Language Change and Burritos

A Chipotle restaurant sign

Image via Wikipedia

Driving home from class last night I spotted a new Chipotle billboard and it made me think about language change.  The copy-writer used indefinite article a but not the form of the article usually expected for the context (I usually expect an with a vowel-initial word).  Here is the text:

“Our ingredients on a ego trip.”

Frankly, this doesn’t make me mourn anything about the state of American English, instead I choose to see this as language change happening right before my eyes.

What are your thoughts about language change?

What are your thoughts about a usage-based grammar vs. a prescriptive grammar?

Leave some comments.

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5 thoughts on “Language Change and Burritos

  1. Becci says:

    Interesting post. I choose to see it as the same thing: change unfolding before us. Have you got any more data? This kind of discussion is very relevant to me at the moment. I have people in my office who don’t understand that it is perfectly fine to speak “non-standardly”, or don’t understand that it’s possible to speak with “bad grammar” and yet write the language without error. I get very frustrated trying to explain that everything that is rule generated and comes from something relatively stable in someone’s mind is grammatical…I’ve given up :( Would be interesting to hear what others say.

  2. Lukas says:

    well, as one of my profs says, this is just being progressive. Originally _all_ indefinite articles were “an”, then the dropped before following consonants, and now it’s dropping in all environments. Could be due to increased glottalization at the beginning of words starting with vowels (like “ego”). Rather than start the word with the vowel, it’s actually a glottal stop (a “consonant”, making all words that appear to start with vowels actually fall into the class of words starting with consonant, extending the domain of “a”).
    To answer the question I’m definitely a proponent of a blend of usage-based and prescriptive. Prescriptive because some things would be obscured by being totally usage-based (can’t think of examples, sorry!), at least initially, because we’re simply used to prescriptive grammar in certain contexts. On the other hand, being too prescriptive can sound unnatural, and if it’s unnatural enough can sound just as bad and be just as confusing. I have lots of students who use redundant prepositions “in which the ball was put in”. So for some things I very much promote usage-based grammar.

  3. N says:

    This is becoming more common in speech, I notice it often. I’ll have to write down examples from the wild when I hear a example.

  4. ryandewey says:

    While I was driving back from class tonight I noticed that the Chipotle billboard with “a ego” was replaced with one that was identical except for the correction “an ego”; presumably by correcting the billboard they have implicitly acknowledged that it was a typo. That means my thoughts about language change were a little too progressive.

    It is interesting that they caught the error and decided to correct it…

  5. Tom Leland says:

    I’m an advertising writer. Our language is nowhere near the point where
    a writer would intentionally write “a ego trip”, have it approved by his/her
    superiors, and in turn have it approved by the client. It was an outright, surprisingly
    lame, mistake. And if you know much about the cost of billboard advertising, a costly one.

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