29 October 2010

Does Six Sell?

Now that my days of quirky linguistics studies are long behind me and I have to make do with proper science, I still enjoy reading linguistics-related articles in the news.  Daniel Gilbert's NYT article, Magic by Numbers, was fun. Although I haven't been into numerology since the '90s, I can't deny that certain numbers do have certain, irrational properties in my mind. I don't like even numbers because of a vague feeling of irritation they inspire in me. On the other hand, I particularly like seven and 13 and numbers with lots of sevens in them; nine and three, meanwhile, are lower down my table of awesome numbers.

So, I can see that irrational feelings about numbers might affect the way we behave. I'd like to think that the phonetics of numbers in prices wouldn't affect my decision to buy or not buy something but marketing people are sneaky and if they're willing to slip in all sorts of super-seductive and sexy fricatives to get me in the mood for chocolate (or whatever), then why not slip in a few more by making the price £6.66? Consumers [heart] fricatives (like /s/, /f/ and my favourite, [ʒ]) and front vowels, according to a Journal of Consumer Research study; or at least, those sounds make them think of smaller prices. Stops (like /t/, /p/ and /k/) and back vowels (like the /u/ in goose) make people think of large, expensive things. Maybe people think I'm a little taller than I am because there are two stops and only one fricative in my name: [bɛks]. In any case, I don't like being manipulated in the supermarket, so to speak, which means I end up acting irrationally when it comes to price.

Phoneticians got to feel important again today with all the media coverage of a new exhibition on the continuing evolution of the English language at the British Library. Hopefully, they will record my RP/SSBE accent and me reading Mr Tickle for posterity. Oh, and I don't like to prescribe but it's totally sezayt, MIS-chiv-us, huh-RASS, GA-ridge, SKED-ule and aitch. And yes, I know my own idiolect with its mix of old and new variants is the perfect example of Britain's changing speech.

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