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Dear language professionals,

What are grounds for using shortish phrase "Life vest under your seat" on the warning sign on the planes.

Is it stylistically caused? If this style allows main verb omission? Or it is just an unmotivated verb omission?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about the (non-standard, or non-existent) syntax of information notices. – FumbleFingers Sep 29 '14 at 14:17
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    What's redundant about "Life vest under your seat"? It seems to contain only essential information. – John Lawler Sep 29 '14 at 16:13
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    I agree it is concise. I raised this question in order to dig into the grounds for this. Many thanks to all, especially for @araucaria for such a comprehensive answer! – yeugen Sep 29 '14 at 16:27
  • This is commonly referred to as headlinese or telegraphic language. – Mitch Sep 29 '14 at 16:29
  • I would be unsurprised to see even "life vest under seat." – phoog Sep 30 '14 at 6:58
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It's a feature of a lot of texts exhibiting frozen style. It's a highly predictable and regular style found in newspaper headlines, signs, notices, instructions, lab reports, technical reports, legal documents, public declarations and so forth. In this kind of style in certain text-types, auxiliary verbs are regularly omitted when we can recover them from the context. So are articles and other determiners, as well as pronouns, prepositions and quantifiers. These words are highly predictable from the context and so this causes very little problem in terms of communication:

  • Mystery Objects Seen in Sky over LA.
  • (Some) Mystery Objects (have been) seen in (the) Sky over LA.

The one thing that all these types of text have in common is that they do not have a lot of space to work with.

In general, frozen style does not easily permit the omission of lexical, or main verbs. Note that although BE is the only verb in many sentences, it always functions as an auxiliary verb, and is practically always omissible in frozen style. This is because, it is argued, BE has no discernible meaning. This is also why many languages have no (everyday) verb for BE at all.

The elements of frozen style are not by any means random, and have been studied extensively in the fields of discourse analysis, pragmatics and syntax.

[However, I'm not an expert in this area, and so can't fill you in on what they found out!]

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    I can't find a reference for this definition of 'frozen style' or how it might apply to headlines or signage. The explanations I have been able to find treat it as overly formal, limited to literature. – Mitch Sep 29 '14 at 16:26
  • @Mitch Let me dig out my old DELTA books and I'll get some references ... – Araucaria Sep 29 '14 at 16:38
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I learned a similar style of writing in my 3rd level college "Technical Writing" course. Technical Writing is commonly used in instruction manuals and in industrial documentation. These are areas where it would be inappropriate to use the same style of language as if you were writing a "Dear John" letter. It is used to convey ideas quickly without flowery language that could obscure precise meaning. You may have come across instruction manuals which are so badly written that it takes hours to figure out how to operate something. Technical Writing condenses the manual to its unmistakable essentials, considerably shortening the documentation, and reduces potentially deadly mistakes. Though the style seems stilted, the document becomes much easier to understand. The manuals from foreign manufacturers would benefit greatly if they hired some technical writers. Sadly they cheap out on this score.

  • OMG, instruction manuals would be completely intelligible if they were written entirely like the example the OP is asking about. On the contrary, instruction manuals primarily use sentences, just as Standard English does. (But your answer would be correct if you changed the opening words from "I learned a similar style of writing" to "I learned a completely different style of writing", and preferably moved it to a question where it was more relevant.) – ruakh Jul 19 '17 at 18:17
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Articles, prepositions and auxiliary verbs are often omitted from the newspaper headlines, warnings etc.

  • ...still, you can understand what is meant. Notices and newspaper headlines have to be as concise as possible. – Centaurus Sep 29 '14 at 14:25
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    This is basically just stating the premise of the question without in any way trying to answer it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 29 '14 at 18:02
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It's not "redundant". That implies extra word meaning the same thing. If anything, it's the opposite of redundant.

The "grounds" are not grammatical, they are economical. In a warning/advisory sign like that, you need the minimum wordage to convey the message.

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