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Review of  Pragmatics of Persuasive Discourse in Spanish Television Advertising


Reviewer: Francisco Yus
Book Title: Pragmatics of Persuasive Discourse in Spanish Television Advertising
Book Author: Karol J. Hardin
Publisher: SIL International Publications
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Book Announcement: 13.3171

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Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 19:06:06 +0100
From: Francisco Yus <francisco.yus@ua.es>
Subject: Hardin (2001) Pragmatics of Persuasion in Spanish Advertising

Hardin, Karol J. (2001) Pragmatics of Persuasive Discourse in Spanish
Television Advertising. SIL International, xi+234pp, paperback ISBN
1-55671-150-6.

Reviewed by Francisco Yus, University of Alicante, Spain.

INTRODUCTION
Hardin's book is about a pragmatic analysis of advertisements. In my
opinion, a pragmatics-oriented approach to the discourse of advertising
should focus basically on two possible research directions:

(1) to trace the makers' intentions underlying the (verbal and/or visual)
discourse, pinning down their persuasive strategies using the ad as
evidence of these intentions;

(2) to focus on the interpretive steps and inferences that the receiver
of the ad is supposed to go through in order to reach its optimal
interpretation, and the possible reasons why the ultimate goal of the
advertiser -- to buy the product -- is or is not achieved through the
processing of the ad.

Hardin seems to prefer the former, since for her "it seems vital to
examine not only the ideology and manipulative intent of advertising but
also how advertising reflects the pragmatic strategies by which persuasion
is effected in that culture... [and] how pragmatic strategies found in
Spanish advertising contribute to persuasion" (p. 2). She explicitly rejects
the latter pragmatic approach when she states that she does not intend to
"describe how individuals in an audience actually react to TV commercials
and which ads are most successful in changing buyers' product preferences"
(p. 4). Instead, she focuses on the general beliefs and intents of
advertisers, the plans with regard to pragmalinguistic strategies, and the
acts insofar as they may be generally understood (ibid.). For this
strategy-centred analysis, she chooses a specific type of discourse, Spanish
TV advertising found in three countries (Spain, Chile and the U.S.), and
different pragmatic approaches in order to describe these strategies.
However, I personally find more stimulating a pragmatic analysis of how
viewers process and react to the ads, and why the advertisers' intentions
are (un)successful when made explicit in a specific advertising discourse.

Her preliminary research questions to be addressed in the book are (p. 5):

[1] Which pragmatic devices occur most frequently in Spanish television
advertising?
[2] How are these pragmatic devices linguistically encoded in the data?
[3] Are any pragmatic differences evident between dialects of Spanish?
[4] How are pragmalinguistic features of television advertising used to
effect persuasion?

CONTENTS
In the introduction, Hardin tries to define such slippery terms as
'persuasion', and even 'pragmatics', which Levinson (1983) also attempted to
define in the first chapter of his now classical book. General definitions
are provided (p. 4), none of them truly satisfactory (but which is?).

Chapter 2 is about "Procedure and method". The author provides the
sources for the data analysed. Specific aspects of the data are sought for,
including samples of implicature, deixis, politeness, speech acts,
illocutionary force, use of humour, violation of Grice's maxims, appropriate
phonological features, lexical choices, and sociolinguistic features. These
are then analysed quantitatively in order to determine the relative
frequency of these pragmatic features. The examples provided (in the source
language -Spanish- and with a translation into English) are good in general,
although there are some examples of translations which I find unfortunate.
For instance, the author suggests (1) and (2) as examples of conventional
and conversational implicature (p. 28-29), which are far from clear, in my
opinion ((1) is a presupposition, and (2) doesn't seem to imply anything):

(1) El único remedio que necesita es Pepto Bismol que cubre suavemente su
estómago.
The only remedy that you need is Pepto Bismol, which gently coats your
stomach.
(presupposes -- not conventionally implies -- that the viewer needs the
product).

(2) [advertisement for an astrologer]. La primera vez gané quince mil dólares
y la segunda veinticuatro mil.
The first time, I won fifteen thousand dollars and the second,
twenty-four thousand.
(does it imply -conversationally- that the viewer can win this too?)

In chapter 3 some 'Analysis and results' are provided. Basically, questions
[1], [2], and [3] as cited in the introduction are addressed. The following
variables of analysis are taken into consideration:

Context (pragma-)linguistic Pragmatic
-------------------------------------------------------------------
Country Phonology Speech acts
Product Lexicon Indexicals
Audience Syntax Politeness
Implicature
Grice's maxims
Speaker considerations

The first variable shows a rather static view of context, as if the
different contextual features surrounding product and audience in Spanish
advertising could always be delimited. In my opinion, context should always
be analysed dynamically and from the viewer's point of view, and only as far
as it is accessed and processed as part of the interpretation of the ad, and
never pre-theoretically.

The chapter is full of statistical data, showing percentages of
appearance of the different variables addressed. This quantitative account
is, no doubt, useful, and the extensive illustrations with numerous ads and
their translations are indeed valuable. Most of the translations are good,
but sometimes the reader finds suggested translations which fall short of
the force of the source-language version, as in (3) (p. 58), or even
translations which are patently bad, as the one in (4) (p. 62):

(3) Hay que disfrutar.
It's necessary to enjoy. (Yoplait, SP)
Better translation: You've got to enjoy yourself.

(4) Ponte Hanes y ya verás.
Put on Hanes and you'll already see. (Hanes, US).
Better translation: Put on Hanes and you'll see.

On p. 67 Hardin analyses ads which are ambiguous in their illocutionary
force, for instance the assertion/order duality in examples (5) and (6):

(5) Agua ligera Font Vella [pause] cuida tu cuerpo.
Light Font Vella water [pause] take care [or 'it takes care'] of your
body.

(6) Nintendo 64 [pause] entra en juego.
Nintendo 64 [pause] get in [or it gets in] the game.

This is a good section but, again, it makes me long for a more
viewer-centred pragmatic approach. Instead of just pinning down the sources
of ambiguity, it would have been much better to see how actual viewers
(informants) react to the ambiguity and provide an opinion about it. As
Keiko Tanaka (1994) has successfully demonstrated within a
relevance-theoretic approach, viewers are normally willing to devote some
extra mental effort devoted to disambiguating the ads in exchange for the
pleasure in finding the resolution to the clash, and in doing that they also
pay attention to the ad, the advertisers' ultimate goal nowadays, the age of
television zapping.

The conclusions of this chapter answer questions [1-3] provided in the
introduction and also allows the author to compare the cross-cultural
validity of these results in the three Spanish TVs, one in U.S., one in
Spain and one Chile:

[1] Which pragmatic devices occur most frequently in Spanish television
advertising? speech acts (especially representatives and directives),
novelty (esp. syntactic and explicit), indexicals (esp. deictic items and
personal reference), politeness (esp. positive face and solidarity),
implicature, violation of Grice's maxims, speaker considerations and
lexicon.

[2] How are these pragmatic devices linguistically encoded in the data?
Among the examples provided, representatives are typically encoded as
assertions of real or supposed fact, while directives are encoded -quite
predictably- in orders devoid of an inherent sense of authority. Deixis
(spatial and temporal) is normally encoded with "here" and "now", while
personal reference to the viewer is encoded by the second person pronoun.

[3] Are any pragmatic differences evident between dialects of Spanish?
The pragmatic strategies seem to be common across the different dialects of
Spanish, although when analysed in detail some minor differences do appear.

The fourth chapter is called 'Pragmatics and persuasion'. In this chapter
question four in the introduction ('How are pragmalinguistic features of
television advertising used to effect persuasion?') is addressed. According
to the author, "pragmalinguistics in this study (information structure,
phonological highlighting, and lexical selection) consists of linguistic
categories that are linked with pragmatic strategies in order to achieve the
goal of persuasion" (p. 133). The theoretical model is depicted as follows
(p. 134):

A. Macro context
Television advertising in Spain, Chile, the United States

B. Pragmatic strategies
Politeness/indexicals Speech acts Implicatures
(degree of distance) (direct/indirect) (conventional/conversational)
(solidarity/power)

C. Linguistic realization
Syntax Phonology Lexicon

Now, specifically on how pragmalinguistic features effect persuasion, the
parameters mentioned include "being nonreciprocal, unilateral, scripted,
fragmented, and containing a formal/informal mix and a natural/unnatural mix
of style" (p. 134), with the explicit advertiser's intention that the ad be
remembered and have an appropriate forceful message. That is, the main
components of persuasion found in Hardin's study are memorability, force and
participation.

The book ends with a chapter in which the main conclusions of the study
are summarised.

EVALUATION
Karol Hardin offers the reader a valuable piece of research in which
advertisements are dissected and the underlying persuasive strategies are
uncovered as the analysis of different pragmatic phenomena is carried out in
the book. Personally, I am more interested in the inferential steps and
procedures that the receivers of the ads go through while processing them.
Hardin's effort to address the four questions issued at the beginning of the
book (and reproduced at the beginning of this review) gives the reader the
feeling that the author has preferred a taxonomical and quantitative
approach to the pragmatic strategies in TV advertising instead of a
qualitative and processing-centred one. In my opinion, it would have been a
good idea to provide informants with samples of ads, and then checked the
quality of their interpretation by giving them questionnaires, in order to
test the validity of the pragmatic (persuasive) strategies addressed in the
book.

Of course, this personal preference is only a matter of personal choice
and should not deprive Hardin's book of its value as source-material tool
for the analysis of Spanish TV advertising. In short, an interesting book to
read and a good contribution to the topic of Spanish advertising and its
cross-cultural implications.

REFERENCES
Levinson, S. (1983) Pragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tanaka, K. (1994) Advertising language. A pragmatic approach to
advertisements in Britain and Japan. London: Routledge.




 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Francisco Yus teaches pragmatics at the University of Alicante, Spain. He has a PhD in linguistics and has specialised in the application of pragmatics (especially relevance theory) to media discourses and conversational issues. For instance, he has made two applications of pragmatics to characters in alternative comics (Conversational cooperation in alternative comics, 1995; El discurso femenino en el cómic alternativo inglés, 1998), proposed a pragmatic verbal-visual model of communication in media discourses (La interpretación y la imagen de masas, 1997), studied the written-oral interface (La preeminencia de la voz, 1998) and developed a pragmatic approach to Internet-mediated communication (Ciberpragmática, 2001). His latest research has to do with the application of relevance theory to the analysis of misunderstandings and irony in conversation, as well as to the production and interpretation of humorous discourses.

Versions:
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1556711506
ISBN-13: 9781556711503
Pages: 234
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