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Review of Pragmatics of Persuasive Discourse in Spanish Television Advertising
Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 19:06:06 +0100 From: Francisco Yus 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):
 Which pragmatic devices occur most frequently in Spanish television advertising?  How are these pragmatic devices linguistically encoded in the data?  Are any pragmatic differences evident between dialects of Spanish?  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 , , and  as cited in the introduction are addressed. The following variables of analysis are taken into consideration:
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:
 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.
 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.
 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.