Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says about You

Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says about You

Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says about You

Sold on Language: How Advertisers Talk to You and What This Says about You


As citizens of capitalist, free-market societies, we tend to celebrate choice and competition. However, in the 21st century, as we have gained more and more choices, we have also become greater targets for persuasive messages from advertisers who want to make those choices for us.

In Sold on Language, noted language scientists Julie Sedivy and Greg Carlson examine how rampant competition shapes the ways in which commercial and political advertisers speak to us. In an environment saturated with information, advertising messages attempt to compress as much persuasive power into as small a linguistic space as possible. These messages, the authors reveal, might take the form of a brand name whose sound evokes a certain impression, a turn of phrase that gently applies peer pressure, or a subtle accent that zeroes in on a target audience. As more and more techniques of persuasion are aimed squarely at the corner of our mind which automatically takes in information without conscious thought or deliberation, does 'endless choice' actually mean the end of true choice?

Sold on Language offers thought-provoking insights into the choices we make as consumers and citizens - and the choices that are increasingly being made for us.

Click here for more discussion and debate on the authors' blog:

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This book is what happens when a couple of language scientists start talking about ads. in our case, the seeds for this book were sown more than 15 years ago. It went like this: the first author (Julie Sedivy) was working on a PhD in Linguistics with the second author (Greg Carlson). Now, the thing about language is that once you start getting analytical about it, you can’t stop. So research meetings would often trail off into discussions about language and meaning in everyday life. Since everyday life happens to be saturated by advertising, it became a natural target for all this analytical excess. Eventually, we decided we’d gathered enough material that we should put it to some good use, so we developed a class on the topic. Nature took its course, Julie graduated and took a job elsewhere, but both of us continued to teach the class at our home institutions. in fact, over time, the ideas grew to preoccupy us more and more, and as we continued thinking about them, took on a seriousness that went far beyond their origins as interesting diversions.

As our original observations about advertising have rolled on through the years, they’ve picked up a great deal of material from fields that are outside of our immediate areas of research. They’ve also picked up many insights and examples from students over time, a number of whom write to us years after taking the class with just one more example of an ad that reminded them of something they learned in that long-ago language and advertising course. These students have shown us that teaching is the art of serendipity. Each of us has had the experience of finding out that something we intended as only the most casual of remarks, or the stray example, changes what some student thought to the point of changing their lives in some important way. It is experiences like these that propelled us to take the step from the comfortable activity of teaching to the torturous activity of writing a book. You never know where that stray remark will land.

A note on pronouns: Being linguists, we had lengthy discussions as to what “author voice” to use. For aesthetic reasons, we settled on the first person singular form “I,” even though two of us stand behind the pronoun. Just think of the referent as your favorite amalgamation of a short jazz-loving, rock-climbing, Canadian/American female of Czech descent and a six-foot-five Midwesterner with Scandinavian roots who occasionally goes deer-hunting but has only ever hit one with his pick-up truck. the result will no doubt be more interesting than either one of us.

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