LINGUIST List 14.200

Mon Jan 20 2003

Media: Re: Click Commercial: Ricoh's Response

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Geoffrey K. Pullum, Ricoh response

Message 1: Ricoh response

Date: Sun, 19 Jan 2003 17:54:35 -0800 (PST)
From: Geoffrey K. Pullum <>
Subject: Ricoh response

Re Linguist 13.3309: Linguists and Advertising
and Linguist 14.5: Linguists and Advertising: An open letter

I have had a response from Jim Ivy, President Ricoh U.S., to whom my
open letter in Linguist List issue 14.5 was addressed. I append the
text of his hard-copy letter below (I retyped it), followed by my

 --Geoff Pullum

 R I C O H
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------
Five Dedrick Place
West Caldwell, NJ 07006 Jim Ivy
Phone: 973-882-5784 President
Fax: 973-882-2502 Ricoh U.S.

 January 13, 2003

Mr. Geoffrey K. Pullum
Professor of Linguistics
University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1077

Dear Professor Pullum:

On behalf of the Ricoh Family Group of companies worldwide, please
consider that the advertisement to which you refer in your recent
letter was not intended in any way to derogate the Khoisan people or
their complex, beautiful language.

Ricoh, as a culturally sensitive organization, had been assured by our
advertising agency that a noted South African anthropologist was
employed to advise it during the production of this campaign. The
anthropologist, who has worked with this tribe for a number of years,
made sure that they were being depicted accurately and in a positive

In the advertisement, Ricoh intended to present Chief Obijol's use of
his language as an example of efficient and effective communication,
and used the word "simply" to highlight this. While there are many
interpretations of the word "simple", we used it to mean "readily
understood". We hold simplicity as the gold standard in
communication, because, to us, it stands for easy, clear, and
effective interaction. The advertisement, part of a campaign entitled
"Experts", is intended to highlight and celebrate people who have
learned that the most important ideas can be more powerful when shared
directly and effectively. We are sorry if you did not take this
message away from the advertisement.

We are alerting our parent company, Ricoh Company, Ltd., the
originator of the campaign, of your concerns and your letter. I would
like to thank you for taking the initiative to bring this matter to
our attention.


Jim Ivy

cc: The Linguist List
 The Economist
- -------------------

Stevenson College University of California Santa Cruz CA 95064-1077
- ------------------------------------------------------------------------

January 19, 2003
Mr Jim Ivy
Ricoh Corporation
Five Dedrick Place
West Caldwell, NJ 07006
Dear Jim,
Thanks for your eloquent letter of January 13. I fully accept your
claim that Ricoh meant nothing derogatory. My concern was only that
the ad I referred to had inadvertently lent support to an insulting

The general public does seem eager to believe that at least somewhere
in the world there are incredibly primitive people with languages that
are almost subhuman in their simplicity (or, else preternaturally
complex, as with the hopelessly exaggerated stories about the Eskimos'
having hundreds of words for subtly different types of snow). And
many sources obligingly supply suitable stories for the credulous.

Your advertisement brought back to me my experiences in the early
1970s, when I used to advise Norris McWhirter, the editor of The
Guinness Book of World Records (it used to be less dumbed down, and
included an interesting page of records and superlatives concerning
natural languages). Several times over I had to warn Norris off
repeating nonsense he had picked up about "primitive languages". In
the early 1960s, the book actually had an entry for "Most Primitive
Language" (the honor went to Aranda, an Australian Aboriginal language
on which in fact there was a well-known literature describing amazing
complexities). Then the book picked up something from Time about a
primitive language called Taki-Taki (it's more usually called Sranan,
and everything Time said about it was wrong, including some nonsense
about it having only 300 words).

I spent hours and hours on correspondence aimed at persuading the
editors to keep such insanities out of their book. But when Norris
and his brother Ross were invited on a trip to South Africa, they came
back with stories of yet another primitive language myth: that the
`Bushmen' had a language that was entirely composed of a few dozen
clicks and grunts. I had another grass-fire of ignorance to stamp

Your advertisement's phrase "a series of simple clicking sounds"
brought it all back thirty years later! But I am fully prepared to
believe you when you say that the implication was completely
unintended, and I thank you for your thoughtful letter, and for
sharing its content with the many linguists who read The Linguist


Geoffrey K. Pullum
Professor of Linguistics
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