The wording seems to tell me it was composed by a non-native speaker. But to my mind it is telling me one of two things: Either,(1) not to divide my car into pieces and park the separate parts in different car parks; or (2) not to park my car somewhere else and arrive on foot at the coffee house.

Does anyone else have any ideas?

Edit by OP

Following considerable feedback by people who said they didn't understand what I was asking let me clarify a few points:

I assure you I did not submit this because I had a gripe with the tone - although I do think that it is poor. Nor do I think it reflects an American as opposed to British taste in notices as has been suggested (though I am well aware of the differences). That is not my point. I am complaining about it, and seeking the views of the site as to how it could be said better. As regards taking cars apart - one interpretation of park here only, could be (ridiculously) 'don't park in two or three places simultaneously'. Otherwise it seems odd to be telling people that they cannot park anywhere else. Has anyone else ever seen a sign which says 'Only park here'?

Car Park sign: "All Starbucks Coffee Company Visitors to park in Starbucks car park only."

closed as unclear what you're asking by Marv Mills, Ellie Kesselman, Tushar Raj, Andrew Leach May 21 '15 at 6:04

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    After reading at least twice, you can understand what it means..I think. They probably have problems with visitors parking in nearby other shops car parks. – user66974 May 19 '15 at 14:02
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    I don't understand the point. However obscure the message may be, they are just trying to solve a real or perceived probem. Giving indications to visitors about where they should park their cars is just fine...why not? – user66974 May 19 '15 at 14:25
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    @WS2 - and saying it well to you means Visitors to Starbucks may park here. Please do not leave your car in the neighbouring Shell petrol station? I think they are clearly having problems with visitors taking up parking spaces from other shops or offices. – user66974 May 19 '15 at 14:28
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    I have no idea what any of you are talking about. The sign does not say that all visitors must park. The sign does not say you must or must not dismantle anything. What on Earth are y'all talking about? It says a very simple thing in a very straightforward manner. It is not one bit ambiguous. I could not misinterpret it even on purpose. I cannot arrive at any of the alternative meanings listed here, no matter how hard I try. I am at a complete loss. – RegDwigнt May 19 '15 at 15:08
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    I don't understand this- you don't want to know what it means, per the title, you state you already know what it means. This seems to be a strawman question posed with the express intention of pointing at some unknown author, possibly a non-native English speaker, to highlight how poor you think they are. Is this really on-topic here? – Marv Mills May 19 '15 at 15:23

There's no way this was composed by a non-native English speaker; it displays impressive mastery of no fewer than three aspects of formal English:

  • Headlinese: zero copula, omitted article: "All [...] Visitors [are requested] to park in [the] Starbucks car park only." Note also that "[are] to" is a short form relative to the alternatives "should", or indeed "please".
  • Corporate English: the use of the full company name "Starbucks Coffee Company" could only be improved by also writing it in full at the second occurrence; also note the use of the term "Visitors" (capitalised) as internal jargon for "customers".
  • Bureaucratic English: the flat, impersonal tone would be very difficult for a non-native English speaker to achieve. Note the use of the passive indicative in place of the imperative mood, as well as the care taken to avoid any suggestion of where customers may have been parking instead of the correct car park - after all, to do so could be taken as an admission of liability for their conduct.

In practical terms, it's rarely a good idea to let on what some people may have been doing wrong, as it actively encourages others to do the same by providing (a) the inspiration to do so and (b) social proof: someone arriving at the Starbucks and confronted with a full car park and a sign asking them not to park in the adjacent property may well think "Well, if other people are parking there..."

Finally, consider that the primary target of the sign as communication may well not be the customers reading it. If the composition of the sign was indeed occasioned by a complaint from the occupant of an adjacent property then the primary target is the corporate higher-up who transmitted the complaint while the secondary target is the complainant, with actual customers coming a distant third.

  • 1
    Good - and also satirical - answer. – EleventhDoctor May 19 '15 at 16:02
  • Fourth bullet point: Apostrophes only cause friction. – Hugh May 20 '15 at 1:25
  • But what is the function of the word only? What did the sign's author intend it to mean? – WS2 May 20 '15 at 7:42
  • @WS2: If the sign just told customers that they have to park in the Starbucks car park, customers might theoretically feel they are not welcome without a car to park. With the word only the real intent is a bit more explicit: The collective of all Starbucks customers is not supposed to spill over to adjacent car parks; collectively they are to park only in the Starbucks car park. This permits non-parking customers. This global view also indicates that a small fraction of infractions for good reason such as dual customership is probably not a big issue. – Hans Adler May 21 '15 at 6:27
  • I don't see why any of those bullet points would exclude non-native speakers from being the sign composers. It's perfectly possible for a non-native speaker to master jargon and Headlinese. (Incidentally, there are no passives on the sign; a passive would have been “all visitors to be parked in Starbucks car park only”, which would have made for even more alternative readings, but would probably not be appreciated much by the actual clientele.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 21 '15 at 8:23

We can form the imperative in different ways:

All employees must park in the spaces marked.
All employees are to park in the spaces marked.

The sign is patterned after the second form, but with the word "are" removed because of space considerations. Signs are similar to headlines in that words are dropped because there's little room.

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    I think they refer to visitors. – user66974 May 19 '15 at 14:07
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    Just an example. I'm talking about the imperative. – TRomano May 19 '15 at 14:07

I'd go for (2), with the addition that 'somewhere else' means 'the car park of a neighbouring company' (or 'the street').

And I'd put 'are' between 'Visitors' and 'to'.

  • That would seem a rather imperious command. You are to park here! My comment above supplies my own suggestion. – WS2 May 19 '15 at 14:20

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