Monday, April 28, 2008

Basic analytic concepts

An extremely useful and relevant survey of concepts from linguistics that can be used in the analysis of advertising can be found in Vestergaard and Schroeder (1985) chapter 2 (reprinted 2002). This chapter also illustrates the use of these concepts in analysis.

In this unit, we pick out the simplest concepts:

-the sign: a signifier and a signified

-icon vs. index vs. symbol

-cohesion and coherence in text

-given and new information


The concept of a sign is fundamental to understanding the meaningful elements in an advertisement. Beyond this, there are two key concepts that we will use in the analysis of advertisements from modern-day linguistic theory, namely presupposition, in this unit, and relevance, which is introduced in Unit 3.

These two concepts are important because they allow us to see the primary means by which advertisements can communicate much more information than what is explicitly presented in them. For example, in 29RangeRover below (Dunhill, Rolling Stone, June 20, 2002, p. 16), the text is "Work hard. Be successful. Go someplace where none of that matters." Everyone would agree, we presume, that this can be elaborated in the context of the advertisement to:

Work hard. And if you do, you will Be successful. And if you are successful you can buy a Range Rover. And then you can Go in it to someplace where none of that matters.

This is what the advertisement means. But where do the parts of meaning shown in red come from? This is what we have to understand. In this case, Coherence provides the links between the sentences (e.g. "and if you do ..."), Relevance is what determines that you can buy a Range Rover and go in it to somewhere, for the context of the whole advertisement including Image for a Range Rover. And the presupposition here is that there is somewhere out there where "none of that matters"---in other words, that some utopian place exists for you to aspire to travel to, in your Range Rover. Note that there may not be any such actual place (see Unit 1 on "rational" communication), though in this particular advertisement, it is implied that there is (go here for further discussion).

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