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block language


block language

Block language in a Bisto advertisement

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Language structures--typical of headlines, slogans, lists, and text messages (including tweets)--made up only of words that are essential to convey a message. See also:


Term introduced by H. Straumann in Newspaper Headlines: A Study of Linguistic Method (1935)

Examples and Observations:

  • "Cop Shot"
    (headline in the New York Post, July 26, 2009)

  • "Headless Body in Topless Bar"
    (headline in the New York Post, 1983)

  • "Finger-lickin' good."
    (slogan of Kentucky Fried Chicken)

  • "In printing, reasons of space and the intention to inform quickly about the relevant facts led to the use of different typefaces (bold, large capitals for emphasis) and a reduction of the full syntax. The phenomenon is found especially in newspaper headlines, book titles, marginal summaries of chapters and advertisements and lists of contents in 'prospectuses' of books--in all these the tendency is towards explicitness in 1800, but for truncated sentences in 1900. This curtailment is achieved mainly through omissions (of articles, titles or the copula), and is supported by a special lexis of short words."
    (Manfred Görlach, English in Nineteenth-Century England. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999)

  • "The zero article is normal with noun phrases in block language, that is, abbreviated language used in newspaper headlines, labels, lists, notices (e.g., entrance, way out), etc. Compare:
    • fire kills teenager after hoax. (NEWS) <the headline>
    • A teenager dies in a blaze at his home after firemen were diverted by a call that turned out to be a student prank. (NEWS) <the news story following the headline>
    Notice the headline uses the zero article for fire, teenager, and hoax, which are then mentioned in the news story as a blaze, a teenager, and a student prank."
    (D. Biber et al., Longman Student Grammar, 2002)
Also Known As: headlinese, telegraphic speech
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