the tagline: ‘Fresh!Japanese!Food!’ (cf. discussion of the dots in Figures 8 and 9, above).
The resemblance of the exclamation mark to the (inverted) letter ‘i’ (as in Figure 10, above), makes the exclamation mark usable as this letter’s substitute with the added effect of emphasis. The American musician Pink (Alecia Beth Moore) has styled her name in this way (‘P!nk’). One of numerous examples to be found in commercial spaces is provided by the name of a top-end supermarket chain in South-East Asia, ‘c!ty’super’ (Fig. 12). In this example, the ‘special’ status of the exclamation mark is indicated by its distinct red colouring in contrast to the green of the remaining characters in the logo. Furthermore, the two words in ‘city’ and ‘super’ are separated not by a traditional empty space between them but an apostrophe and difference in the weight of the two words, the former being bolded and the latter relatively light. Because of its unique typography, the exclamation mark can also be used by the store as a visual, stand-alone branding element (Figure 13).
Diacritic dot (over ‘i’)
One of the most productive additions to contemporary brand names is a transformation of the diacritic dot over ‘i’. These can be equally abstract as the dot itself, for example as shown in Figures 14 and 15, where cosmetics stores use elongated, slanted strokes. In the case of ‘IPSA’, the stroke is as long as the glyph below. The stroke is further used as a multi-coloured branding element for the store, as shown on the right-hand side of the image (cf. Figure 15).
Of the endless possible stylizations of the dot over ‘i’, there are only four shown here. In Figure 16, the dot is replaced by a red heart in the name of the boutique ‘Maja’; in Figure 17, by the tip of a monkey’s tail in the name of a bags and accessories store; in Figure 18, by a comma in the name of a book and record store, and; in Figure 19, by a stylized melting ice cream scoop in the name of an ice cream parlour. The heart is a common resource connoting affection that is used by a wide range of businesses. The monkey (and its tail) is a possible intertextual link to The Jungle Book, authored by Rudyard Kipling, whose name is now used to sell handbags and other accessories. The comma over the ‘i’ in ‘Empik’ is clearly linked to the idea of book selling, just as the yellow, melting piece of ice cream over the ‘i’ in ‘Gelati’ is linkethe store’s key commodity. Apart from a number of symbolic and poetic functions, the uses of diacritics can be extended to various intertextual and possibly even referential meanings.
Invented or ‘misplaced’ diacritics
The final group of examples represents a number of invented or ‘misplaced’ diacritics. In Figure 20, an acute accent over ‘e’ is added to the word ‘love’. In Figure 21, the art movement ‘Dada’ is used by a shop selling posters and prints varying the spelling of its name by repeating it in different mixes of lower and upper case letters, and variable usage of acute accent over the letter ‘a’. Figure 22 shows the trade sign for a local ice cream company in Pembrokeshire, in which a whole array of ‘umlauts’ appears underneath the letter ‘o’, a three-dot ‘umlaut’ appears over the letter ‘n’, and a single dot is added to the letters ‘k’ and ‘h’. In Figure 23, the owners of a delicatessen and off-license store in Gdańsk have utilized an unorthodox ‘dangling’ umlaut underneath the letter ‘o’ appearing in both Polish and English parts of the sign’s text. (Note also the ‘matching’ descender in the numeral ‘4’.) In Figure 24, a club and restaurant ‘versAlkA’ uses a logo with a square dot over the upper case, red ‘A’, where the remaining letters are white and, except the final ‘A’, lower case. (NB. Both renditions of ‘A’ in Figure 24 are ‘stylishly’ devoid of the horizontal bar; see also Figures 17 and 26). Finally, in Figure 25, the Barcelona youth hostel has placed a stylized circumflex over the ‘o’ that can be read as an icon of the roof over a home.
What this kind of analysis begins to show is that all of the examples discussed above seem to add an air of foreignness, or, even better, cosmopolitanism to the brands, companies’ names and logos, although importantly this can be done without any recognisable links to any specific ethnic or national languages. We may hypothesize, however, that when an acute accent is added to the letter ‘e’ in ‘love’ (Figure 20), it may be linking the idea of love to the French, a stereotypical language of romance. Ever since the US-based company Häagen-Dazs launched its Scandinavian-looking brand, ice cream companies have emulated this connection, as is evident in the Upton Farm choice of typography (Figure 22).
Perhaps, then, rather than buying into the status of prestigious, super-central languages, there is even more symbolic capital nowadays in displaying not only a degree of competence in these languages, but an ability to use different visual-linguistic building blocks for a creative discourse (Jones, 2012) fashioning a visual, ‘global semioscape’ (Thurlow and Aiello, 2006) in commercial environments. And the emergence of this new, widespread typography inflected by innovative uses of punctuation marks, diacritics and other design features creates a written-visual register – globalese – that indexes Planet Earth as a place by and for an imagined community of cosmopolitans-consumers (cf. Johnstone, this issue). Yet, globalese is neither a language (or non-language) nor a dialect. It is an ideological construct evidenced by an accumulation of linguistic, typographic and other graphic features expressive of the ‘One-World’ or ‘Whole-Earth’ ideology, indicative of a ‘more multi-centred sociolinguistic culture’, in which ‘singular value-systems, including those for ways of speaking [and writing, AJ], are being replaced by more complex and…more closely contextualised value-systems’ (Coupland, 2009: 45). Happily, it’s a culture that, despite pervasive and persisting global inequalities, offers symbolic, relatively ‘free’ resources for self-styling to all.
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